Is The "Tulip Tower" Going To Bloom After All?

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By M@
Is The "Tulip Tower" Going To Bloom After All?
Bulbous viewing tower with London sunset behind
© DBOX for Foster + Partners

UPDATE 11 November: The tower has now been refused planning permission by secretary of state Michael Gove. Ian Visits has a summary of the decision. The original article is below.


What would become the City of London's most distinctive tower seems set to win final approval.

It looked like the bulbous observation tower was never going to happen after staunch opposition from Mayor Sadiq Khan. But the decision has moved up to ministerial level, and rumours are flying that it could be green lit after all.

At 305 metres, the so-called 'Tulip Tower' would be the City's tallest building, towering over the adjacent 180m Gherkin like a fungal growth. Only the Shard, across the river in Southwark, would be taller.

A tall tulip-like tower next to London's gherkin building
© DBOX for Foster + Partners

The Foster + Partners design was first proposed in 2018. It's basically one giant tourist attraction, filled with observation decks, restaurants and a unique arrangement of viewing pods that will circulate around the outside of the building (you can see them in the image above).

It's bold. It's brazen. And it looks disconcertingly like one of those nose-swab tests we've all endured over the past couple of years. The Tulip seems sure to be redubbed the Nosepoke or some such. Or how about a compromise. Call it the LFT Tower, so it can officially be known as the London Financial Tower, and unofficially as the Lateral Flow Test.

Just like nose swabs, the tower plans have caused much anguish, with results both positive and negative. After a "robust debate", the City of London Planning and Transportation Committee gave it the nod of approval in 2019. Then the Mayor stepped in. He argued that the tower would be of limited public benefit, would have a negative impact on the skyline and that it was in conflict with his London Plan.

“I can think of many other projects that would bring far greater benefit to London and to Londoners for the same £500m price tag of the Tulip," he said at the time. Many would agree with him.

© DBOX for Foster + Partners

Khan's opposition did not kill off the project, though. A final decision at ministerial level has been awaited for some time. It's expected that Michael Gove, as the new 'Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities' will give his judgement in the next few weeks.

According to The Telegraph, it's going to be a '"Yes". The Nosepoke has apparently got support within the Government and will be approved as "showing London’s financial district is open for business and keen to attract foreign capital". How romantic.

The Telegraph also submits a more cynical analysis. Back in 2017, Sadiq Khan successfully quashed the Garden Bridge project, which had been championed by then-Mayor Boris Johnson. Now Johnson's in Number 10, he can enjoy his revenge by getting this tower built, very much against Khan's wishes.

Of course, senior politicians would never stoop to such petty point-scoring. Would they?

© DBOX for Foster + Partners

If the tower does go ahead, the sheer giddiness of the design will divide people like few other projects. You may find it sleek, beautiful and a welcome dose of architectural imagination. Or you may consider it crass, ugly and yet another blot on the City's utterly random skyline. That's all subjective.

What isn't subjective is the competition. The project would be placing a viewing platform in a part of town that already has at least four other publicly accessible mega-views (Heron Tower, Gherkin, Tower 42, and the soon to open viewing gallery at 22 Bishopsgate). Can a tower costing half a billion pounds ever recoup its costs in such a crowded cluster? Let's hope those rotating pods are a bigger draw than they look.

Last Updated 11 November 2021