Capital greed breeds an ugly skyline

Since the departure of the Romans, London has continually adapted to meet the needs of Londoners, without a formal plan. Over time, the un-identical twin cities of London and Westminster coalesced with a surrounding constellation of hamlets and villages to produce an amorphous metropolitan region housing a cosmopolitan population of close to 9 million.

The World Today
2 minute READ

Peter Wynne Rees

Professor of Places and City Planning, UCL Faculty of the Built Environment

Eighteenth century etchings show the capital is no stranger to high-rise buildings, with Christopher Wren’s steeples and spires dominating the skyline. Later generations were more averse to building tall, while the rest of the world caught skyscraper fever.

Building towers is a last resort. It should be contemplated only when there is no further opportunity to create high-density low-rise buildings. Workers and residents want comfortable accommodation near to the ground, with attractive spaces and facilities close at hand. Manhattan, the City of London and Canary Wharf can justify the building of office towers because their land area is constrained and demand for commercial space is high. Office towers can be built in tight, sustainable, clusters, minimizing their impact while maximizing their economic advantage. The same does not hold true for housing, where the highest densities in London are to be found in Chelsea, which is gloriously free of towers.

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