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Skyline: what the experts said

The AJ/Observer Skyline Campaign has prompted a chorus of voices to call for reform of London’s high-rise policies. Here is a selection

Peter Rees, professor of places and city planning, The Bartlett

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‘The clusters of office towers in the City and at Canary Wharf represent the “best in class” against global competition. On the other hand, the inferior designs of the wave of residential investment towers disfiguring the London skyline should engender a deep sense of shame in those who created and approved them. From Vauxhall to Whitechapel, the cranes are raising dumbed-down “product” into offensive heaps.’

Nicky Gavron, chair, London Assembly Planning Committee and former deputy mayor of London

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‘We need cluster policies, height policies, more view-management policies. We need to look at the cumulative impact. We need more transparency and accountability and we definitely need a Skyline commission.’

David Chipperfield, director, David Chipperfield Architects

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‘I don’t think anybody, including developers, enjoys the current [planning] conditions. Something like Elizabeth House has involved a huge amount of to-ing and fro-ing and better guidance would have been appreciated by everyone. The skyline is the most visible expression of what happens when a city has no overall co‑ordinated planning vision.’

Rowan Moore, architecture critic, The Observer

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‘Great planning does not mean either “most restrictive” or “most laissez-faire”. It means creating the conditions for growth and change while maintaining a vision of the common good. It balances competing interests. It includes a grasp of the cumulative effect of individual decisions, which private developers will not have. It can protect long-term benefits against damage from short-term profit. It is the result of genuine and transparent public debate.’

Kevin McCloud, TV presenter

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‘It’s important that we distinguish between the very controlled, high-rise development in areas like the City of London and Canary Wharf, with the relatively untrammelled rash of speculative development that has already started to spring up in many other London boroughs, especially along the river. London is changing too fast for many of us - including some planning departments - to be able to control.’

Barbara Weiss, director, Barbara Weiss Architects

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‘London’s skyline faces a big threat. The situation could become irreversible if we do not act now. It is not just about the skyline - badly conceived buildings affect the ground level, too.’

Simon Jenkins, journalist and commentator

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‘The issue here is not the virtues or otherwise of high-rise. I have seen exciting skyscrapers in Dubai and Doha, in New York, Hong Kong and, yes, in London. I can see beauty in the Gherkin and even the Shard.

‘The issue is whether any policy should determine their siting, size and visual references on the skyline. Every city has such a policy: Paris, Berlin, even Manhattan. London has none.’

Julia Barfield, managing director, Marks Barfield Architects

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‘Because they are highly visible, tall buildings need special attention in the planning system to ensure that only the good ones get built. You cannot blight the skyline with a beautiful building. We need to get better at agreeing what is good-quality design and set the bar a lot higher.’

Chris Wilkinson, director, Wilkinson Eyre

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‘In London we don’t have the typical city arrangement in which all the tall buildings are located downtown; instead they are dispersed around the city. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it means that they need to be properly considered, planned and controlled.’

Ian Simpson, director, Ian Simpson Architects

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‘London’s significant capital projects deserve greater debate and scrutiny - scrutiny that not only has influence at the point at which the planning committee gives approval, but which continues throughout the process to the point at which the work starts on site.’

Andrew Beharrell, executive director, Pollard Thomas Edwards

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‘Well-planned clusters of towers sited alongside low-rise development and open space can boost the regeneration of outlying centres with good transport links.

‘But what I abhor are trophy towers, dropped at random: these vanity projects, which may be lovely for occupiers, have a negative impact on the area and on London’s unique and complex character.’

Nigel Barker, London planning and conservation director, English Heritage

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‘A more holistic and sophisticated assessment of potential impacts - beneficial and harmful - is needed before we identify where tall buildings may be possible. When considering these issues, the GLA should be pro-actively seeking informed advice. Decisions on applications which have a London-wide impact should also be more transparent than their current, single-person executive model.’

Amanda Levete, founder and principal, AL_A

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‘Building at height should be seen as a privilege and a responsibility, not a right. Perhaps the very best designs should be allowed to extend their upper reaches in order to become an inspiration to the rest.

‘London has to be brave when it sees exceptional design - tinkering around the edges of excellence diminishes individual buildings and promotes mediocrity.’

Alison Brooks, founding director, Alison Brooks Architects

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‘This debate is not a dialectic of few versus many tall buildings. It is a calling into question of the methods used by local authority planning departments, the planning system and the London Mayor’s office to evaluate the collective impact of tall buildings and the individual impact of uninspired, un-neighbourly, unbeautiful tall buildings.’

Keith Griffiths, chairman, Aedas

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‘Densification of cities is bound to happen, but how did we end up with 200 towers spread out across London instead of gathered together in a district like Canary Wharf?

‘Most London buildings are low-rise and don’t shout at each other. But, as more tall buildings get built, the landscape will merge with taller towers, and those with space around them will stand out.’

Robert Bevan, architecture critic

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‘If the Leadenhall Building is high-rise architecture at its best, Broadway Malyan’s 53-storey, catherine-wheel plan offering on the river at Vauxhall shows it at its worst.

Grandiloquently christened The Tower, One St George Wharf, it is the tallest residential tower in the UK and rarely has crassness been achieved at such a scale. It is so utterly bland that there is no danger of it garnering a nickname out of either affection or disdain.’

Paul Finch, editorial director, AJ

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‘London’s current skyline policies are based on where you cannot build tall, as opposed to where you can, generating the classic conditions for British muddle. Sometimes you can build and sometimes you can’t, but you won’t know until you try.’

Peter Murray, chairman, New London Architecture

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‘An open and informed debate about the pressures of housing a fast-growing population is essential for the development of a better city.

‘The scale of change revealed in the NLA/GL Hearn study will come as a surprise to many, and we believe the discussion that emerges will have a positive impact on the buildings that will enhance our skyline in the future.’

Gerard Maccreanor, director, Maccreanor Lavington Architects

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‘It is now time to extend the London View Management Framework to protect and encourage a contextually varied skyline.’

Ellis Woodman, AJ critic-at-large

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‘As Londoners come to terms with the impending construction of more than 200 tall buildings, it is the impact of so much minimally co-ordinated development on the skyline that is proving the principal source of concern. And yet the change to the experience of the city at pavement level is set to be no less dramatic and, potentially, every bit as damaging.’

Philip Oldfield, course director, Masters in Sustainable Tall Buildings, University of Nottingham

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‘The problem is that there seems to be very little guidance that exists for high-rise development in between strategic views, and here discussion and policy examining where tall buildings could be located, and how they can respond to the local context and to each other, would be beneficial.’

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