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Stacking up the case against tall buildings is a political folly


You've got to hand it to Birmingham. First it managed to get Prescott's wholehearted endorsement for its hok-designed city tower block in the same week that he blocked Foster's (shorter) skyscraper for the City of London. Now it looks set to build Future Systems' radical building for Selfridges as part of the new-look £800 million Bull Ring Centre. All of a sudden it looks set to boast Britain's blobbiest building as well as Europe's tallest tower.

Meanwhile London's own funny shape, Fosters' gla building, is suffering the indignity of being treated like an embarrassing illness by its potential custodians. For the mayoral candidates are suffering from the delusion that shiny new buildings are automatically associated with a kind of tawdry machismo, and are falling over themselves to insist that they would be perfectly happy carrying out their business in a turf-roofed garden shed. This affected humility seems a little unconvincing. This is not, after all, the sort of job to attract the self-effacing.

In any case, tall buildings do not have to be associated with flamboyance, or extravagance. They can be designed with or without concern for an environmental agenda. Stacking buildings up high can be both economic and efficient. They can also contribute to the skyline, and give great views. And everybody wants to look at London from the air. Birds-eye views previously enjoyed only by those who live or work in one of London's few high-rise buildings, are being offered by the Wheel, and may soon be available from a viewing platform in the chimney of the new Tate Modern (page 15). One is transparent and ethereal. The other was already there. Neither has added any bulk to London's skyline, which means that nobody is nervous about voicing their approval. They are both beautiful structures, but they are also little more than follies. Given that Londoners are short of space to live and work, and that they want to enjoy the view, we ought to stop being so precious about adding to our city. Boadway Malyan's new design for a tower at London Bridge may not be the answer. But there is little point in mulling over the detail of the design. The issue is purely academic. It willprobably never get built.

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