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. . . but will they ruin the City, asks Simon Jenkins

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The latest shots in the ever-widening debate about tall buildings were fired at 'High rise in London: strategies for good urban design', at University College London last week.

Professor Peter Hall introduced the proceedings, reminiscing on the relatively recent interest in tall buildings in London. He reminded the audience that the 'disaster at Ronan Point ended the positive ideal for high-rise' and began 'the trend for low-rise and rehab projects'. He posed the question for discussion as to whether high-rise buildings were desirable and, if so, where they should be located.

But Simon Jenkins of The Times rejected the perceived benefits of tall buildings: 'They are not about street life - even as vertical streets they are pretty terrible.'Not only do people not want to live in them, he argued, but 'nobody wants to live near them'. They may work when viewed from a distance, but are 'inhuman' close up.

Environmental campaigner Herbert Girardet admitted that he has been won around to Ken Yeang's Bioclimatic high-rises. While critical of high-rise design as a symbol of 'economic virility', he considered that they were acceptable as a futuristic vision of sustainability.

Paul Velluet of English Heritage argued for 'an appropriate balance between continuity and change'. He said that while skyscrapers are a hallmark of the New York experience, they could 'compromise the unique cultural heritage of London'.

His suggestion that each scheme should be considered on its 'locational' merits and 'contextual appropriateness' was thought to be common sense by some in the audience who predicted the 'fossilisation' of the city should tall buildings be rejected out of hand.

Unconvinced, Jenkins responded that 'architects and planners have come close to ruining my city and I'll never forgive them for it'. The debate goes on. . .

'Tall Storeys', the AJ's contribution to the debate, will be held on 15 May at the RIBA.

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