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Weiss: London is sleepwalking towards ‘incipient urban disaster’

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Skyline Campaign stalwart Barbara Weiss has broadcast an impassioned plea for the capital’s high rise boom to be reined in before its heritage is irreversibly damaged

The Italian-born architect, who has made London her home for more than three decades, used a BBC Radio 4 comment slot to highlight the risk posed to the city’s built heritage by a pipeline of more than 200 high-rise residential blocks believed to be in development.

Weiss said the capital was facing a ‘toxic mix of commercialism and bling’ that was ‘the result of inept planning and haphazard urban design’.

She said the boom in 50, 60 and 70-storey structures in development was being fuelled by a ‘perfect storm’ of foreign investments looking for a safe haven, cash-strapped boroughs, and a mayor facing a housing shortage.

In a dedicated Four Thought programme, Weiss said very few Londoners were ‘aware of the incipient urban disaster about to unfold’ as a result. 

‘Many will take notice too late, when a 60-storey building suddenly looms over their neighbourhood, or when UNESCO actually rescinds London’s World Heritage Site status,’ she said

Weiss insisted that she was not opposed to high rise buildings, and spoke of being mesmerised by the skyskrapers of Manhattan in her youth.

‘New York‘s towers evolved gracefully, over many decades, within carefully designed, organic masterplans, and an ordered urban grid; rules and regulations dictated heights and adjacencies,’ she said.

‘The tall buildings sprouting up all over London are, in contrast, the result of inept planning and haphazard urban design. Many of them are being built in highly inappropriate and sensitive locations, dwarfing the city’s historic landmarks and blighting low-rise surroundings for miles.’

Weiss, who is continuing the mantle of the Skyline Campaign launched by The AJ and The Observer last year, said supporters were currently lobbying candidates for next year’s London mayoral elections to back the cause.

‘A new mayor with the political will to stop the desecration of the London skyline will be in a position to impose much greater scrutiny of tall buildings and potentially put a stop to outrageous new proposals,’ she said. 

‘There are, no doubt, parts of London that can comfortably accommodate towers, but not many, and even then, an ideal maximum height must be carefully negotiated.’

Saving the Skyline is available on the BBC iPlayer.

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