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Our Skyline recommendations are backed by expert supporters

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Over to you Boris, says Rory Olcayto


In February, the Observer’s architecture critic, Rowan Moore, and Barbara Weiss, the architect who inspired our Women in Architecture campaign, came to the AJ to discuss a matter close to their hearts: the looming threat to London’s skyline posed by hundreds of seemingly ill-considered tall buildings. Would we be willing to start a debate, they asked, about the impact these towers would have on the capital?

Moore had written passionately on the subject in the Observer in December 2012, highlighting more than 30 towers planned for the capital that would change its skyline forever. ‘There is no nice way of putting this but the skyline of London is being screwed,’ he warned. ‘With minimum discussion, proposals are being waved through the planning system.’

Weiss was inspired to speak up after a debate on tall buildings at the RIBA in March last year and, when her husband, developer Alan Liebowitz, met Moore at a memorial service for the influential planning consultant Francis Golding a few months later, a plan was hatched.

At the same time, Peter Murray’s New London Architecture, was developing an exhibition - London’s Growing Up! - using key research from property consultant GL Hearn, which identified 236 buildings over 20 storeys tall proposed for the capital.

Would we be willing to start a debate? Damn right we would. London’s famously tough townscape could probably have absorbed 30 new towers, despite Moore’s concerns, but 236? Time to act.

Our own coverage, a special edition of the AJ to launch the Skyline campaign jointly with the Observer, was timed to coincide with Murray’s exhibition at the start of April. Over the next month, we published articles by Moore and other leading critics and experts highlighting the issues. We continued to publish more comment and analysis from the profession and further afield as the campaign developed, which attracted widespread media attention and drew support from high-profile supporters. In parallel, Weiss and Leibowitz held regular seminars, with a wide range of experts, who all contributed to the campaign’s aims and desires, regardless of whether they added their name to Skyline’s list of supporters. In this respect Skyline has been truly effective at capturing a broad range of opinion.

Deputy mayor for policy and planning Ed Lister, for example, who has argued against our campaign, spoke on the matter at an AJ100 breakfast briefing in June. Still, the range of supporters who have lent their names is astonishing, from David Chipperfield to Alison Brooks, David Adjaye to Julia Barfield, Keith Bradley to Doreen Lawrence and Joseph Rykwert to Amanda Levete.

After three months of consultation, we have come up with five recommendations that will improve the standards tall buildings must adhere to and set out how we can better plan for London’s continued growth. This week we will present them to the London’s Assembly’s cross-party planning committee - and ultimately Boris Johnson. With the expert support Skyline has, only a fool would refuse to listen.

And the winner is…

Every year the RIBA presents the Stirling Prize ‘to the architects of the building that has made the greatest contribution to the evolution of architecture over the past year’.

Wow. Who knew that architecture ‘evolved’ so quickly? If the jury this year sticks to that remit, none of the shortlist should win (although Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios’ art-school-pretending-to-be-an-office in Manchester certainly builds on the model Stanton Williams produced for Central St Martins at King’s Cross).
No, a more appropriate winner would be found by asking which building has made the biggest contribution to the conversations we all enjoy having about buildings, cities, etc. One clear winner then: the Shard. No question about it.

rory.olcayto@emap.com Twitter: @roryolcayto

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