April 14, 2003
The towers of London

I have always envied New York its skyscrapers, and regretted the horizontal smudge that is London, neither Georgian and glorious any more, nor new and shiny as it could be. "Why does it have to be so big?" asked Prince Charles of that uninspiring lump in Docklands. Say I: why did it have to be so small?

So this is terrific news.

Slowly, relentlessly, architects and developers are pushing the boundaries, finding chinks through which they can drive immensely tall buildings up above the London skyline. Norman Foster's Gherkin is nearly complete. Attempts last year to stop the Bishopsgate Tower failed. And tomorrow the public inquiry opens on the most dramatic skyscraper so far, Renzo Piano's London Bridge Tower, which, if built, will soar 1,016ft, making it Europe's tallest building.

Individually, with the exception of the Gherkin and this one by Renzo Piano (Piano and Rogers designed the Pompidou Centre in Paris), the newly arising towers of London look like being fairly undistinguished lot, taken one at a time. But that's to miss the point. They won't be "taken" one at a time. They'll form a cluster, and skyscraper clusters are far more than the sum of their parts.

The London Bridge Tower may become the tallest in Europe, but the tallest in the world has got to be built at Ground Zero in New York, to replace the Twin Towers, and that's what the current "winning design" includes. Not two very tall towers. One tallest of them all monster. Spot on. What happens at ground level is very unimportant by comparison with the big picture. So London won't challenge New York. But it's starting to make Berlin, Paris, Frankfurt and the rest of them look very third team by comparison. Eventually the view from the Wheel may get to be as good as the view of the Wheel itself.

Too bad the top of the London Bridge Tower looks like it won't ever look finished.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:34 PM
Category: Architecture