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The stakes are higher when you work on iconic towers

Legalese: With fame comes the risk of notoriety and the greater risk of claims, should performance not match up, writes Mark Klimt


The affectionate sobriquets which have quickly become attached to buildings such as the Cheesegrater, the Gherkin and the Shard are testament to the enthusiasm that exists for such iconic and eye-catching buildings. However, they also bring their own particular challenges to those who create and operate them. The publicity surrounding any reported problem (stretching from the saga of the ‘wobbly bridge’ through to the Walkie Talkie’s car-melting antics) is indicative of how high the stakes are when you are involved in a project which generates so much interest and where disputes are conducted in the public arena.

A characteristic of each of these buildings - indeed their attraction - is their unique nature. This suggests that the duty of care expected of those who design and implement them will be enhanced over the median level that would otherwise apply. Insurers of consultants involved on such projects will want to know that they have not taken on unrealistic obligations and that the project has been set up in a sensible manner, with the appropriate specialist disciplines in place.

Our buildings have to perform in a different way to those constructed during earlier generations, and now need to accommodate increasingly complicated services to reflect environmental, health and safety, and global communication requirements. This new crop of keynote London towers, particularly those used as commercial offices, are arguably also something of an anachronism. At a time when technological advances have altered working practices and given rise to flexible working, meaning that the need for a critical mass in a large location is receding, these buildings are moving in the opposite direction and are seeking to encourage a full and visible presence. Those who take up the challenge and occupy buildings of this nature are themselves making a bold statement of intent; they are showing confidence in their own business model, and expectations of their accommodation will be correspondingly high.

These latest London landmarks will be under particular scrutiny - even more so when they have areas open to the public, such as the viewing gallery at the Shard or the projected sky garden in the Walkie Talkie. With fame comes the risk of notoriety and the greater risk of claims, should performance not match up.

Many of these considerations will not be new; in 1964 the Post Office Tower opened to much fanfare as Britain’s tallest building and the first in London to have a revolving restaurant at its top. This in itself was high risk; indeed, the restaurant suffered frequent mechanical difficulties and closed in 1980 amid security fears. However, the swinging sixties were very different to today, and those who operate iconic buildings which become tourist attractions or symbols of their environment must react accordingly. Insurers too will need to appreciate the types of losses that could be attracted and to understand that these may go well beyond simple physical damage to the fabric.
A key consideration on construction projects, particularly for consultants, is the appropriate level of insurance relative to the project value. On these types of projects, other considerations will also come into play. As usual, the solution lies in clear communication from all parties to arrive at a proper understanding of what is involved and how realistically to protect it.

London owes its enduring reputation as a vibrant and bustling commercial centre in no small measure to these exciting new constructions, often (particularly in the City) co-existing with buildings of historic interest. These new buildings themselves generate activity and confidence, and so have an important role to play in keeping London as groovy as it has always been.

Mark Klimt is a partner at law firm DWF Fishburns

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