The city of London is in the grips of an unprecedented building boom with skyscrapers at the heart of a complex debate. The increasing number of construction projects in planning and underway in the city are partly a response to the British capital’s population growth; tall buildings meet the need to achieve higher levels of housing and workspace.
There are a wide range of arguments for and against the expansion of the city skywards, as planners try to meet the needs of its growing number of residents. Over 100 new tall buildings (over 20 storeys) have been proposed for Britain’s capital in the last year. Latest industry research by New London Architecture (NLA) also shows that the number of tall buildings under construction has risen from 70 to 89.
Conflict centres on how skyscrapers have continued to grow taller with each new build. With the help of new technologies and precision engineering, they have taken on new and exciting forms that reach higher than ever before. After the millennium, many also took on new nicknames. In 2004 the 180-metre tall 30 St Mary Axe, designed by Foster + Partners, was fondly labelled the ‘Gherkin’. Its later neighbour, 20 Fenchurch Street, has been designated the ‘Walkie Talkie’ and London Bridge’s newest addition was aptly named The Shard.
The previous Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wanted to show he was tackling the well publicised and severe housing shortage in the capital, and this is also top of new Mayor Sadiq Khan's agenda. Residential towers, whether they contain high-end luxury apartments or affordable homes, are seen as the answer and make up the bulk of recent tall building planning submissions.
The proliferation of skyscrapers in London has been met by a number of high profile campaigns aiming to prevent many of the planned high-rises becoming reality. The Skyline Campaign aims to: “Stop the devastation of London by badly designed tall buildings in the wrong location.” It was launched in March 2014 with support from The Observer, The Architects’ Journal and a statement signed by over 80 public ﬁgures, experts and community groups.
Many schemes have been viewed as poorly designed by experts involved with the Skyline Campaign. They want architects and planners to keep things a little closer to earth. Their answer to the housing crisis is to make London denser with a range of buildings 6-8 storeys tall, using materials that fit into their context.
It is agreed that at the heart of building design, including skyscrapers, remains the wellbeing of users. Architecture can have a serious and positive impact on individuals. Whether they impact the skyline significantly or not, the ability a building has to develop communities among the people that live and work in them is a crucial element to its overall success.
Green space is recognised as an important element that must form part of housing and workplace solutions. Five years ago, Boris Johnson launched the ‘London Plan’ to acknowledge the need for more greenery in the city. He set targets to help increase green space in London by at least 5% by 2030. Crucially, this target includes installing roof gardens.
One of the most publicised examples of a roof space being put to good use is the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street. It stands as the capital's highest roof garden at 37-storeys. Up above the bustling streets of London, previously neglected rooftop spaces are following trend and being transformed into flourishing exotic flower and vegetable gardens.
There is huge potential in roof gardens, be that converted space in existing buildings or by incorporating plans for new ones into adventurous designs. At Kinley, we’re looking to make the transition from neglected spaces to green ones as easy as possible. We’re collaborating with architects and landscape designers on roof garden projects across the world, including in London.