Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

As the scale shifts, pressure is mounting on the Square Mile

  • Comment

After 30 years climbing to the top at Foster's, Ken Shuttleworth is embarking on two new adventures - as head of his own practice and as a CABE commissioner Surprisingly little has been said about the ODPM's decision to grant consent to Renzo Piano's 'shard'. It is, after all, a remarkable triumph for the architect and his client, Irvine Sellar. So if the project starts - now may not be the most auspicious moment - London will witness another development that shifts our mental map. With Paddington to the west, King's Cross in the centre and Stratford to the east, a series of new large-scale developments will further shake up the City of London, which (post-Gherkin and Heron), admittedly, is a happier hunting ground for developers of the new and now the tall.

So why the silence on Southwark? Is it that the protestors are beaten? Or are they keeping their powder dry for a future battle when the design is 'inevitably' dumbed down? Sellar has wisely sought to see-off critics of 'trophy' architecure early by offering to enter into a legal agreement with Piano to ensure he sees it through, so that's not likely. Maybe they are confident that Piano's shard will fail to deliver the necessary efficiencies and is merely a ruse to raise the site's value. Whatever, the permission highlights the battle raging throughout London for planning consents and the impact they will have on the ability of the Square Mile to remain the premier address of London - World City.

The City has two choices: radically change its attitude to new development (which it has been doing) or expand its boundaries east. Shoreditch could be the first area where the traditional cycle of artists, followed by creative business, gentrification and commercialisation is completed, within 10 years of its inception, by the provision of mega-scale commercial floorplates. All of this is despite the fact we are experiencing a downturn in commercial demand and activity. As always, the smart money is preparing for the next escalation in demand.

A cycle of continuous redevelopment can be studied throughout the history of London as a commercial city. This time is different only because it represents a greater shift in scale.

If the normal cycle is seven to 10 years, this is the big one - the 50-year cycle - when a new idea of 'acceptable' scale emerges. As the poorer boroughs on the edge - witness Southwark and, to a lesser extent, Tower Hamlets - look to reap the benefits of privately funded regeneration projects, bringing both direct (the delights of Section 106 payments) and indirect wealth, the pressure will only increase.

So what will happen when the podium and slab developments of the 1960s have been pulled down and replaced by buildings with much higher, yet now acceptable, plot ratios? The pressure will then be on the ancient city grain of small plots and narrow lanes. The question of how this will be dealt with is largely ignored.

Ever-larger permissions are given in an attempt to delay a battle - remember Mansion House Square? - the likes of which we have not had since the Luftwaffe reshaped the map.

Is there an alternative to the 'consent hunting' campaign on a site-by-site basis? Perhaps not, but there must be a parallel enquiry. We should embark on a detailed and thorough analysis of the ability of the Square Mile and beyond to cope with future demand. Let's offer up alternative models that could inform a responsive masterplan. Otherwise we face the established model where a sequence of single-project public enquiries set new, not necessarily relevant, precedents: the creation of a city by stealth not design.

We could do with a dose of the1960s' optimism in facing up to the problems.

We may not have always liked the results from that era, but we could learn much from the enquiry.

We are in the foyer of 18 Howland Street, off Tottenham Court Road, in the heart of Arupland. I am here to see Ken Shuttleworth. In the lift with me is another caller, Ken's brother Don, an architect who for many years has been head of model-maker Unit 22. Ken is working from Arup offices following a call from director Bob Emmerson offering him space, and access to all Arup facilities. It's a nice way to start a practice.

The reason I'm here is to talk about the future.After all, there has been plenty of coverage of Shuttleworth's past, and his 30 years at Foster and Partners, of which he is obviously proud. The inevitable media attempts to present his departure as a row, which was certainly not the case, appear to be behind us. And we can take with a large pinch of salt the report suggesting he wants to establish a practice of 250 people. The reality, he says, is that an office of about 50 would be just fine, 'and built up over a period, not too fast, and not spreading ourselves too thin'. Not that he will be entirely office-bound; he will be taking over as chairman of CABE's design review committee this April (in succession to your correspondent).

On the afternoon of my visit, the office is about to release the announcement about its name: 'make' (fashionably lower-case).

The name emerged after an intensive twoweek series of discussions with Brian Boylan at Wolff Olins - Boylan is a fellow CABE commissioner - to establish the values and aspirations of the new organisation. To anyone who hasn't been involved in this sort of exercise, the intensity of it would probably come as a surprise. It is not just a question of choosing a slick name, but of expressing those now-understood values and aspirations.

There was a general assumption, mistaken as it turned out, that Shuttleworth would trade on the recognition of his own name in forming a practice. Just as mistaken was the assumption that he would, as a matter of course, form a new firm. There were some tempting offers of design directorships in several prominent firms, and the possibility of running a studio under the aegis of a larger outfit. But from Shuttleworth's demeanour you can immediately tell he feels he has done the right thing, at the relatively young age (for an architect) of 51 - both in striking out on his own, and moving to the bustle of Tottenham Court Road from Foster's quieter Battersea. 'The change of

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.