We Londoners have a strange relationship with our skyscrapers.
We make them our own: humanising them with cutesy and/or sarcastic names like ‘The Gherkin’ or ‘The Cheesegrater’. Even when they focus car-melting death rays, as ‘The Walkie-Talkie’ once did, we all have a good laugh.
Maybe it's the novelty value. We don't have many tall buildings compared to most world cities. But that's about to change. According to a study carried out last year by independent forum New London Architecture, there are currently 263 buildings of twenty storeys or more planned across town. The tallest, at 262 metres, is 22 Bishopsgate, in the City, and there are another 24 proposed with 50 storeys or more. They're popping up like mushrooms. There'll probably be one called ‘The Mushroom’ soon. The Shard is already the tallest building in Europe. Now it's going to be joined by scores of towers, clustering around the City, east London, Docklands and the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station at Nine Elms.
In short, the skyline of our city is going to alter out of all recognition. The horizon will be so lumpy, it'll look the opening credits of ‘Frasier’. There are objections to this, of course, indlucing the aesthetic (some of the planned buildings are a bit Basingstoke), the environmental (they'll block out the sun) and the infrastructural (they won't do anything to tackle London's housing shortage).
Some people will be living in them, though. Unlike most of London's existing tall buildings – from the BT Tower to the high rises of Canary Wharf – this new generation of skyscrapers is overwhelmingly residential, featuring things that we were always promised would be part of life in the twenty-first century, like vertiginous restaurants and dizzying sky gardens.
But what's the high-rise capital going to be like for the rest of us? A cool futuropolis of glittering spires interspersed with green squares and lush garden bridges? Or a paranoid, darkling, ‘Blade Runner’-style dystopia? Given London's piecemeal planning past, probably a bit of both.
Either way, it's going to be fascinating. Below, we explore the good, the bad, the ugly, the exciting and the begging-for-a-nickname of high rise London.
How high? 170m, more than three Oxo Towers Status Under construction Due for completion 2018 Most likely to come back (less successfully) in the designs of other London towers
Destined to cause consternation among Australians and anyone who’s ever seen an actual boomerang, this futuristic 50-storey monolith will soon jut out of the South Bank beside Blackfriars Bridge. Its shimmering surface and the absence of any other skyscrapers in the immediate vicinity should ensure it becomes one of the most noticeable of the city’s high-rise club. When completed it will stand more than three times as tall as the neighbouring Oxo Tower. What’s inside? Two-hundred-and-seventy-four seriously swanky flats. Starting at £1.15m and rising to £23m. We’re talking next-level property porn – the hardcore orgy of EuroMillions fantasies.
How high? 97m, as tall as Big Ben Status Under construction Due for completion Late 2015/early 2016 Most likely to be the London pad of Mark Zuckerberg
City Road is getting a super-luxe facelift. The techy start-up kids based around Silicon Roundabout (or ‘Old Street’ to you and me) are helping to fuel this change, and a series of swanky apartment blocks are springing up to house them. This eye-catching skyscraper will be a neighbour to a massive twin tower development from Gherkin architects Foster + Partners. And this will no doubt be followed by others. The sky’s the limit, you might say.
How high? 190m, 10m taller than the Gherkin Status Under construction Due for completion 2017
Joining the kooky architectural quarter otherwise known as the City, this hard-edged chunk of glass will be taller than the Gherkin and will reflect its iconic neighbour in its mirrored surface. Designed as a counterpoint to the Cheesegrater, its facade will slope in the opposite direction to that of its Leadenhall Street neighbour, so as to preserve the view of St Paul’s from Fleet Street. But some have suggested that the two angled buildings may end up resembling scissor blades, poised either side of the cathedral, ready to snip it. Ooh! An architectural metaphor, perhaps?
One Merchant Square, aka the Cucumber
How high? 150m, more than twice the height of Tower Bridge Status Approved Due for completion Late 2019/early 2020 Most likely to end up between two more skyscrapers called ‘The Slices of Bread’
This bongo of a building is part of an expansive regeneration project that is transforming the area around Paddington Station. Upon completion, it will be the tallest building in Westminster, housing a boutique hotel, a sky bar and – you guessed it – more horribly expensive flats. Have none of these developers ever heard the phrase ‘Pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap’?
How high? 141m, that’s 31 Routemasters on top of each other Status Approved Due for completion 2018 Most likely to not have have have any ‘restricted view’ seats
The hipsters are long gone and the yuppies have claimed Shoreditch as their own. Catering to the new high-flying residents will be this apartment block, one of several planned around the High Street and set to make the area London’s second Canary Wharf. This building has an interesting story: in 2011 the remains of the sixteenth-century Curtain Theatre, where Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was first performed, were discovered here. It’s currently being excavated and will be on view alongside a Shakespeare museum as part of the new development. Plans are at an early stage.
Manhattan Loft Gardens
How high? 135m, the height of the London Eye Status Under construction Due for completion 2018 Most likely to have the paps abseiling down the outside
What do you get when you combine the team behind A-list eatery Chiltern Firehouse with the architects of the world’s highest building? Really tall food? Nope, a plush new apartment block next to Stratford International station, which is set to tower over the area, putting the ‘loft’ back in ‘loftiest’ (for comparison: it will be the same height as the London Eye). Along with the 248 new apartments at MLG there will also be three sky gardens – housed in huge cut-out chunks of the building, plus a seven-storey boutique hotel and a couple of restaurants. You should probably book now if you want to get a table in either of them before 2025.
The Herzog & de Meuron Building
How high? 211m, that’s about 87 red telephone boxes Status Under construction Due for completion 2019 Most likely to have a pigeon-nesting problem
With the whole world in the grip ‘Star Wars’ mania, a building that looks like the end bit of a lightsaber gets a lot of kudos. Designed by Tate Modern architects Herzog & de Meuron, this circular apartment block with its intriguingly textured facade is part of a massive development that will expand Canary Wharf eastwards, into the former industrial area of Wood Wharf.
One Nine Elms
How high? 200m, 10m taller than the BT Tower Status Approved Due for completion 2018 Most likely to make us nostalgic for the 1950s
The section of London’s skyline that is set to change the most over the coming years is the scrubby industrial no man’s land by the river between Vauxhall and Battersea Power Station. These enormous twin towers will be at the heart of the development – alongside the new pedestrian and cycle bridge proposed between Nine Elms and Pimlico (look out for the winning design being announced in the autumn). As well as almost 500 luxury flats, One Nine Elms will also house a five-star hotel and a fiftieth-floor viewing lounge. The area hasn’t been nicknamed ‘Dubai-on-Thames’ for nothing.
60-70 St Mary Axe (‘The Can of Ham’)
How high? 105m, just shy of St Paul’s summit Status Approved Due for completion Summer 2018 Most likely to become impenetrable after someone loses the key
What could be more British than a skyscraper that looks like a tin of processed meat? Joining the Gherkin and the Cheesegrater in the City’s foodie phallicism, this tower was approved back in 2008. But work stalled during the financial crisis. Now the 24-storey building is back on track: 26,000 square metres of office space with shops on the ground level. No one mention ‘snouts’ or ‘troughs’.
What are your thoughts?
Is London's future on the up? Or are we facing the most brutal architectural onslaught since, well, Brutalism? Share your opinion in the comments below.