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Renzo Piano goes sky high with Europe's tallest building

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Renzo Piano has joined Lord Foster, Lord Rogers, Nicholas Grimshaw and now Chris Wilkinson in the list of major architects designing new towers for London.

Piano, a Royal Gold Medallist and former partner of Sir Richard Rogers on the Pompidou Centre project, has joined the team designing London Bridge Tower next to the mainline station on the south side of the Thames.The scheme, conceived by developer Irvine Sellar with architect Broadway Malyan (which will still play an integral part in the project), is likely to be the tallest in Europe at 393m. It will contain about 100,000m 2of mixed-use space, predominantly offices, but also including retail and residential provision.

Piano told the AJ it would be impossible to achieve the scheme except next to a major transport interchange.

'Otherwise you would need 1000 car spaces, ' he said. His office will concentrate on three aspects of the design.

First the concept of place, the implications of 10,000 people working and living in the building, and the relationship of the vertical structure to the horizontal interchange. 'It will be a mix of the sacred and profane, a social project, with cultural activity . . . making a tall building implies making life, maybe midway, maybe at the top of the building'. He suggested there could be a piazza, possibly half way up the building, and a viewing platform at the top of the tower. His office intends to bring a 'humanist approach' to the project.

The second design area will be ecology, sustainability and environmental design.Piano envisages some form of winter gardens on each floor, allowing office workers a choice of environments.'This tower will be less hermetic than usual, ' he said. New forms of air-conditioning will be explored, related to the skin of the building, and chilled ceiling, as he had used on the Daimler-Benz project on Berlin. Towers are usually 'arrogant and express power' - but this one will not take the office plan and extend it vertically. 'Sometimes towers throw money out of the window when they are too tall.' The intention is to build tall, but not to set records - being the tallest building in Europe will only happen if it makes design sense.

Finally, the presence of the tower in the city will be a key design generator. Piano envisages a brick base to respond to the local streetscape, large amounts of glazing and the use of pre-patinated copper, creating an impression of 'shards'. The relationship with the Thames will be important: 'The building should belong to the river, like a mast, like a sail . . . the top part must be slim and light, we will not go up in the air with a big strong volume.'

Piano suggests that the design will belong to a new era of towers, replacing the failed compromise of Post Modernism with designs more in the the spirit of the first tower designs like Chrysler ('the heroic period') and the Mies era ('the period of purity').

Broadway Malyan director Peter Crossley, who has been liaising with the Renzo Piano Building Workshop on the working arrangements for the project, said: 'The opportunity to work with one of the world's leading architects on one of Europe's major projects is very exciting.Our work on the project to date has been conceptual.

We have been very encouraged by widespread support for the idea, but now the real work begins.We were determined to work with a world-class team to develop the project and are delighted that Piano has accepted the challenge. He will start with a clean sheet of paper. We admire his architecture greatly, and are looking forward to working with him in the coming months.'

With backing from Southwark Council guaranteed and support from mayor Ken Livingstone almost certain, the only problem the scheme may face concerns the effect on St Paul's Cathedral.While not located on a protected sight line, the scheme comes into a viewing cone, forming a backdrop to the cathedral from some angles.

With a new high-rise policy now being considered by English Heritage, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, the Greater London Authority and various London boroughs, London Bridge Tower is likely to be another test case to determine the future of the handful of truly tall buildings now being considered in the capital.

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