Has London’s Skyline Been Ruined?

The view from the Heron tower, by Robin Baumgarten

“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

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  • Adam

    Not at all, Rowan Moore who recently slagged off the Olympics purely to promote his new book has to look at the bigger picture. London is not a museum and different areas will flourish, Vauxhall for example is a natural choice. Our skyline is ironically being damaged by English Heritage who waste millions fighting battles over tall buildings which they have lost EVERY time. And allow green glass cubes to be built infront of St Paul’s from Waterloo bridge without batting an eye lid. We need to reach for the sky’s with soaring buildings that have elegance. Not squat buildings which please or offend knowone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.guppy James Guppy

    Came across as a bit conservative to me – I think most of the Towers going up have at least some merit – most of the buildings that have been pulled down were grotesque 60’s affairs of little or no merit. I’m pleased to see the worst of the legacy of WWII being replaced with something far nicer. There will be winners and losers in this bunch and hopefully the same debate will be raging in 100 years time, when the losers are being pulled down to be replaced with new schemes.

    • Brick Prince

      exactly at least the towers are unique/stand out. The buildings which have been demolished were hideous and ugly, The shard and the walkie talkie are magnificent architecture. At least there not boring old concrete buildings you get in other major cities, they have there own personality.

  • Mags

    One apect overlooked about all these eyesores is that its all the last thing London needs. There is hundreds of thousands of square feet of empty office space all over London. What we urgently need is the construction of new council and HA flats and houses – not silly vanity projects by corrupt regimes in the Middle East – like the Shard. That building slso doubles as a ryal palace for the Qatar royal family – at least four floors l understand. Its a also a massive “investment” opportunity for them – approved not by thr Mayor of the GLA – a post with extremely limited powers (as Ken Livingstone admitted in the lasr GLA elections). No, the Shard was approved by the Deputy Prime Minister of the day (John Prescott).

  • http://twitter.com/leica0000 leica

    The skyline is being screwed because so many new tall buildings look like willies. I love towering skylines and find Canary Wharf very photogenic but the Shard is hideous. I grew up in Chicago so I guess I’m maybe spoiled by a city created by the Bauhaus school and their students. Clean lines, neatly spaced with a bit of breathing room works best.

  • http://www.officespacestorent.co.uk/ office space

    Looks pretty good to me especially in the picture at the top of the article. Although Canary Wharf does look like a willy!

  • Manuela Salvi

    As a foreigner, I think that the greatest thing about London is that you can always see the sky wherever you are, even though it’s a huge city. That doesn’t happen in other big cities like Milan or New York, for examples. Tall buildings, if too many, can be oppressive and London doesn’t need that. I think imitating US architecture is not evolution but, yes, just imitation.