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Reach for the sky - but think twice about location

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Official guidance on mega-tall buildings in London should contain design advice on how they hit the sky as well as how they meet the ground, future designers were told last week. Occupiers, meanwhile, should be encouraged to open up viewing levels to the public to make the concept of skyscrapers more popular. Both these views were expressed by invited consultees at the launch of the London Planning Advisory Committee’s draft on ‘High Buildings and Strategic Views’ - held fittingly on the 38th floor of the International Financial Centre, and attended by the Lord Mayor of London.


The report, which now goes out to more consultation, was prepared by bdp, London Property Research, London Research Centre and Ziona Strelitz Associates. Director of planning for the Government Office for London, Joyce Bridges, said the end result may be incorporated in the new London mayor’s ‘spatial development policy’ - if one is elected - or figure as an annexe to current government planning advice for the capital. Ministers will consider the draft over the next month. An accompanying consultants’ report identifies 25 possible locations for high-rise development, though these are subject to the usual planning caveats.


Bryan Avery of Avery Associates told the assembled audience of architects, planners, politicians and developers that a key advance would be to get rid of the plant from the tops of skyscrapers to avoid ‘lumpenness’, and instead design them to give ‘joy to the city’: ‘Let’s make a plea for technology and open up the tops of buildings,’ he said.


‘What you need in your study is the emotional, poetical aspects of a tall building. Write them in and say there’s no point in making it conform to guidelines - you are standing up proud towards the sky - enjoy the freedom it brings.’


City planner Peter Rees suggested that tall buildings were unpopular - a claim not wholly borne out in research for the report - because of the people who own them. In direct contrast to the us, owners of buildings such as the bt tower and Canary Wharf tower had shown a lack of imagination and marketing nous by shutting off their uppermost floors to the public.


The draft strategic guidance, now being published, is in memory of Robin Clement, the late lpac deputy chief planner who was integral to its production. Besides suggesting areas where tall buildings may be appropriate (aj 5.3.98), including the still undefined ‘central fringe’ area, the advice suggests new definitions for types of tall buildings, shifts thresholds for consultation, and proposes that four new strategic views, including Haverstock Hill to St Paul’s, could be added to the existing ten, in addition to 12 possible ‘metropolitan views’ (see map).


However, research conducted for the report revealed there was ‘no significant evidence to suggest either a need or desire for a radical change in London’s skyline through the addition of high buildings in order to secure, sustain or enhance London’s importance as a World City’. Likewise there was no need or desire to ‘alter the general physical shape of the city or create a new image of London for Londoners or the rest of the world’. Nor do Londoners have a ‘marked opposition’ to new high buildings. So, the potential is there but, as always, location, height and appearance need to be carefully monitored.


Consultees last week included Corporation of London representative Archie Galloway, who said that there was scope for buildings in the city ‘even taller’ than Foster and Partners’ now-dead Millennium Tower, provided they were ‘in clusters and did not give offence to strategic views’. Others stressed the importance of building mixed-use into tall buildings, and the need to look carefully at factors like overshadowing and wind. Questions were raised as to whether the central fringe included Victoria, whether the Thames Gateway represented a good location and whether the language of the guidance needed to be ‘tightened up’ so that it could be stronger at public inquiries.


The London Research Centre has prepared a series of maps to illustrate the location of high buildings, strategic views (left), green belt, metropolitan open land, conservation areas and World Heritage Sites, but lpac wants the new mayor to find ‘hundreds of thousands of pounds’ to build a 3D model of London to an accuracy of one metre.


Copies of the advice are free from lpac, tel: 0171 222 2244. The consultants’ report costs £28 (same number).

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