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Historic England issues new guidance for avoiding ‘ill-considered’ skyscrapers


Historic England is seeking views on its new guidance for how architects and developers can avoid ‘ill-considered’ proposals when designing tall buildings 

The advice note, out for public consultation, replaces the government watchdog’s 2015 guidance on high-rises and reflects the impact an ‘increased number’ of completed tall buildings is having on the historic environment.

The document calls for a ’plan-led approach’ and argues that, while tall buildings can make a positive contribution to city life, they can also ‘seriously harm’ the historic character of places.

The body said schemes it has opposed included Rafael Viñoly’s ‘dominant’ Walkie Talkie building, Make’s original plans for the St Michael’s scheme in Manchester and the controversial Chiswick Curve by Studio Egret West.

As positive examples, Historic England named Roger Stirk Harbour + Partners’ Cheesegrater in the City of London and Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios’ St Albans Place in Leeds, both of which were part of planned ‘clusters’ of taller buildings.

Historic England chief executive Duncan Wilson said: ‘Well-designed tall buildings can be positive additions to towns and cities when thought is given to their location, but we see many ill-considered proposals that would harm their surroundings.

‘With London and major towns and cities throughout the UK receiving large numbers of applications every year, we have updated our advice on planning for tall buildings so it reflects our recent experience and restates the need for new buildings to offer a meaningful response to the history and character of our cities.’

Make's St Michael's scheme in Manchester opposed by Historic England

Make’s St Michael’s scheme in Manchester opposed by Historic England

Make’s St Michael’s scheme in Manchester opposed by Historic England

The guidance calls for greater emphasis on the importance of a plan-led approach and gives the example of how the cities of Cambridge and Oxford define tall buildings.

Cambridge City Council defines a tall building as anything that ‘breaks the existing skyline and/or is significantly taller than the surrounding built form’ which means in practice, the height of ‘tall buildings’ can vary substantially depending on the area of the city.

Meanwhile in Oxford, a city famed for its ‘dreaming spires’, the council traditionally has defined anything above the parapet height of the 18.2m Grade II-listed Carfax Tower as ‘tall’.

According to Historic England, definitions of tall buildings that are ‘based on evidence assessing the local context’ help when developing planning policy and are more likely to encourage appropriate developments.

The advice also acknowledges the changing technologies and tools that can be used to provide evidence when considering tall building proposals.

This includes a checklist of useful evidence types including 3D Modelling, urban design, townscape analysis and ‘views studies’ as well as new technologies such as virtual reality.





Readers' comments (4)

  • Some of the high rise stuff that heralds the approach to Leeds by train from the south is as uncouth as that on the London approach to Waterloo, and should figure as text book examples of what not to do under any circumstances anywhere, quite apart from the issue of 'starchitects' being let loose in the china shop.

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  • Shocking that they built those two 'fake Gothic' towers in front of 20 Fenchurch St. Stone cladding on a steel frame, pretending to be old; monotonous repetition of form; gimmicky moveable arms. Is that what HE mean?

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  • The walkie scorchie doesnt even conform to the london plan, Boris Johnson pushed it through planing but it is far larger than buildings that should be allowed in this area according to the existing rules. they broke all kinds of planning rules, including cantilvering over the street and building an exclusive restaurant and champagne bar that they described as a public park.
    All we really need is less corrupt politicians

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  • Chris Rogers has a point but the shocking structure does neatly frame the Walkie Talkie from across the river.


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