Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by J R Buckler (TAB 03)


  In British townscape, buildings of a height greatly in excess of width, are a product of building technique allied to post war political drive for new dwellings. An element of local authority competitiveness may also have been a factor, but subsequent demolitions surely demonstrate that most towers were wrong for reasons beyond poor management or constructions weakness. There are few, if any, examples of towers that positively enhance the local scene of low to mid rise (say three to five stories) housing perhaps with a skyline punctuated by church tower or steeple.

  People's preferences for low rise dwellings are epitomised by ground level access, and flexible safe space for car, children, and even the vegetable garden that can produce more fresh food than the equivalent area of farmland.

  Lacking these virtues, the towers are intrusive, overlook properties, create wind and access problems, and in construction, service maintenance and the inevitable recycle factor with demolition, may not be superior in pure financial terms, other than (presumably) to the land owner/developer. The events of September 11 were (hopefully) not likely to be a general precedent, but should not be discounted on that basis. Even in normal conditions, towers blocks can experience power failure or impeded staircases that imprison particularly the less active living above say the third or fourth floor.

  Towers used as office have all these design downsides, plus the need to incorporate large access and service "corridors" in vertical form, have an occupancy ratio (permanent staff and visitors) higher than the residential equivalent and less easy to monitor (eg the WTC event) in case of the unexpected incident. The use of staggered workings hours may not compensate for the higher rate of access movements at the base of the tower and new technology, with improved flexibility of work stations, would fit in better with Government strategy for closer links between home and workplace.

  The tower block has had its quota of fashion and other than an investment, itself likely to be open to debate, no longer can enjoy the claim of superiority over the more traditional and attractive low to mid rise buildings as Broadgate London. It is such the density of site development and the quality of design that is far more important than mere height competition. In terms of good and bad manners in architecture, meaning not just intrusive building detail but its respect for the overall setting of neighbours and longer distant views, the tower has rarely if ever demonstrated good manners, and in the context of the other drawbacks should now be consigned to an important but transient chapter of townscape history.

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Prepared 22 January 2002