January 22, 2004
The towers of London, Yokohama and Barcelona

In a comment on this Samizdata posting about the (I hope and trust – according to this guy's comment planning permission may not be the end of the arguing) forthcoming London Bridge Tower, the otherwise estimable Kim du Toit really pushes one of my buttons:

Ugh. One of London's charms is that it doesn't have (many) skyscrapers. Now it runs the risk of looking like any other modern metropolis, if this trend continues.

Let me rephrase that:

Ugh. One of Britain's charms is that it doesn't have (many) legally owned guns. Now it runs the risk of being as safe as the American mid-West, if this trend continues.

The trend in question being if Britain were to reverse its current mania for only letting its criminals be armed. We wish. How would du Toit, who quite rightly never misses a chance to urge us to follow the American way in guns, feel about that?

The skyscraper was discovered and perfected in the USA yes, in Chicago and then in New York. But the idea that the rest of us should refrain, just so that Americans can be charmed by our silly little old cities, disgusts me. Why shouldn't we build them too? What are we, Hawaiian dancers in grass skirts who only survive by demeaning themselves with faked-up derangements of their past? If tourists don't like London when it finally gets kitted out with a proper skyline, say by about 2030, stuff them. Actually, they're going to love it.

Skyscrapers solve a universal problem, not a specifically American problem, which is how to fit lots and lots of people into one working place, of that special sort now called a World City. Skyscrapers are the way that cities Keep It Real. Paris, denied the twin stimulants of the Luftwaffe and the Modern Movement in architecture, now has nowhere to put any skyscrapers. London has been luckier. Result? London is a real place with a great, great future, and Paris is an increasingly tatty nineteenth century stage set.

And the way to make London not look like "any other modern metropolis" is for it to have nice skyscrapers, special looking skyscrapers. And things like the Wheel.

London Bridge Tower may look a bit too much like that one in San Francisco, but at least it's big. Better yet, it takes the skyscraper across the Thames to the south, and believe me there are some mighty charmless bits in that part of London, once you get past the newly restored river bank.

Michael Jennings emailed me about one non-American skyscraper, and has blogged about another. The other night a gang of us went to see Lost in Translation and obviously we were most excited about the brief glimpse we had of a High Speed Train, but we also found time to discuss the architecture of Tokyo, which looked rather dull to me, although there is certainly a great deal of it. Lights good. Towers boring. Jennings responded by emailing me about this Japanese tower, which is in Yokohama. There are some other not too bad pictures of it here, of which this is one of the better ones:

landmark.jpg

Not bad, but still maybe a little lumpish in the Tokyo manner, to my eye. But definitely a nice try, and maybe if saw it in the flesh, so to speak, I'd say: great. At that time of the evening, and with that mountain behind it, it can hardly be a complete failure.

And the tower that Jennings blogs about is the alleged Gherkin now nearing completion in Barcelona.

vibrator.jpg

But of course it isn’t a Gherkin at all, it's a non-vibrating vibrator. The Barcelona Vibrator. Anyone can see that. Are you a three thousand foot tall woman? You'll love it. Let's hope it doesn't live up to that name and start wobbling in a high wind.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:33 PM
Category: Architecture