Previously Posted: Towering Ambition

For those new to CabbieBlog or readers who are slightly forgetful, on Saturdays I’m republishing posts, many going back over a decade. Some will still be very relevant while others have become dated over time. Just think of this post as your weekend paper supplement.

Towering Ambition (22.01.2010)

I could have subtitled this post counting cranes for wherever you look these days in London a large building is being constructed.

Towards the end of the 1920s the Empire State Building was constructed in New York, mostly using cheap immigrant labour from Europe, it was completed in 1929 just as the last severe depression was beginning to be felt. Because of its position the building could not be let and was nicknamed the Empty State Building and it was not until 1950, some 30 years later that it was fully occupied.

Now in London we are seeing some of the largest towers in London’s history being constructed, not to help unemployed British jobs, but to speculate on an upturn in the City’s finances using the abundant labour available at a time of recession hoping against hope to ride the recovery promised by politicians in the next 18 months.

Their height makes life for pedestrians below a misery. The pavement now can be described as “a place where the sun don’t shine” and because of their height cold air is funnelled down the building’s side to fall literally on pedestrians heads. Go to Canary Wharf and you can experience this cooling effect in both summer and winter, you won’t find many people enjoying a Continental cafe culture here on its pavement, in fact nearly all socialising and shopping is conducted underground.

So who can we blame for this deteriorating of London’s environment? Town planners for sure, companies wishing to extract as much value from their buildings’ footprint as possible, certainly, but the main culprits have to be the architects.

Many of these new skyscrapers are aesthetically no better than the buildings they replace and much taller, but worst, much worst is their location which makes them disproportionately tall for their position in the townscape.

The Sterling prize winning Swiss Re: Tower (“The Gherkin”) is, (and it pains me to say this) a triumph of design and engineering, and less obtrusive than its volume would normally dictate, but now being obscured by two new towers, The Heron Tower and The Pinnacle being built in Bishopsgate nearby. Equally intended to enhance its area near London Bridge, The Shard has the potential to be a world class piece of engineering, but Southwark Cathedral will be forever in its shadow.

I remain convinced that all these, in many cases, indifferent additions to our City, are just built to massage the vast egos of the senior partners of the architectural practices and their clients.

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