Londoners fight plans for more skyscrapers

The Observer, LONDON

Mon, Mar 31, 2014 - Page 7

Some of Britain’s most influential figures in the arts, politics and academia have launched a campaign to save London’s skyline from being dominated by more than 200 additional skyscrapers.

Signatories from sculptor Sir Antony Gormley to philosopher Alain de Botton, author Alan Bennett, Stirling prize-winning architect Alison Brooks, and London mayoral hopefuls Dame Tessa Jowell and MP David Lammy warn: “The skyline of London is out of control.”

More than 200 towers of at least 20 stories are under construction or being planned, of which three-quarters will provide luxury residential apartments, according to New London Architecture, a discussion and education forum.

The campaigners, who include sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor, Griff Rhys Jones — presenter on the BBC’s Restoration TV series — Charles Saumarez Smith, chief executive of the Royal Academy of Arts, and former Tory minister for domestic affairs Lord Baker, pledge to fight what they describe as a fundamental and damaging transformation of London.

The campaign, which wants a skyline commission to examine London’s future profile, has also obtained the support of the Observer’s architecture critic, Rowan Moore.

“It is shocking that such a profound change is being made with so little public awareness or debate,” Moore said.

A spokesman for London Mayor Boris Johnson said he would consider the idea of a commission and discuss it with interested parties this week, though he called for the campaigners to engage with the “distinguished names” on his own design advisory group.

The skyline campaign comes after the rejection by the high court two weeks ago of an appeal against a £600 million (US$998.7 million) development on the South Bank of the River Thames which UNESCO says could threaten Westminster’s world heritage status.

In their statement, more than 70 signatories, including societies and associations, write: “Over 200 tall buildings, from 20 storeys to much greater heights, are currently consented or proposed. Many of them are hugely prominent and grossly insensitive to their immediate context and appearance on the skyline.”

“Planning and political systems are proving inadequate to protect the valued qualities of London, or provide a coherent and positive vision for the future skyline. The official policy is that tall buildings should be ‘well designed and in the right place,’ yet implementation of policy is fragmented and weak,” it said.

“Too many of these towers are of mediocre architectural quality and badly sited. Many show little consideration for scale and setting, make minimal contribution to public realm or street-level experience and are designed without concern for their cumulative effect and impact,” the statement said.

Today London’s skyline is dominated by such sights as central London’s skyscrapers, the “Cheese-grater” in Leadenhall, the “Walkie-talkie” in Fenchurch Street and the “Gherkin” in Aldgate. Towering above them all is the 305m “Shard” next to London Bridge railway station.