The influential client who led the delivery of the Gherkin has launched a scathing attack on the skyscraper’s controversial new neighbour: Foster+ Partners’ Tulip tower which was approved yesterday
Sara Fox, who worked for Swiss Re as project director on 30 St Mary Axe (2004), also by Fosters, was one of many to condemn the proposed 304m-tall tourist attraction.
Speaking after the City of London’s planning and transportation committee voted 18 votes to seven in favour of the project, Fox told the AJ: ‘It is a very sad day. It will surely have a deleterious impact on the Gherkin. It will rob it of its design greatness.
‘I have nothing but the highest regard for Norman Foster and his team, but this is sheer property greed. It would be fine being built in Dubai but not in the centre of London. It is an abomination. And how many viewing platforms do we need?’
Fox said she also had major concerns about the constrained site for the Tulip and its potential impact on the space around the Gherkin. ‘One of [the Gherkin’s] joys was the really generous public realm,’ she said.‘ We had spent considerable time and made countless pedestrian studies looking at how people would use and walk through the space. Most of this will be lost to the Tulip.’
She added: ‘The justification for the Tulip includes the number of children who will come to visit it. But can you imagine the chaos of having hundreds of over-excited children and their carers in this space? This is an adult working environment, not a playground.
It will surely have a deleterious impact on the Gherkin
‘The whole educational argument is complete rubbish.’
Reinsurance firm Swiss Re is still a tenant in the Gherkin but sold the building in 2007.
The tower will now automatically land on London mayor Sadiq Khan’s desk to see whether he wishes to intervene. But even before yesterday’s approval, it has been heavily criticised by heritage groups.
Historic England chief executive Duncan Wilson, who spoke at the meeting, said he remained concerned that the Tulip would cause ‘permanent and irreversible damage’ to the setting of the Tower of London and ’the image and identity of the capital’.
He told the AJ that Historic England ‘stood by’ its objection adding: ‘Harming our heritage surely cannot be justified by the anticipated benefits of this new attraction: essentially a high-level viewing platform and small education space, but there are many of these in London.
‘We don’t raise concerns to the majority of new tall buildings that are proposed in London, but we strongly believe that this project is the wrong building in the wrong place.’
This project is the wrong building in the wrong place
Chris Medland of One-world Design Architects hit out at the tower’s environmental impact of the tower and whether the building was even needed. ‘[Norman] Foster is arguably the greatest and most influential architect of the 21st century,’ he said. ‘His work has done more to raise the game in sustainable design than any other.
‘[However] a building can be designed to be the most sustainable building in the world and yet also be hugely environmentally damaging – and this one will be.
‘The fact is that construction is a significant contributor to climate change. Therefore we all need to build wisely. Sustainability in construction is no longer about air tightness or water-saving flushes – it’s far more serious than that. The very first question that any council planning officer, politician and architect should ask themselves should be: is this building needed at all?
‘With many other viewing galleries within a few hundred metres, the answer here is no.’
Meanwhile Dan Anderson, a tourist-attraction expert who works at consultancy Fourth Street, said: ‘It seems really strange for the City of London to override objections from Historic England, Historic Royal Palaces and the Mayor of London for something as frivolous as this.
It’s really just an architectural conceit
As a visitor attraction, all it’s really offering is a high-level view of London. That’s the core of the experience. That seems like a wasted opportunity to do something special and different.
‘We already have the view from the Shard, the Sky Garden, the London Eye and a bunch of rooftop bars and restaurants. It’s not that hard to find a panoramic view of London. I don’t think this is nearly as valuable to the city as the planners have made it out to be. It’s really just an architectural conceit.’
London mayor Sadiq Khan now has two weeks to decide whether what he wants to do with the City of London’s approval. But since his team had previously complained that the tower breached the London plan, it is likely the project will be called in.
The scheme, which is backed by banking giant the J Safra Group – owner of the Gherkin since 2014 – does, however, have its supporters.
David Buik, a London-based financial commentator and businessman said: ‘I have witnessed the meticulous way Foster + Partners has put together this magnificent design as an amazing symbol of UK architecture at its very best, having complied fully with all environmental requirements.
’The Tulip deserves to light up the City’s skyline as a ubiquitous and unparalleled beacon for culture, tourism and education.’
And NLA chair Peter Murray said: ‘This is positive news from the City of London at a time when its primacy as a financial centre is under threat as a result of Brexit.
The Tulip will reinforce the [City’s] own policies to encourage more visitors to the Square Mile and support a seven-day retail economy. Although the proposal has been criticised by the mayor of London, it is in accordance with advice from his own promotional organisation, London and Partners, which has called for greater investment in cultural infrastructure if London is to meet its visitor targets.
‘Since one out of every seven Londoners is employed in tourism, this will be a welcome boost to the economy of the capital. London and Partners has also called for greater pre-visit promotion and, as Norman Foster says, the Tulip will become a new international symbol for London. It will reinforce the mayor’s campaign that “London is open”.’
He added: ‘Historic England is understandably concerned about the impact of the Eastern Cluster and the setting of the Tower of London. One of London’s key strengths is its ability to mix the historic and the contemporary.
‘Since the Tower was originally built to dominate the City and to ensure its continuity as a centre for business, it is appropriate that the eastern cluster of towers now forms a backdrop to the medieval keep, reflecting the world as it is rather than some Harry Potter-style fiction.’
He concluded: ‘The Tulip will provide fantastic views to visitors looking down on William the Conqueror’s castle, as well as the wider city. I can’t wait to see it.’
Norman Foster on the Tulip
The owner of the Gherkin approached me last year to ask how, as a world symbol of London, could we bring to it a public dimension. It proved impossible to retrofit the tower so we proposed a companion structure, totally devoted to the public with a generous education dimension for younger generations.
No such facility exists in London available for its citizens and visitors alike. Aside from being a symbol in its own right, it will add to the cluster of tall buildings that mark the city within a city. Of course, like the Gherkin nearly 20 years ago, it is inevitably controversial. But like the Gherkin itself, it has the potential to be a symbol far beyond its host city.