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The Tower of London can hold its own against new developments

Paul Finch

Just because you can see a tall building from the Tower of London doesn’t mean the Tower itself is diminished, says Paul Finch

News that the heritage brigade are objecting to tall buildings in the City of London because of their impact on the Tower of London prompted memories of what happened when Renzo Piano’s Shard design was under discussion.

A group of Cabe commissioners, led by Stuart Lipton, did a walking tour of the Tower environs to get a feeling for how the Shard might affect things, even though it was on the other side of the river, and some way from the best place to view the Tower, which is along the riverbank close to City Hall.

We couldn’t see that there would be much harm done, but we wanted to hear from the people for whom the Tower is home: the Beefeaters. We spoke to a couple and their view was quite clear: just because you would be able to see a tall building from within the Tower grounds didn’t mean the Tower itself was being diminished.

The Tower of London Beefeaters were not concerned about the development

At the ensuing public inquiry, I gave evidence in favour of the Shard on behalf of Cabe – or at least in support of the architecture and the proposed height, though we had concerns about the ground plane and the relationship with a neighbouring tower and transport facilities. Curiously, because we were not 100 per cent endorsers of the project, we were categorised by the Planning Inspectorate as objectors, even though there is nothing in law to say this is what should happen.

As a result of this, having been cross-examined by the English Heritage QC in respect of our general support for the project, I then received another grilling from developer Irvine Sellar’s QC over our reservations about some aspects of the proposal.

The only comfort I could draw was the opportunity, when questioned, to reference our Cabe commissioner conversation with senior Beefeaters, and the fact that they were not concerned about the development.

‘What conclusions did you draw from this conversation?’ asked the QC. I replied: ‘Since they were Beefeaters, we regarded them as serious stakeholders.’ Pun intended. I think it is reasonable to say that the room rocked with laughter, no doubt taking a lead from the inspector himself. It was probably the only light relief during the entire inquiry.

Tower shard christine matthews

Tower shard christine matthews

Does anyone now think the Shard has ruined the Tower of London and its World Heritage status? I don’t think so; and one could say the same about the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater, and in the fullness of time the other tall buildings planned in the Leadenhall area. The Tower is a tough old bird, and carries on regardless. Provided nobody starts trying to demolish it, or develop tall buildings immediately next door, it will no doubt continue to attract visitors of all kinds for several hundred years to come.

The truth is, real heritage can hold its own against the contemporary precisely because it represents history and survival, not because it is about ‘views’. At the inquiry into the Heron Tower, heritage concerns were raised in respect of the church across the road, St Botolph’s. The building of the office tower, with its jump scale, has in no way destroyed the quiet integrity of the latter.

A more fruitful policy on the part of the heritage authorities would be to focus on the protection of London’s viewing corridors. While there may be arguments in favour of loosening them, there are plenty against, including the fact that a denser, taller London would have a unique character compared with most other major cities, precisely because of those corridors. Developers might howl, but they know perfectly well that restriction creates value – and in this instance, would create character too.


Readers' comments (2)

  • sam martin

    The view in the evening across the Thames last week of The Tower of London made it clear that whatever looming glass towers the City allows to be built they can never compete with the Tower. The preponderance of radiating glass buildings throw light out at you where as the mass of the Tower of London with it's minimal apertures absorbs & receives light on its stone walls. The best part of the entire view was the subtlety and strength that the Tower possessed, almost saying "I am here", rather than the brash youngsters all shouting "look at me"

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  • For Sam Martin - it's called 'starchitecture' and is of the flashy 'here today, gone tomorrow' style, in stark contrast to the Tower.

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