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Architects need to embrace vertical living

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If done right, tall buildings can create strong communities and help solve London’s housing crisis, says Jo Palma of Perkins+Will

There’s been a lot of interesting debate recently in the media about London’s tall buildings, and some of the criticism has been fair. But the debate shouldn’t centre strictly on building tall, but focus more on building well.

As designers, we have to respond appropriately to cultural impact and sensitivities, and to do this we need to look and learn from other metropolitan cities such as New York and Chicago where vertical structures benefit people. These cities have set a benchmark for designing tall buildings, where there is sensitivity towards height on the ground plane, how wide the building is, or how slender it needs to be. We need to keep London’s buildings elegant through proportion to allow for light and avoid casting a shadow over neighbouring communities, an issue that has come up fairly frequently in recent planning negotiations.

The Stage, Shoreditch, by Perkins+Will

The Stage, Shoreditch by Perkins+Will

The Stage, Shoreditch by Perkins+Will

What we must remember is that people come and go, but our architecture will remain for a long period of time and has to respond to the changing market demands and needs of future generations. We’re responsible for the future change of our urban environment and can design our buildings to accommodate a multitude of uses. This is not only very important for the longevity of a building, but it also makes them more vibrant and ensures integration within the city. Tall buildings are perfect for this owing to their increased density, but they have a lot of stigma attached to them. Vertical structures have a reputation for being ‘money-making schemes’ but if anchored by the right infrastructure, they can create real communities or add to existing ones in a truly meaningful way.

From an urban standpoint, tall buildings also have the potential to ‘shrink’ a city. In the upper levels of a building you’re so much more in tune with the surrounding environment. You have personal contact with your locality which you don’t experience in a low-rise building – tall buildings have the ability to form strong communities. It’s different and it’s new, but the city is organic and growing – it has to – and we need to design for it. Over the next 20 years there’s expected to be an extra 1.6 million people in Greater London alone.

How we navigate this housing crisis will define London’s identity and future. We have a rare opportunity to be at the forefront of design excellence and develop a new way of life. There’s no reason we can’t do this, but first we need to embrace vertical living. It’s not a question of if, but when.

Jo Palma is regional design director of EMEA for Perkins+Will

Confidential project Ankara Turkey Jo Palma Perkins Will

Confidential project Ankara, Turkey designed by Jo Palma Perkins Will

Confidential project Ankara, Turkey designed by Jo Palma Perkins Will

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Readers' comments (1)

  • '...the city is organic and growing - it has to.' - correct, but remember that Monty Python 'Mr Creosote' sketch from 'The Meaning of Life'? where the a guy in a restaurant eats and eats and eats, and balloons until eventually he explodes?
    There's surely a strong case for arguing that London's becoming over-stuffed - just today the property development pressures have been justified in the High Court decision to uphold Mayor Johnson's approval of the called in Norton Folgate proposals.

    There are numerous examples in the AJ of central London projects involving rebuilding to double the height (or more) of the existing fabric - quite apart from the 'stand out' high-rise towers - and it's the human scale that's steadily being lost in some areas.
    And goodness knows there's been vast discussion on, and experience of, the comparative benefits of high density high-rise versus high density low-rise.
    For the apparent army of overseas investors who see London housing as a commodity and for whom the concept of 'community' is meaningless, for city workers with no children, and (maybe)for retired folk, high-rise living might be fine.
    But for communities, surely even the enlightened designs - from Corbusier's unites and their offspring onwards - haven't proved that wonderful, and surely you can't beat keeping your feet on (or near to) the ground - especially if you're raising a family.

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