The build-high brigade is set for a drubbing in the City of London
Landing a big job in architecture, though I once compared it to winning an election, is not really like attaining high office in politics. The reason is the difference between intentions and outcomes.
Clever architects have to rely exclusively on intentions and take things at face value. They have to maintain that the job will go on site next week, even when Working Lunch has told the world that the client has issued a profits warning and plans to sack 15,000 employees.
A clever politician would never get caught out like that. He or she would assume from the outset that whatever policy they were advocating had the lifespan of a fruit fly. At the first sign of a setback, they would abandon it and rush back to the goalmouth. Just imagine that (until last week) you were architect for a big Swissair project or a big cheese in the Swiss aviation ministry. As an architect, you would have had to hang on to the 'bank rescue' line until the cabin crews were actually cadging money from the passengers to pay the landing fees. As a ministry spokesperson, you would have been able to back away smartish and deliver a Thatcherite homily on thrift and fiscal probity in the airline business.
In the case of the airline industry, whatever intentions have been aired in connection with the sudden increase in fear of flying following last month's suicide attacks, we can be sure that it is only the outcome that is of importance.
Likewise the one-sided debate on tall buildings.
At the time of writing, the forces in this next arena are massing according to 'pro' and 'anti' persuasions. Those in favour of tall buildings - Lord Rogers, possibly Ken Livingstone, perhaps some City of London planners and maybe a few reckless property developers - are ranged against Prince Charles, the Fortress House gang - a crack regiment of stop-everything conservationists - and, in reserve, a battery of insurance companies .
The first serious skirmish between the two sides is expected to take place later this month in London's Guildhall, at the public inquiry into 110 Bishopsgate. There, the supremely confident conservationists expect to rout Lord Rogers and his friends with the aid of a few city turncoats and the irrefutable argument that, if you do not build tall buildings in the City, the average wide-body suicide pilot is bound to get lost and end up over Milton Keynes. Persons of the high-rise persuasion chuckle nervously at this, but their knuckles will whiten when they present their own thin arguments.
They will produce charts, tables and rent rolls that allegedly prove that if only the second NatWest tower had been built in the 1970s, the Mansion House Square appeal had been allowed in the 1980s, and the City had adopted a build-high policy from then onwards, Canary Wharf would never have happened and all this terrorism business would just be a bad dream. Er, but since it is not, perhaps we ought to stack a few big floor-plates up to show we are not scared.
So much for the first encounter. Others will serve only to prove, over and over again, that there is no argument in favour of a 110-storey building that takes four hours to evacuate and will see off the hypothetical threat posed to it by a 200-seat airliner in the wrong hands.
So what will be the final outcome? Lord Rogers' team will go down for the count, leaving maybe one or two dwarfish towers to go up in the City, while the real action shifts decisively to the provinces and the suburbs - leading to a net decrease in London's density of occupation over the next 20 years.