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Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat: ‘There's a lack of metro-wide guideline consistency’

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Daniel Safarik, from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, explains why the London skyline is similar to New York’s and the lessons from Singapore

Do you support the AJ’s Skyline campaign to improve design quality of new high-rise buildings in London?
In general, the goals of the campaign and those of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) are aligned. We support a rational approach to designing tall buildings that are close to public transport, harmonious with their surroundings yet distinctive, and environmentally sustainable, from the standpoint of embodied energy, operational energy, and their overall function in the metropolis.  

Has Boris Johnson done enough to promote design quality?
There seems to be a lack of metro-wide guideline consistency – some districts have very good tall buildings, some not. Johnson took charge on individual planning issues that have languished in local councils, raising the profile of the issue at large. But there are plenty of reasons to disagree with individual decisions. Given metropolitan London’s diffuse government structure, perhaps it is unfair to pin all hope and blame on the mayor for design quality, and metro-wide authorities need to be strengthened.

How does London compare to other cities for the quality of its tall buildings?
London’s skyline in recent years has caught up to its reputation as a leading global city. It was no coincidence that the CTBUH held its 2013 conference there. Given the medieval street pattern, the view corridor constraints, and the Byzantine confluences of money and politics, the City in particular has sprouted some of the most innovative skyscrapers in recent years. Having said that, there is also no shortage of banal, arbitrary and uninspired tall buildings.

Which cities offer the best example right now for aesthetic high-rise strategies?
Singapore is replete with sky gardens, green walls, sky bridges, and a complete inversion of the Western perception of ‘government-subsidised social housing’, pointing us to a potential future where the urban environment is carried skywards in a much more sophisticated way than we see in most places today. Though some factors are unique – a prosperous, tropical city-state with a high degree of social control and regulation – many of the lessons from Singapore are adaptable to other places.

Do any other cities also deserve similar campaigns to improve their standards?
The one analogue closest to London today is probably New York, where they construct very tall buildings for many of the same reasons, and there are concerns about lack of affordable housing, absentee owners, and blocked light and views.

What global trends are impacting visual appearance of tall buildings?
An awareness of the need to improve energy performance has also led to enlightened renovations of previously drab or wasteful structures, and innovations such as climate-responsive skins that are also culturally appropriate to their location, which is something we encourage.

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