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The rise of London's skyline – more than 230 new towers planned


April 13, 2014

New skyscrapers in the City of London (Image: Hayes Davidson for NLA)

New skyscrapers in the City of London (Image: Hayes Davidson for NLA)

Image Gallery (10 images)

Some are sharp, some are boxy, some tubular. Some will be built in pairs, groups of three or clusters. More than 230 new towers are being built or planned for London, making Renzo Piano’s Shard look like a modest proposal and St Paul’s almost quaint.

The think tank New London Architecture researched planning permissions and applications for buildings over 20 stories and found that hundreds are in the process of obtaining permission, have been approved or are already under construction. Of these, 80 percent will be residential and most will be over 35 stories.

The Pinnacle

The Pinnacle, Kohn Pedersen Fox (Image: Hayes Davidson for NLA)

One of the more distinctive new towers will be the Pinnacle, which will reach 64 stories, a height of 288 meters (945 ft) at the center of London’s insurance district. Designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, the structures look as though two separate walls of windows have been rolled up like a newspaper, with a single corner jutting out at the top. Forming a triangle with Norman Foster’s "Gherkin" (built for Swiss Re) and the Leadenhall building, or "Cheese-grater," designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, the Pinnacle is a new player in the giant geometric playground of the City of London. Construction is scheduled to begin in summer 2014, with completion expected in 2017.

The Quill

The Quill, SPPARC Architecture (Image: NLA)

At London Bridge, a much smaller and quirkier building called the Quill is underway, replacing a 1960s building on the site. A steeply sloping roof, which varies between 58 and 78 degrees, protects the views of some its neighbors as the building rises to 31 floors, 109 meters (357 ft). The top is marked by sharply pointed steel elements that poke out of its prow, like the quills of a rearing porcupine. Designed by SPPARC Architecture, the Quill will offer student residential accommodation. Following a legal challenge in 2012, the building is due for completion in 2015.

The Blades

The Blades, Assael Architecture (Image: NLA)

Farther south is another development at the busy traffic center of Elephant and Castle, once known for its 1960s shopping center heralded by an iconic pink elephant mounted by a castle. Here twin 40-story towers dubbed "Blades" are being designed by Assael Architecture for a project sponsored by the Ministry of Sound. The towers have a narrow elliptical shape that is supposed to combat the wind-tunnel effect often produced on the ground by such tall structures.

Vauxhall Square

Vauxhall Square, Allies and Morrison (Image: NLA)

Vauxhall Square is one of several new towers going up in a massive development of an area dominated by road and railway lines. Vauxhall Square will create twin towers of 50 stories each, which seem to bear a resemblance to the New York model in their strict rectilinear forms. The residential towers will loom tens of stories higher than buildings in the vicinity, so many of the apartments will have unimpeded views over the river. Designed by Allies and Morrison architects, who are involved in eight further tower developments, the project is scheduled to be completed in 2018.


Canaletto, UN Studio/Axis Architects (Image: NLA)

Lower in height and more green in appearance, the Canaletto building by UNStudio with Axis Architects is a modest 31 stories. Its stand-out design feature (in the renderings anyway) is the inclusion of large open terraces and a roof garden stuffed with greenery. Its shape is also more organic. With rounded edges and distinctive framing around sections of two and three stories, it is much less austere and, with the greenery, more evocative of a healthy living environment than most of the other projects.

UK’s tallest residential tower

At 310 meters (1017 ft) the Shard is the tallest building not only in the UK, but in all of Western Europe. Now three new skyscrapers are vying for title of UK’s tallest residential tower. One Nine Elms by Kohn Pedersen Fox is a mixed-use development including two towers of 43 and 58 floors, 164 and 203 meters (538 and 666 ft), respectively. The larger of the two will be residential, while the smaller will become the Wanda Vista Hotel, which the developers claim will be the first Chinese 5-star hotel brand to enter the UK. For all of their grandiosity, the lines of elongated fenestration give the towers a delicate, mosaic-like appearance. Each tower comprises a center block flanked by two smaller slender blocks that further reduce the monolithic effect.

One Nine Elms, Kohn Pedersen Fox (Image: NLA)

In the same area of Nine Elms in south London, a 53-story tubular tower by Broadway Malyan claims to be the tallest residential building currently at 180.6 meters (592 ft).

However, in the docklands, an area targeted for huge re-development in the 1980s, the City Pride building by Squire and Partners will top both of its competitors ... if development problems are overcome. Its 75 stories will reach a height of 239 meters (784 ft) and offer private residential, shared ownership and serviced apartments. The design promises private winter gardens, landscaped terraces, a publicly accessible roof garden above the first floor and outdoor and indoor play spaces, as well as improved pedestrian routes to the commercial hub of Canary Wharf.

City Pride, Squire and Partners (Image: NLA)

The findings of New London Architecture have provoked an array of responses, including a signed statement by some of the city’s top architects, artists and designers demanding that the mayor create some kind of commission to oversee and control the quality and number of new towers going up. The corresponding exhibition, "London’s Growing Up" is currently on at The Building Centre in London.

Source: New London Architecture

About the Author
Phyllis Richardson Phyllis is an architecture and design writer based in London. She champions the small and sustainable and has published several books, including the XS series (XS, XS Green, XS Future) and Nano House. In her spare time she ponders the impact of the digital world on the literary.   All articles by Phyllis Richardson

I hope that they have planned mooring points for when sea-level rise really kicks in. In the meantime I hope that the local infrastructure is able to handle all the increased loading.

Mel Tisdale
14th April, 2014 @ 03:46 am PDT

Interested to know how many of these are energy neutral or positive? Is it even a requirement for gaining planning permission in London?

Brendan Dunphy
14th April, 2014 @ 03:58 am PDT

The Elephant and Castle was an inn dating from 1765 or earlier - the pink elephant mounted on a castle came much later. The original image was that of a castle (howdah) mounted on an elephant - not vice versa.

Terence Kuch
14th April, 2014 @ 01:12 pm PDT

Still think that the Strata is the best high rise in London, but its always the Shard and Gherkin that get all the headlines.

15th April, 2014 @ 02:24 am PDT

London has become a somewhat odd mixmash of old and new architecture, and this new growth spurt is sadly more of the same. It seems like the desire to be at the vanguard of city design in our modern world has gotten ahead of them.

When it comes to beautiful European cities, it can't hold a up candle next to Rome and Paris.

>a signed statement by some of the city’s top architects, artists and designers demanding that the mayor create some kind of commission to oversee and control the quality and number of new towers going up.

Let's hope this commission is set up before too much damage is done.

16th April, 2014 @ 01:46 pm PDT
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