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London is reaching for the sky

Gone are the days when, at 365ft high, the dome of St Pauls Cathedral dominated the skyline of central London and Canary Wharf was the home of the majority of London’s skyscrapers.

According to a recent survey carried out by New London Architecture (NLA), more than 230 new tall buildings are under construction, have been approved or are proposed for the capital in the next few years. A tall building or skyscraper is defined as one standing at twenty or more storeys. It would seem the success of both the Gherkin and the Shard has kick-started a new era in design and what is considered an acceptable addition to the city skyline.

Of the 236 buildings listed, 189 or 80 per cent are categorised as residential. 18 are listed as office blocks, eight as hotels and one as an educational establishment. 13 have been given a mixed-use status. 113, or 48 per cent, of the buildings have already been approved and a further 45 (19 per cent) are currently in the construction phase. Six buildings are status unknown, with the remaining 72 still in the proposal stages.                  
As 33 of the 236 buildings will be between 40 and 49 storeys and another 22 will top 50 or more storeys, the change to the London skyline and the general feel of the area is likely to be fairly dramatic.

Tower Hamlets is set be at the very centre of the construction boom, with 55 (or 23%) of the proposed buildings to be situated there. 43 of these have been listed under residential status. Central and east London will be home to some 77 per cent of the 236 buildings, with 40 per cent being situated in Tower Hamlets, Lambeth, Newham, Greenwich and Southwark. Another 66 buildings are planned for the City of London, Lewisham, Croydon, Islington, Barnet and Wandsworth. Hackney is the planned location for seven buildings, Brent, Hammersmith and Fulham four, Barking and Dagenham three, Westminster three, Haringey two, Kensington and Chelsea two, Kensington and Chelsea/Hammersmith and Fulham two, Camden one, Ealing one and Hounslow one.

Completion dates are not finalised for some of the projects. However, twelve of the buildings are due to be finished sometime in 2014 and a further twelve in 2015. Another nineteen are proposed for completion between 2016 and 2019.

Boris Johnson has said that London requires 42,000 new houses annually, and there is obviously big pressure on local authorities and the Greater London Assembly to provide this. Peter Murray, director of the NLA, agrees that while housing for one million more people over the next few years is needed, it is clear that the town planning system implemented must be fit for purpose and that there must be an acknowledgement of the considerable impact such projects will have in both the long and short term.

The current high cost of land is encouraging developers to look at building higher. This may also be influenced by demand from buyers originating from East Asia, where tall buildings are already the norm in urban landscapes. According to Sir Edward Lister (deputy mayor for planning in London), meeting this demand must be balanced with protecting London’s skyline. Preventing building of this nature would simply not be the answer. Instead, buildings must be approved on the understanding that they fit within a strategic approach of making a positive contribution, meeting growth challenges and promoting continued prosperity, while also protecting important historical aspects of the city.

Peter Murray and the NLA believe the general public are becoming more accepting of tall buildings, especially given how innovative and interesting the architecture can be. In fact, a considerable percentage of the general public believe that the architecture of buildings such as the Gherkin actually enhance the city's skyline. This is fitting given the above figures and the direction construction within the Greater London area appears to be heading.

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