TALL BUILDINGS IN LONDON

NLA, the centre for London’s built environment, has released its sixth annual survey of London’s tall buildings. The report asserts that tall buildings (defined as 20+ storeys high) are the ‘new normal’ as the capital adjusts to their presence on the skyline. Accompanying this year’s survey is an exhibition at the NLA Galleries at the Building Centre featuring fourteen Allies and Morrison projects.

A key theme of the practice’s tall buildings work is the urban role they play. It is a topic addressed by a contribution by our Alfredo Caraballo in the insight report published by the NLA and GL Hearn accompanying the exhibition (below):

Land marks

During the last decade, London has seen fundamental changes to its fabric. Rising land values, the magnetism of London as a place to live (and invest) as well as the need to densify and provide more homes, have all provided fertile ground for tall buildings to sprout up across the capital. Inevitably this has brought challenges and a debate about the nature and shape of growth in London. It seems clear that tall buildings are increasingly becoming an intrinsic part of the city, but what should be the nature of their contribution to the built environment? Is it possible for a tall building to be responsive to the specific conditions of where it sits? This is particularly important for London, a city where there has not been a tradition of tall buildings.

Often tall buildings are discussed in the context of form, height or affordability. Whilst their impact in the skyline might be the most visible aspect of tall buildings, perhaps a more fundamental one happens at their feet: how they hit the ground and affect the life of the streets around them.

Each tall building will be different. Some will inevitably stand on their own, whereas others dissolve with the contiguous buildings; some are singular pieces whereas others are part of an ensemble; some are pure forms yet others have more complex configurations; some are part of new neighbourhoods whereas others are inserted in established areas of the city. There is no single recipe that applies to every single condition. However, few fundamental aspects surely can give urbanity to buildings that are often guilty of aloofness.

Firstly, they should land, clearly acknowledging they are constituting part of the city. This means placing a tall building not as a detached, self-referential object, but as participating actor, contributing positively to the streetscape it is to become a part of. As with any other typology, tall buildings should also clearly define urban edges, of the streets or open spaces which they address, becoming part of the fabric that surrounds them. Particularly at the ground floor, tall buildings should have a clear hierarchy, identifying what is a front, what is a back or what is a flank, therefore contributing to urban legibility. And crucially, tall buildings should actively contribute to public life where it matters most: on the ground floor. This might range from something as simple as placing entrances in the right place, to providing active uses wherever possible, to fostering activity not just inside but also around the building.

Whereas these are aspects that are desirable of all types of buildings, it becomes particularly important with tall ones, given their particular impact on their surroundings. Architects might have done their job when a ground floor drawing does not give away if the building is a tower or a mansion block. In other words, if the tall building contributes to the place where it interacts with the street as normally and sensibly as a mid-rise one. A landmark in the skyline but more importantly, leaving a mark that contributes to the actual land they sit on.

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Tall Buildings in London is on view daily from 5 March to 30 April 2019 at the NLA Galleries, The Building Centre, 26 Store Street WC1E 7BT.