“London’s skyline is being screwed”. It sounds like the kind of clunking criticism that one of Prince Charles’s less polite acolytes might casually toss out. Yet the charge this time is coming from a less reactionary source: Rowan Moore, architecture critic of the Observer newspaper, author of the recent book Why We Build and one of the more clear-eyed and thoughtful commentator’s on Britain’s built environment.
Moore’s column this week is worth reading in full, but his central argument is that two key aspects to London’s current glut of new skyscrapers — that they should be of significant quality, and should be clustered in certain areas — have slowly been discarded. By no means an anti-modernist, Moore recognises that towers, when built to high standards, can be beautiful (he singles out 100 Bishopsgate in the City and Elizabeth House at Waterloo for praise) and knows that “part of the genius of London is its ability to change”; yet as he tells it, London is currently being pockmarked with a series of undistinguished, ill-located buildings, foisted on an unwitting populace by avaricious developers.
The article illustrates how exactly we arrived at this position (hint: it’s not just Ken Livingstone’s fault) alongside some waspish swipes at the more controversial new erections to have graced the skyline (Strata SE1 as “Spongebob Squarepants in a production of Hamlet” will stick in the mind). Amusement aside, Moore’s conclusion is sobering: “There is no vision, concept or thought as to what their total effect might be on London, except that it will be great.”
Is he right? Let us know in the comments.
Photo / Robin Baumgarten