Record 541 new skyscrapers planned for London

The Tulip: At 1,000ft, it will be the second-tallest building in Britain (3ft lower than the Shard).

Britain’s newest high-rise gets approval, sparking a war of words. Some think these superstructures are an abomination. Others find them breathtaking: “the point where art and the city meet”.

London’s skyscrapers are known for two things: strange shapes and silly nicknames. There is the Gherkin, the Cheese Grater, the Shard and the Walkie-Talkie. Now, a new tower is on its way: the Tulip.

The tower is designed by Foster + Partners, the same company behind the Gherkin.

Unlike the buildings around it, there will be no office space: it is purely a tourist attraction. The large glass bulb which rests on top of a concrete tower will serve as a viewing platform, with a restaurant and an education centre. Outside, rotating glass pods will circle the building’s exterior like a miniature London Eye.

The plans were approved by the City of London’s planning committee this week. Developers are hoping to complete it by 2025, when it will become the second-tallest tower in the UK (after the Shard).

But not everyone is pleased. “This building — a lift shaft with a bulge on top — will cause permanent and irreversible damage to the setting of the Tower of London,” said Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England.

Historic Royal Palaces also complained that it would block views of the Tower of London, challenging its status as a symbol of royalty and power.

Now, Mayor Sadiq Khan will have two weeks to decide whether to overrule the decision.

The Tulip has caused particular controversy, but the debate over London’s skyline has been raging for years. There are few rules around the construction of high-rise towers, other than that they must relate well to nearby buildings, without blocking historic views of monuments like St Paul’s Cathedral.

According to New London Architecture (NLA), an avalanche of 541 new skyscrapers is currently being planned in London. “Are we really aware of this, and what is happening?” asked Javier Quintana de Una, director of architecture company IDOM UK, last month. “Are we ready for something like this?”

London’s calling

In short: does London need more skyscrapers? Many say no. “Towers are the enemies of social vitality,” wrote Simon Jenkins in The Guardian last May. “They are silent stakes driven through a city’s sense of community.” London’s skyline used to be dominated by St Paul’s, a symbol of history, religion and culture. Now, it is all about glass skyscrapers — which are symbols of money, and little else.

“One of London’s key strengths is its ability to mix the historic and the contemporary,” countered the chair of the NLA, Peter Murray. Skyscrapers often attract controversy, but they can also be beautiful symbols of a city’s confidence and strength. They help to boost the local economy. And the Tulip has been designed to be open to communities, not to shut them out. Don’t get stuck in the past.

You Decide

  1. Do you like the design of the Tulip?
  2. Do skyscrapers improve cities? Or make them worse?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are in charge of writing new rules for building skyscrapers in London. What would developers have to do for their building to be approved? Think about issues like design, sustainability, and the impact on the local community.
  2. It is time to design a tower for your nearest city! Every city is different, so think carefully about the kind of buildings that are already there, and how yours would fit in. Present your design to the rest of the class.

Some People Say...

“We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.”

Winston Churchill

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
London is joint-55th in a list of cities with buildings over 150m, according to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. It has 19, the same number as Boston and Seattle. Hong Kong tops the list with 354, followed by New York City with 274, and Dubai with 190. London has one building over 300m (the Shard) and five over 200m.
What do we not know?
How feelings about London’s new skyscrapers will change over time. Will they become beloved symbols of the city — an integral part of its character, like St Paul’s or the Tower of London? Or will they be seen as architectural blights, relics of a misguided period in the capital’s history?

Word Watch

The Shard
At 306m, the Shard is not only the tallest building in the UK — it is the tallest in Western Europe.
Foster + Partners
The company founded by architect Norman Foster. He also designed the Millennium Bridge, Wembley Stadium and skyscrapers around the world.
City of London
Confusingly, this does not refer to the whole capital city. The “City of London” is the financial district in the centre of London. It is also sometimes called the “Square Mile”.
Tower of London
A castle on the bank of the River Thames which was first built almost 1,000 years ago. It was used as a palace and a prison, and is the home of the Crown Jewels. Much like skyscrapers now, it was resented by Londoners when it was first built.
St Paul’s Cathedral
There has been a church on the site for 1,400 years. The current cathedral was built in the late 17th century and designed by the architect Christopher Wren. At 111m, it was the tallest building in London until 1967.
New London Architecture
An independent forum for discussing London’s planning and architecture. These figures are from its 2019 survey.

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