Staggeringly sleek and toweringly tall, London’s skyline is about to change with these new skyscrapers.
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With today’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, reaching some 828 metres (2,717 feet) compared to the 310-metre (1,017 feet) height of The Shard (London’s tallest building) it seems topping those charts again might be out of reach for the British capital for now.
Still, the city’s skyline is being redefined with a slew of ambitious projects. Now that the measure of a fireman’s ladder no longer determines the height of a building in the British capital, as it did until 1954 in accordance with the London Building Act, a slew of top architects is pushing the limits.
A March 2016 study by planning and architecture forum New London Architecture found that 436 towers of 20 floors or more were in the works across London at that time. Not everyone thinks this is good. Pressure groups abound, including Skyline Campaign, which last year celebrated the reduction of a proposed 72-floor Renzo Piano tower, the Paddington Pole, to a mere 14 storeys.
But fans say London has lots of high-rise style to offer.
“London is far behind cities like New York, Dubai, and many cities where hundreds of skyscrapers crowd together,” says Herbert Wright, author of London High, Skyscrapers: Fabulous Buildings That Reach for The Sky. “Hong Kong has the most of all. But being ahead is more than just numbers or height. In terms of design and sustainability, London is a leading skyscraper city.”
The cluster of skyscrapers that defines the City of London’s skyline is about to have company with numerous projects in the pipeline, including the office tower 22 Bishopsgate.
At 278 metres (912 feet) tall, this building will have the highest free public viewing platform in London, as well as 62 storeys to accommodate an estimated 12,000 workers. Amenities will include a fresh food market, a curated art walk, and the capital’s first ‘climbing window’ - a vertiginous window that doubles as a climbing wall. Designed by PLP Architecture, it will be the second tallest building in London, after the Shard, upon completion in 2019. It will then become the third tallest, once the delayed 1 Undershaft is finished nearby.
“London needs to develop a tall building type that suits its character, rather than trying to compete with other cities,” says Lee Polisano, a founding partner and president of PLP Architecture. “Although there are many buildings taller than London’s around the world, it’s not about benchmarking other cities through height. I do question if London needs more tall buildings.”
(Credit: PLP Architecture)
Due to be completed in Spring 2018, at 52 Lime Street, is the Scalpel. Its aesthetic is one of “folded glass, like origami,” says the building’s designer Bill Pedersen, a founding partner of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates. Once completed, it will reach 190 metres, placing it height-wise between its neighbour the Gherkin (180 metres) and the Shard.
The origami effect “enables the building to gently slope away from the ground. Tall buildings that lean back bring more light to the ground and are friendlier to pedestrians on the street,” says Pedersen.
“While London has fewer skyscrapers than most of the world's major cities, many are of significantly higher quality,” he says. “I am referring specifically to the Cheesegrater (The Leadenhall Building), the Gherkin and to the Shard. Our building, dubbed the Scalpel, joins this distinguished group.”
Pedersen credits good city planning for this arrangement. “It was the imaginative concept of London's planners, led by Peter Rees, to bring a cluster of tall buildings together, rather than have them randomly distributed throughout the city,” he says. “This has created a method for placing tall buildings, which puts London in a leading role regarding the inclusion of skyscrapers within the fabric of the traditional city.”
(Credit: WRBC Development UK)
Fifteen years in the making, luxury residential tower One Blackfriars will also reach 190 metres (623 feet) in height when it is completed next year. Architect Ian Simpson of SimpsonHaugh sees the building, which is in Southwark on the banks of the Thames, as a link between the north and south of the river.
“We were very conscious that it’s a bridgehead between Southwark and The City,” he says. “The form is derived from the dynamic of the river and Blackfriars Road. We were very conscious of the effect on the skyline. It’s also a very unusual residential tower. Most residential towers are quite box-like. This is a twin-skin building and by far the most elegant residential building we have created.” The practice’s other projects include Battersea Power Station.
(Credit: St George Plc)
250 City Road, Principal Tower
Foster + Partners has made a decisive impact on the London skyline, with its iconic Gherkin building, among others.
New projects in the works for the firm include 250 City Road, a mixed-use project that will include two residential towers, and reach up to 150 metres (492 feet) in height. The idea behind 250 City Road is to rejuvenate a business park from the 1980s, situated between Old Street and Angel.
Principal Place is another Foster + Partners mixed-use scheme, sitting in a sweet spot between London’s financial, tech and trendy Shoreditch districts. The commercial complex’s anchor resident is Amazon, while the architectural jewel in its crown is a svelte 50-storey residential skyscraper, Principal Tower, due for completion in 2019.
(Credit: Hayes Davidson/Foster + Partners)
One Park Drive
Switzerland’s Herzog & de Meuron, the architects that transformed the Bankside Power Station into the Tate Modern, are jumping into the fray with One Park Drive, their first residential project in the UK.
Situated in Canary Wharf, One Park Drive is a 205-metre-high, 58-storey mixed-use complex that is boasting a six-minute journey time to Liverpool Street, once the new Crossrail trains begin service.
“Herzog & de Meuron make exceptionally distinctive buildings,” says Wright. “This tower will be like a faceted cylindrical column, introducing texture and breaking the blockiness of the boxy skyscrapers that characterise the area.”
(Credit: One Park Drive)
Wright can sometimes be spotted on the streets of London, peering towards the skyline to monitor skyscraper developments. He is looking forward to the completion of the revamped 1960s icon Centre Point, with its yet-to-be-sold £55m penthouse.
“The best will be Centre Point, London’s supremely elegant and unique 1965 masterpiece designed by Richard Seifert,” he says. The iconic building rises above Tottenham Court Road tube station, measuring 117 metres (384 feet) tall. “It has literally been under wraps for some time, as it is converted into flats, but will be reborn in 2018, it’s mesmeric concrete facades and adjacent breath-taking glass bridge set to dazzle again,” he says.
The tower has been converted from offices into 82 apartments. Architects Conran & Partners, Almacantar, and Rick Mather Architects were appointed to this 34-storey project.
(Credit: Getty Images)
Trellis Tower, 1 Undershaft
The on-again, off-again Trellis Tower, otherwise known as 1 Undershaft, is now back on and set to become the tallest building in London, after The Shard, by the time it is completed.
It will measure 305 metres, or just over 1,000 feet. This 73-storey office block, which will be situated next to 22 Bishopsgate, will also become the tallest tower in London’s Square Mile. It is being designed by architect Eric Parry and will replace the existing Aviva tower. It will be the second tallest building in Western Europe after the Shard, and its roof will host the UK’s highest public viewing gallery.
(Credit: D BOX/Eric Parry Architects)
A number of skyscrapers in London are vying to become the tallest residential building in Europe. This includes Spire London in West India Quay, a 235 metre-high luxury tower boasting 67 floors. Looking like a cluster of sleek cylinders, this towering, shimmering residential block will also host a private members’ club, a gym, spa and swimming pool, as well as a library, cinema and bar for residents.
Other notable high-rise residential projects include KPF’s One Nine Elms (200 metres), and Newfoundland Quay on the Isle of Dogs, which will rise up to 220 metres, thanks to architects Horden, Cherry, Lee.