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Last Updated: Monday, 29 March 2004, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
Skyscrapers transforming City skyline
By Margaret Ryan
BBC News Online

Despite gloomy forecasts that the days of the skyscraper were numbered post-September 11 and frequent warnings of terror threats in the capital, planning applications for high rise buildings continue to drop into authority in-trays.

In the City, reinsurance firm Swiss Re's new headquarters on the site of the former Baltic Exchange, dubbed the "erotic gherkin", is nearing completion.

And more new skyscrapers will rise up in the City and beyond in the next decade transforming London's skyline.

A 50-storey building - the Minerva at Aldgate - has been approved and a 48-storey glass building, in Leadenhall Street east of Tower 42, is also planned.

It's Master of the Universe syndrome
Paul Finch, Architects' Journal

Tower 42, the tallest building in London when built in 1980, has long been eclipsed by the 50-storey Canada Tower at Canary Wharf in Docklands.

But once the 66-storey London Bridge Tower, otherwise known as the Shard of Glass, is built in south London this will become one of the tallest buildings in Europe.

The prestige of a tall building in a prime location is not lost on companies seeking new homes, said Paul Finch, editorial director of the Architects' Journal and deputy chairman of the Commission for Architecture and Built Environment (Cabe).

He is convinced a world-class financial centre must have high rises and believes the need for companies to reside in ever taller buildings is compelling.

"It seems to be corporate ego or ambition. It's Master of the Universe syndrome.

"You feel important. It is partly commercial, partly psychological and partly corporate," he said.

But he struck a note of caution that London's newest landmarks needed to be distinctive in design.

At Canary Wharf, One Canada Tower had been "in splendid isolation" when built but was now surrounded by less impressive high rise buildings, he argued.

Warm response

Peter Rees, the City planning officer for the Corporation of London, said: "The skyline is not going to become Manhattan over the next five years."

But there will be a cluster of tall buildings around Tower 42 east of the Bank of England, in a location that will not jeopardise views of St Paul's Cathedral, he said.

If approved this 48-storey glass tower will transform the skyline

"We are not doing this to change the skyline.

"We are doing it because we need more offices surrounded by public transport."

Without skyscrapers some companies may take their business elsewhere to cities like New York, Chicago, Hong Kong or Tokyo, it is feared.

A combination of prestige, views, accommodation needs and the creation of centres of excellence explain why companies want these buildings, he said.

As for the public, he said: "It is amazing how they are warming to the idea of tall buildings."

Mayor Ken Livingstone shares a positive view of tall buildings in the right places.

He has said he expects to see a limited number of very tall buildings developed - about one a year - with these most likely to be in the City, Canary Wharf and some other town centre locations.

Much of the development in the City seems driven by the insurance sector.

Stephen Cane, chairman of the International Underwriting Association (IUA), is impressed by the scale of development.

"Throughout my career in the London insurance market I don't think I have ever seen so many new developments.

"Walking in just about any direction from my office in Mark Lane you are struck by the amount of activity."

While the insurance sector had faced challenges in recent years the projects showed a vitality in the market, he added.

'Blast resistant'

Work has yet to begin on the 42-storey Heron Tower office and retail complex, near Liverpool Street, approved two years ago.

Where the skyscrapers will be

Fred Pilbrow, director in charge of the design, said it had been revisited post-September 11 to re-examine safety issues. It meets tough building regulations and will be "blast resistant."

While 2,500 people will work in the tower, there will only be 11 parking spaces because the office is near 10 Tube stations.

"We cannot go on expanding ever outwards. We have to build in greater density within the city," said Mr Pilbrow.

Elsewhere, the developers of the Shard of Glass believe the offices, retail, hotel and penthouse apartments complex by world-renowned architect Renzo Piano will be an attractive addition to the skyline.

"It will become an iconic building," said Baron Phillips, PR consultant for the developers Sellar Property Group.

Heritage concerns

But not everyone is enamoured with the rush of applications for state-of-the-art skyscrapers that will punctuate the skyline.

English Heritage is among those concerned traditional landmarks, such as the dome of St Paul's Cathedral, will be obscured.

It objected to the Shard of Glass and the Heron Tower - both approved after public inquiries.

Yet a spokesman, who represented English Heritage at the Shard of Glass inquiry, still acknowledges it is an "exciting world-class building in a league of its own."

Nicholas Antram, the London region's assistant regional director, said: "It would have been a brave decision to reject it on heritage grounds in a location in need of regeneration and in an area where there are three existing tall buildings."

English Heritage insists tall buildings have to be well-planned and of high architectural quality.

"We must make sure they go in the right places and don't have an impact on our cherished heritage.

"We only have to look around London to see the mistakes of the 1960s," said Mr Antram.

Meanwhile architects and developers remain adamant high rises have a future.

"Even Wren had some problems getting planning permission when he first built St Paul's," said Mr Phillips.

The BBC's Razia Iqbal
"There's no doubt that the building stands out"

Skyscrapers need faster exits
11 Sep 02 |  Leicester 2002

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