Several large new tower buildings are under construction in central London - not just the Shard at London Bridge, but also in the City and at Vauxhall. As they come out of the ground, and as more towers are planned for central London, we can expect continuing debate, probably intemperate at times, about the wisdom of the planning decisions that have been taken and have yet to be taken; and the architectural merits of the buildings. This blog will cover that debate - and you can come here for a measured view at all times.
To kick off, it's interesting to consider the merits of some of the many towers London has already.
At each end of London's Tottenham Court Road is an office tower building - Centrepoint at the south end, the Euston Tower at the north end.
Of the first wave of such towers in London, from the 60s and 70s, these are two of the most prominent outside the City. In terms of how sites are considered suitable or otherwise for tall buildings today, they are both in locations that would be thought suitable in that they mark significant points in the townscape, at major road junctions - but it is hard to imagine them getting permission today if they didn't exist already. Yet neither does any particular harm - and Centrepoint, controversial when built, is a now a listed building and accepted by most as a positive landmark.
If you ask people to name some big towers in London (I've done this - try it), many will think of Centrepoint and few will think of the Euston Tower. The difference between them is one of architectural quality rather than location or prominence. Centrepoint, designed by Richard Seifert's practice, is sophisticated and architecturally ambitious. With its tapered plan and muscular exoskeleton, it is designed to be a 'something' in the townscape, and succeeds, except in the way it connects with the streets around it at the lower levels. Euston Tower, by contrast, by architect Sidney Kaye, is deliberately neutral in its appearance, but without any of the classiness of a Mies van der Rohe skyscraper. Euston Tower is highly visible, but not very noticeable. Mostly, it is just a bit dull - its most interesting aspect is its pinwheel plan, allowing shallow plan accommodation in four blocks spinning off a central core - but this cannot be seen clearly except from directly above it.
The present wave of tower designs for London has, except at Canary Wharf, tended towards the attention seeking rather than the neutral, but you have to wonder whether this strategy has made life harder for those proposing them. Euston Tower suggests you could build a large tower without anyone noticing. Centrepoint, more interestingly, suggests that you can have an architecture that makes its mark without being attention seeking.