Tall Buildings by the River Thames: Skyscrapers

River Thames Architecture, Architectural Discussion, Article, Skyscraper Building, Projects, Design

Tall Buildings by the River Thames : Architectural Discussion

Architecture Discussion by e-architect editor Adrian Welch

25 Nov 2012

Tall Buildings by the Thames

On a recent visit to the City of London I was bowled over by the rising ‘Walkie Talkie Building‘. There are two major problems with this building. Firstly it just looks odd, in fact let’s not beat about the bush, it is ugly. Secondly its towering bulk is too close to the River Thames.

Walkie Talkie Building, 20 Fenchurch Street
Tall Buildings by the River Thames: Skyscrapers

On my return from this visit I read an article by Simon Jenkins in the London Evening Standard, “A ruined view that sums up the blight on the City” which describes the author’s concern at the developments in the area around The Monument. Simon is right to be concerned, because developments seem out of control, and whilst built environment chaos can be quite exciting in some places somehow it doesn’t feel right on Fenchurch Street.

Cheesgrater - Tall Buildings by the River Thames
image : Cityscape

I spent many hours walking around the City, viewing the towers from both banks of the Thames and also from a boat and various bridges. The other major tower actively being constructed in the City is of course the ‘Cheesegrater‘ on Leadenhall Street by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. I find its triangluar section rather indegistible despite reading the reasoning behind it, however it does have a pleasantly solid form and great articulation – structural triangulation and the yellow-painted so-called ‘ladder’ by the north core. At least the Cheesegrater is within the City of London’s cluster of towers, whereas the Walkie Talkie Building has drifted south and invaded view corridors along the River Thames.

Walkie Talkie Building from the river Thames
City of London buildings

Previously there was what appeared to be a natural gradation of height up to the core of the financial district. Yes there are individual towers across London – Centre Point, BT tower, Millbank tower, etc. – and each was controversial in its day, but they tend to be reaonsably elegant in design. The main concern about 20 Fenchurch Street is the bulbous design. The Gherkin rises to an elegant curved cap but this tower just drifts outwards and then rather flatly forms a wallowing curve at its peak. If you consider it against classics such as the Chrysler Buidling or Empire State Building then it just seems so weak at its tip.

Structures that once ruled: St Paul’s Cathedral ; The Monument London
St Paul's Cathedral - Tall Buildings by the River Thames London Monument - Tall Buildings by the River Thames

Simon Jenkins says this: “Abandoned, too, was the restriction on towers along the banks of the Thames to stop it becoming a canyon of glass. London must be the only city in the Western world with absolutely no plan regulating the heights of its buildings or dictating their location in its central zone.” The City does have a fair amount of built environment regulation but it is clear there is appetitie on the Square Mile for a decent clutch of sksycrapers to compete with those at the Isle of Dogs.

Lloyd’s of London ; Gherkin – Swiss Re Building
Lloyds Building Gherkin building

He uses some choice phrases, for example “flatulent slug” for the GLA Building by Foster + Partners. He describes how Lloyd’s of London and the Gherkin which once rose so majestically have now been overtaken and almost hidden from many views. Of course that is a natural part of city development as we know it, the inexorable rise upwards and outwards.

One can’t look at skycrapers by the Thames without a reference to The Shard. This tower divided critics, even within polarised groups such as pro-contemporary and pro-historical. However this skyscraper is finished (though the public viewing area has yet to open to anyone who wishes to part with £24.95!) whilst the Walkie Talkie Building is still under construction which naturally focuses the attention.

The Shard London
The Shard Building

A more natural location for expansion would surely be north of Broadgate / Liverpool Street Station and also in the Whitechapel area. There is a site on Curtain Road which looks set for development and plenty of dull post-war buildings in the general area. Further north and you get into a lovely patina around Hoxton Square and also too far from the power base but anywhere south of Old Street seems logical. The City will keep expanding up and out, but I would hope any development by the river will be carefully considered.

Article by Adrian Welch – e-architect Editor

Views welcome at info(at)e-architect.com

All photographs above © Adrian Welch unless stated otherwise

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