Paul Runaghan, Senior Associate at Farrells, offers a wider perspective
That’s a very pertinent question for many cities at the moment. London’s response has partly resulted in the transformation of its skyline. More than 200 buildings over 20 storeys are planned, which is causing quite a stir. I would support the idea of a “skyline commission” for a more structured, defined and considered policy that would merge existing policy documents, mimicking New York’s prescriptive zoning, Singapore’s “Gardens in the Sky” and Vancouver’s enhanced planning procedures which improve designs through peer review.
I believe that densification is preferable to urban sprawl, and that tall buildings offer a solution to various issues that urban growth raises. But building vertically is not the sole answer. It is essential to consider the relationship between height, urban density, urban circulation and infrastructure. Physical mobility and accessibility affect economic mobility and are key to delivering a sustainable city.
The siting of tall structures needs to be reviewed holistically. Densification can be provided with the siting of carefully planned clusters of towers, located on or close to key transportation hubs alongside low-rise development and open space to boost regeneration. Any increase in density leads us to reconsider how we provide public and amenity space. London is not as advanced as Malaysia, say, where developers have to achieve a provision of open space equivalent to the original site. This forces intelligent thinking about private/public sharing of space within buildings, something London needs to emulate.
When designing a tall building or skyscraper, there is a tendency to focus on the building itself, but architects must also consider wider contextual issues. These include city-wide view corridors, impacts on lower-rise buildings and on the ground plane, as well as microclimate issues such as altering city wind patterns, creating shadows or glare and affecting building and surface temperatures.
Do we need tall buildings? Yes, but as part of an integrated whole. They should respond contextually within the city rather than solely to local clusters, represent design excellence and be a catalyst for lower-level regeneration.