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ZHA hits back at critics of ‘breakthrough’ UK tower project


Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) has defended proposals for a high-rise, mixed-use scheme in London – described as a ‘breakthrough project’ for the practice – following criticism over its size and location

Shortly before Christmas, the firm submitted plans to Lambeth Council for two towers of 53 and 42 storeys, linked by an 11-storey podium at Vauxhall, south London.

The scheme, the practice’s first major mixed-use residential and commercial development in the UK, has been dubbed a ‘two-fingered salute’ by opponents, who claim the proposals are too big for the site.

The skyscrapers will sit next to Vauxhall bus station – the same plot on which Squire & Partners won permission on appeal for twin towers of 41 and 31 storeys in 2014.

The ZHA scheme would provide a 618-room hotel, 257 apartments, 20,000m² of office space, plus shops at ground level. It would also create a new public square.

Architect Barbara Weiss, who campaigns under the Skyline banner against inappropriate tall buildings across the capital, said: ‘Although these buildings are better-designed than the Squires ones, this application is attempting to add more height by stealth.

‘The River Thames is becoming a canyon and the price to the skyline of Boris Johnson’s liberal approach to tall buildings is becoming increasingly clear.’

Michael Keane, founder member of the Our Vauxhall campaign group, is also critical of the plans. ‘Vauxhall is already a very busy transport interchange,’ he said, ‘and taking out a large chunk of land and trying to add more people into it is a terrible idea.’

Helen Irwin, joint founder of campaign group Save Vauxhall Bus Station, added that the two new towers were likely to cause ‘massive overshadowing’ of the surrounding area.

‘There is only one road entrance to this scheme,’ she said. ‘With the amount of development proposed, the traffic will pile up, creating huge congestion problems.’

Another local objector, who wished to remain anonymous, said: ‘The scheme has less housing than previous proposals on the same site, despite the towers now being much taller – including a huge podium which combines them into a “two-fingered salute”.’

ZHA director Jim Heverin responded to the criticisms telling the AJ that the changes from the shorter Squire proposals were justified. He dismissed claims the scheme would create excessive shadowing.

‘When we came onto this scheme, it was right that we looked at the heights,’ he said. ‘We evolved the scheme to create a new public square. Our scheme takes less land on the ground but is higher.

‘There is a lot more density coming into this area. Our project fits within a masterplan that has been looked at by Transport for London.

‘In terms of overshadowing, our proposal does not create any more than what is already permitted from existing schemes in the area.’

Our proposal does not create any more overshadowing than what is already permitted

Critics have also pointed out that the planning application does not explicitly provide any proposals for affordable housing, saying merely that ‘once the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing has been determined, the number, mix, location and tenure of the affordable units can be confirmed’.

ZHA's Vauxhall Cross proposals - plan showing podium

ZHA’s Vauxhall Cross proposals - plan showing podium

ZHA’s Vauxhall Cross proposals - plan showing podium

Heverin said: ‘There is still an ongoing discussion between our client and Lambeth about viability and the amount of affordable housing.’

Consultation on the scheme ended last month, but no committee date has yet been scheduled. 

The application comes more than two years after ZHA principal Patrik Schumacher bemoaned the lack of large-scale, mixed-use schemes his practice had won in the UK.

Speaking in 2015, he said: ‘We look around us in London and we see all these cranes and wonder why we’re not a part of it. We did start to put out the message a few years ago but there is a preconception that we’re not interested, or there’s a doubt about the product we deliver.

Heverin described the fact that the practice has now submitted a planning application for the scheme as ‘significant’ for ZHA. ‘This is definitely a key breakthrough for us,’ he said. ‘It is a project where architecturally you have to approach it with more restraint than on other types of buildings. You are balancing the economics with design.

‘We had been keen to show that we can do this type of project and how the office is moving in this direction.’

The application has so far received 20 comments on the council’s website, with 10 objections and seven submissions in support (see bottom).

The ZHA scheme relies on land currently occupied by Arup Associates’ landmark bus station at Vauxhall.

Before Christmas, planners approved a smaller replacement bus station for the site, which campaigners say will reduce safety and convenience for passengers.

In 2016, Schumacher was heavily criticised for calling for social housing tenants to be swept out of central London.

Zha vauxhall cross view 07 171127 visual by slashcube copy

Zha vauxhall cross view 07 171127 visual by slashcube copy

Comments on planning application


‘The proposed development is grossly huge and will overshadow the surrounding area. We already have many tall buildings and do not need any more.’

‘These new high-rise blocks are not benefiting the majority of London’s population, they are largely investment opportunities for those based overseas and only serve to exacerbate the capital’s housing crisis.’

In support:

‘I absolutely love the Zaha Hadid Architects’ design; architecturally, this could be one of the best development in the Vauxhall area once completed.’

‘Architecturally, it could potentially be the best one in the regeneration zone and will hopefully set a precedent for other buildings being planned.’


Readers' comments (7)

  • This is a very appropriate site for dense high-rise development, and as a general rule you are better off going higher if you can improve the ground plane, as is happening here. The mix is also welcome and should finally turn this sorry location into a place with life and spirit.

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  • Again, more reactionary rubbish from professionals and lay people. And this Weiss woman is a deluded pied Piper of Nowhere? Her heart’s in the right place, but we all have to put prejudice aside to solve this complicated problem? At the moment she is only encouraging the aging middle class Phillistines. Barbara, with your friends, join us at the table with an open mind. It will require a leap of faith and a learning Curve on Chiswick Roundabout. Hold tight and carry on? High rise is not the only solution. Let’s have more houses, for a start.

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  • looking at this and the Heatherwick scheme in NY published last week - they are similar in many ways. A new tall building 'style' of triple storey elevation proportions and games thereon, a frame, and glass infill seems to be en-vogue. The problem is the glass - we all know the issues we can expect in terms of heating and overheating so a shift away from such vast amounts and less reliance on air conditioning would be sensible.

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  • It looks fantastic!

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  • Aha, so finally we get to see what Parametricism with some Er... parameters looks like, albeit without parameters such as solar shading, decorum, etc. Human ecology is obviously not very high on the agenda here. Nothing wrong with tall buildings, but the ground plane is where all the effort is necesssry, not sticking silly bits of stylings on the facades. Yes, we now know exactly what non-parameter architecture looks like, like 3rd American architects ripping off Zaha... oh.

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  • 3rd rate - sorry.

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  • The views of Vauxhall coming into Waterloo on the train suggest that it's been shaping up for a long time as fertile territory for architecture school tutors to show to their students what happens when there's seemingly an 'anything goes' planning policy - to the extent that the excellent modern bus station has become a victim of unworkable traffic planning strategies.
    A bus station that is head and shoulders above much of the high-rise stuff in the area, in terms of architectural quality - including, I think, this ZHA offering.

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