London’s Age of Towers

Over the past five years Londoners have grown accustomed to charting the upward rise of a whole host of new skyscrapers. Cranes and sprouting concrete cores have climbed ever higher on their progression towards completion, transforming the city skyline in the process.  

We spoke to one of the UK’s leading figures in architecture Robert Tavernor, Emeritus Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at the London School of Economics and a founding partner of Tavernor Consultancy, about the capital’s future.

The Decade of Towers

London is not only a national capital, but a global one. This means that despite the difficult wider financial landscape, development in London is continuing at a rapid pace. As Robert Tavernor explains:  “There is a huge influx of foreign money coming into the city, which is continuing unabated. Money from Malaysia, China and Russia, which means that London essentially has its own economy”.

This frenzy of development in London is essentially governed by a document called the ‘London Plan‘. Developed by the Mayor of London’s office, and published by the Greater London Authority, the latest version of the plan was published in July 2011 and has a formal end date of 2031. “The London Plan essentially maps out the development policy for London. The theory is that it is appropriate for London to have tall buildings”, explains Robert Tavernor.

In a city as densely populated and expensive as the capital, future development on a large scale is inevitably going to rise skywards. There are a number of examples of tall towers that are currently at the development stage. In Southwark there is the 31-storey ‘Quill’, which was recently approved, and future development is now very much focused along the South Bank. As Tavernor suggests, “the long-term vision [of the London Plan] is to avoid expansion outwards, and instead to increase density in London, especially central London”.

Vauxhall, once the industrial heart of London, is one such example and is now at the centre of a vast redevelopment plan. Over the next 15 years, the centrally located area will be refashioned as a modern business, residential and cultural quarter, opening up a whole new section of the South Bank in the process.

A whole new town centre will be built around a redeveloped Battersea Power Station, boosted by an extension of the Northern Line that will see two new stations open in Vauxhall. The relocated US Embassy is due to open in 2017 and New Covent Garden Market is due to undergo significant redevelopment. Plans include 16,000 new homes and the creation of 25,000 jobs in the area, both of which will be achieved through the development of a whole new cluster of tower buildings throughout the riverside district.

Redevelopment of the area, collectively known as Nine Elms, is already underway. St George’s Wharf Tower is currently rising ever higher on the south side of the Thames, and when completed the 49-storey tower will be the tallest residential building in the UK. Meanwhile Riverlight – a series of 6 new residential and commercial towers – is also under construction on the waterfront. Demand is such that majority of the residencies have sold off plan.

The tallest and most prominent planned new development in Nine Elms is Vauxhall Square, which proposes two 50-storey towers built within close proximity to the Vauxhall Cross transport interchange on the South Bank. The Shard is of course the most famous example of a new landmark tower that is centred around a large transport hub, and as Robert Tavernor explains, this will be a feature of new development in Central London: ”The emphasis is around bus, rail and tube hubs. LondonBridge been the perfect example, as it is appropriate to have tall buildings around these transport ‘nodes’.”

A recent report identifies 100 residential tower blocks that are either already under construction or have planning permission, and although not all 100 towers will make it to completion, this further highlights the trend for upward expansion. In line with the ‘London Plan’, this will help to ensure that London doesn’t encroach further upon the ever-diminishing greenbelt.

What all of this means is that London, with its rapidly growing population and rocketing land prices, is now in the midst of a literal race to the top. The old city’s skyline is set to keep on evolving amongst the clouds of construction dust for some time to come.

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