London skyline ‘trashed’ by wave of speculative towers, says Rees
London is being ‘trashed’ by a multitude of inferior towers which are disfiguring its skyline, the driving force behind the Square Mile’s high-rise development has said
In the most significant intervention yet in the Skyline campaign to improve the design and planning of the capital’s tall buildings, former City planning officer Peter Rees warned of a ‘wave’ of poorly-designed residential towers conceived as investment vehicles. Rees, who spent 29 years shaping the City of London’s distinctive skyline, left the post this month to become professor of places and city planning at The Bartlett.
Adding his name to the list of leading figures supporting the campaign – run by the AJ and the Observer newspaper – Rees said there was no comparison between the well-known office skyscrapers created by architects under his watch and many of the more recent residential towers.
He said: ‘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 which is 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 the dumbed-down “product” into offensive heaps.’
Rees claimed that borough planning authorities were ‘trapped’ by badly-formulated housing targets and a desperate need to secure planning gain payments to balance their meagre budgets. He called on them to look instead to the best examples of high-density and mid-rise housing. He said: ‘Residential towers do not achieve high densities and leave unusable space on the sites which they do not fill. Those of us who feel passionate about the form and future of our amazing city are sad to see it being trashed.’
New signatories to the campaign also include urban design and conservation expert Richard Coleman of Citydesigner, AKT II engineer Hanif Kara and architects Hugh Broughton and East’s Julian Lewis.
The Skyline campaign last week prompted a 950-word column in the London Evening Standard by London mayor Boris Johnson, in which he acknowledged that 80 per cent of new tall buildings in London are residential, but defended the performance of the planning system.
Steven Bee, former director of planning and development at English Heritage and principal of Steven Bee Urban Counsel
‘There is no justification for tall buildings in terms of sustainability or economy. Over a certain height tall buildings are more expensive and inefficient than other ways of achieving high density. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t allow them. The beauty or majesty of a great building; the worship of God or mammon; the desire for a new vantage point, can all be good reasons to build high.
‘Advances in design, materials and construction technology allow us to build just about anything, anywhere. This ability has been interpreted by some Architects as an obligation. As a result we have tall buildings that are not just conspicuous, but ostentatious. Some of them are beautiful, others are not. Some have become popular additions to iconic views, others have not - yet. Planning policies sensibly suggest clusters of towers around, for example, transport interchanges. Over time this will reinforce the coherence of the three dimensional outline of central London that is so far informed mainly by sightlines to important buildings. It will also help to modulate the volume of individual buildings from “look at me, to “look at us”.
‘Canary Wharf is a good example of the benefit of clustering. The individual towers are on the whole undistinguished. As a composition, however, they have a coherence that sits comfortably in the London skyline even though it was guided by commercial expedience and opportunism rather than planning policy or aesthetic principles. One of the great new views in London is that of Canary Wharf from the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich, especially at twilight on a clear evening.
‘We may eventually grow out of the current fashion for building upwards. Until then, we should expect those who wish to do so to acknowledge their civic responsibility to the views they affect. Views that are, for the time being at least, public.’
The AJ/Observer Skyline Campaign
The campaign aims to ensure the capital’s future skyscrapers are built in the right place and designed to the highest quality.
It has been backed by architects including David Chipperfield, David Adjaye, Eva Jiricna and Ted Cullinan.
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