The Guardian’s architecture writers have been fretting for a number of years over the “jumble” of highrise office towers that have gone up in close proximity to each other. The Guardian provides a flash interactive view here, built on a 3D model of London created by Vertex and currently shown on their homepage. The focus is on sightlines at ground level. However, missing is a more direct social analysis of the buildings and gardens high aloft the ground as inaccessible, private vertical enclaves. Even the blocking of solar access will one day come to be seen as a major gap in the reporting.
This “tortured heap of towers” seems to be exactly a continuation of the ad hoc quality of the development of London over centuries. The unifying elements of brick, building height and the twisting streets, were most disturbed in the the modernist mid-century. This is both good and bad.
In the twenty-first century, the shift in height and use of glass as building cladding is the most obvious provocation, not that they jostle together in a tight group. The domestication of brute forms through nicknaming buildings in the media, such as the gherkin or cheese-grater, is a relatively unique London phenomenon amongst megacities. Cute names elide the identity of building owners and builders who are amongst the worlds “least environmentally friendly companies” according to the Guardian and major purchasers of land globally. In as much as cute names obfuscate the extraction and destruction of resources in one place and the creation of profitable facilities and environments elsewhere, the architecture of highrise office developments could come to be seen as a symbol of neoliberal economic relations that have a neocolonial quality. It would be nice to see this level of analysis which spells out some of the implication.
The popularity of this naming distracts from the unifying idea of a skyline, however. The skyline could be thought of as a kind of 4th dimension not captured in the 3D flyover. New York promoted the skyline of Manhattan but is still coming to terms with the destruction of the World Trade Centre and the filling back in of this cavity in the vista. In this sense, the buildings do overshadow London, not only physically but in the virtual world of media and place-images.
Rob Shields (University of Alberta)