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London aims high for 20 new towers

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The architectural profession has rallied behind the concept of skyscrapers in the light of the World Trade Center collapse, as London mayor Ken Livingstone presses forward with plans for up to 20 new towers for the capital. Lord Rogers, Lord Foster and RIBA president Paul Hyett all denied this week that the era of the skyscraper has come to an end.

But Lord Foster - whose Swiss Re Tower is under construction in the City - said that the events in New York established 'new, previously unimaginable, risks that will inevitably affect design in the future'.He said: 'Nothing could have prepared any of us for the unprecedented scale of the devastation. Its consequences will affect everyone involved with the creation of buildings. We owe it to the victims to ensure we understand every aspect of this tragedy and its lessons are absorbed and acted upon.'

Hyett agreed that there were lessons to be learnt.

He identified the need to increase the capacity of the building structures to withstand fires involving aviation fuel, to improve fire protection in escape routes and increase escape capacities - but as protection against future accidents, not terrorist action.

But he added: 'To say there should be no more tall buildings is completely stupid and irrational.

Every week a plane crashes somewhere in the world but people keep flying because we believe that statistically the risk is worth it. Is one disaster in one tall building going to stop people walking into these buildings? Of course not.'

Lord Rogers said: 'If it wasn't the World Trade Center, it would have been a football stadium. The alternative is to give up cities and live in caves.'

Livingstone told the Greater London Assembly committee investigating his 'London Plan' last week that he expected 15-20 tall buildings to be erected in the capital over the next 10 years. Speaking days after the attacks in New York, he rejected suggestions that the demand for tall buildings would be affected: 'There are places where people continue to live on the sides of volcanoes. These can erupt at any time, but people stay there. I don't believe a single one of the new projects will be withdrawn.' The figure of 15-20 - considered by Livingstone to reflect the appropriate level of high-rise development for the capital - includes schemes already under discussion. He restated his support for Renzo Piano and Broadway Malyan's 306m London Bridge Tower, Kohn Pedersen Fox's 222m Heron Tower, and praised plans by Nicholas Grimshaw for a £300 million 36-storey tower in the City (AJ 13.9.01) In addition, he said, there could be 10 towers in the north-east quarter, at Thames Gateway, two or three in Canary Wharf, a number behind the Dome l5in Greenwich, several in Croydon and a couple over other major rail termini. However, he thought it unlikely that plans for a tower over Victoria station by Wilkinson Eyre (AJ30.8.01) would go ahead.

Pressed by the committee to explain the need for so many 'substantial iconic' buildings, the mayor warned that without them London would 'slip into decline'.And he denied that he is trying to turn London into a city of towers. 'Despite what those airheads in English Heritage might say, we are not turning the city into Manhattan, ' he said.

Tony Arbour, chair of the Planning Advisory Committee at the GLA, expressed 'incredulity' at the scale of the plans and said he was surprised that Livingstone even had a figure in mind at all. He said: 'If there were 15-20 scattered around London the size of Renzo Piano's proposal, that would be a most radical change to the skyline.'

But Hyett welcomed Livingstone's 'comprehensive' approach to the issue. 'It would provide an opportunity to establish locations for them to produce meaningful visual relationships to each other, ' he said. Plans for the new buildings should be considered on their merits, irrespective of last week.

Paul Hyett has called for a joint working group to investigate the issues of fire protection and means of escape from tall buildings. Hyett will invite Sir Joe Dwyer, the president of the Institute of Civil Engineers, Max Fordham, president of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, the Fire Protection Association and other organisations to look at ways to improve the design of tall buildings in light of the collapse of the World Trade Center.

The working group will make recommendations to government on the revision of building regulations.

For analysis on the ramifications of last week's events for the design of tall buildings see page 14 .

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