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'Shorter and fatter' buildings will protect the Thames, says heritage chief

Duncan Wilson
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Views of the river Thames could be ‘cut off’ from Londoners by a proliferation of tall buildings planned for its banks, according to the head of Historic England

The warning from the heritage body’s chief executive Duncan Wilson came in a letter to the capital’s Evening Standard newspaper and supports a shift towards ‘shorter and fatter’ buildings instead of ’hopelessly generic’ skyscrapers.

Wilson’s letter was a response to comments in the same paper last week by Peter Murray, chair of New London Architecture.

Murray’s letter warned of the consequences of opposition to new skyscrapers in London after the developer of a Renzo Piano-designed 254m-storey tower in Paddington withdrew its plan after public outcry.

‘Londoners should be careful what they wish for’, Murray’s article added. Piano’s new plan was ‘likely to be less tall but wider…to fund a £60 million public plaza and entrance to the underground’, it says.

‘Will we learn to accept towers as an expression of the changing scale of the city?’ the article asks. ‘Of course, we need to make sure they are well designed and elegant additions to the skyline, but shorter and fatter buildings are not the answer.’

But Wilson’s retort argues that “denser, well-designed and lower developments are exactly the way we can continue the essential architectural traditions of London’.

‘A number of the 260-plus towers that have planning permission line the Thames, meaning our oldest and arguably most important public spaces could be cut off from Londoners,’ his letter continues.

‘Our city deserves a meaningful response to its character and history, but many of our tall buildings are hopelessly generic’.

‘We recognised that tall buildings in the right places can make exciting contributions but they should be planned for strategically, for the whole of London, and should not be springing up in the wrong places.’

Proposals for the so-called Paddington Pole were submitted to Westminster City Council late last year, but provoked numerous objections, including heavy criticism from architects Terry Farrell, Ed Jones and Francis Terry.

Murray’s letter said London would have to be developed more densely to accommodate a projected population growth of 2.5 million people over the next 25 years, and tall buildings would be part of the solution.

‘In an Ipsos MORI poll commissioned by NLA, the majority of people were not as antagonistic to tall buildings as some commentators might believe,’ he said.

Murray pointed to NLA research from 2015 that indicated some 260 towers of 20 storeys or more were either already under construction in the capital or in the pipeline.

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