It’s been a hectic few months in built environment issues as they affect London, with both the tall buildings debate – kicked off by the London’s Growing Up! exhibition and talk series at the NLA – and the growing housing crisis capturing the imagination and deep anxieties of those in the capital.
So, just what is it with Londoners and tall buildings? Are people’s sentiments towards the typology forged from the history of 1960s council block failures, underwritten by social problems, faulty lifts and dank staircases? Are tall buildings considered too stark a contrast to our otherwise low-rise historic environment? Or is it a deep distrust of foreign investors parking their money in luxury housing they will never inhabit?
Whatever the reason, tall buildings make for an emotive subject, stoked up still further from the key finding at the NLA’s blockbuster exhibition on the subject that there are over 230 buildings of over 20 storeys heading our way. But in fact, the Ipsos MORI poll commissioned by the NLA showed that, if anything, there are just as many people that love the idea of tall buildings as loathe them – only 32% of people quizzed felt there are too many tall buildings in London, for instance, compared to 40% who disagreed with that notion. And some 46% of people in the same poll felt tall buildings have made London look better, against 25% voting the other way. So it’s only natural that this issue of New London Quarterly reaches for the sky to explore that phenomenon further and attempt to achieve a balanced view.
In addition to the tall buildings special in which we cover some of the many events that have spearheaded this programme, looking abroad as well as at home for lessons and paths forward, we interview one of the main image-makers in this arena, Alan Davidson of Hayes Davidson for his take on all things view corridor and cluster. We take a voyage south to look at a zone where tall buildings are considered appropriate and will be a likely addition to a place now being catalysed largely through Westfield and Hammerson’s decision to invest in the Whitgift Centre – Croydon. Jo Negrini, fresh from her spell at Newham, explains how her Olympic-like vision will translate to a place which has seen so many false dawns in the past.
Back in the City, The Leadenhall Tower has been received as a beacon of high quality, and we talk to its architect Graham Stirk about his part in a practice that is working at the top of its game – Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. And still in the Square Mile, Sir Nicholas Kenyon and his team are seeking to make the most of Crossrail and the cultural elements around the Barbican – itself another of the key tall buildings to have successfully negotiated the 70s, concrete and high design ideals.
Elsewhere in the magazine we look at public art as it has been used to good effect by The Crown Estate, and, in a new feature we’re calling Project Preview, we take an extended look at an interesting project that is set to rework an important 60s estate – the Aylesbury, by HTA. The same practice figures heavily in a separate article this time on how the suburbs might come to the aid of London’s housing crisis by adapting to greater levels of densification in time.
Our Building Review looks at another reworking – this time of the former home of the BBC’s World Service and John Robertson Architects’ Aldwych Quarter scheme. And there is the usual mix of capital ideas, opinion pieces and market summaries besides, with subject matter ranging from housing, to the Farrell Review, to what London – and possibly Boris’ estuary airport / Heathrow redevelopment – could learn from how Denver moved its airport, creating housing where its old one stood.
Ultimately, with those 230 tall buildings set to come to London’s skyline, there is a sense in which the horse has already bolted. But that’s not to say that that those horses can’t be as well-groomed, fit-for-purpose and popular as possible. The debate will continue, and of course will be reflected in future editions.