Memorandum by Freeman Historic Properties
Since the 1970's I have been concerned with
the built environment, planning and historic buildings in both
a personal and professional capacity. I served on English Heritage's
London Advisory Committee from 1986 until July 2001. I have lived
and worked in New York City and London and am familiar with many
cities that have tall buildings in the United Kingdom and overseas.
My small company specialises in acquiring and
regenerating listed buildings "at risk". At the recent
Public Inquiry into proposals to develop the 600' Heron/Bishopsgate
Tower in the City of London, I gave evidence on behalf of Save
My comments on the issue of Tall Buildings are
1. Most British cities grew rapidly in the
late 18th and 19th centuries and are characterised by low and
middle rise-developments, punctuated by occasional tall buildingsusually
built during the 20th centuryeither singly or in groups.
Some of the groups were planned but others result from ad hoc
schemes which found favour at a point in time.
2. Through views, open skies and wide panoramas
are also characteristic of most British cities. Dense development
of high rises, as found at Canary Wharf for example, are unusual,
and "walls" of towers marching along street frontages
are virtually unknown.
3. Many cities have great cathedrals or
castles which are intended to dominate the urban scene, to raise
the spirits or to awe the spectator (St Paul's Cathedral, Peterborough
Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle). Views of these buildings and others
are important, and the value of them as symbols cannot but be
demeaned if tall buildings are allowed to overtop them or to stand
close by. Without statutory protection it is difficult to see
how this can be prevented.
Most major European cities have rules about
tall buildings, their height and disposition eg. Paris.
4. Tall buildings always have an impact
far beyond their immediate locale. Their relationship with each
other and the surrounding scene is clearly apparent over great
distances. They have a capacity to block, frame or disrupt well-known
vistas. Tall buildings can dominate the local scene or pinpoint
a place amid unmemorable urban sprawl.
Other issues arise in connection with tall towers
such as overshadowing, loss of open sky, air turbulence and visual
Given their impact, tall buildings should be
subject to independent Environmental Impact Studies that must
address these and other relevant matters. "Clustering"
or "dotting" should be decided on a case-by-case basis.
5. Where tall buildings are deemed to be
acceptable, particular attention should be paid to materials,
glazing colour, orientation, the design of the topmost storeys
and general attractiveness at ground level. In this context Vancouver's
tall buildings are an object lesson in elegance and beauty. The
treatment of the ground floors of these buildings and the spaces
immediately around them are in scale, informal and often festive.
Common features are small gardens, fountains, patios, kiosks,
cafes, excellent paving, bicycle stands, seating, planted tubs
and flowers together with other diminutive and informal amenities.
6. In certain areas such as Canary Wharf,
tall buildings are proving to be an excellent means of re-generating
an area economically. However it should be borne in mind that
Westminster City Council, for instance, has maintained a high
level of prosperity and economic success in a part of London which
largely comprises conservation areas, listed buildings and relatively
low rise development. Locations in Westminster are sought after
by international companies. Poorer neighbourhoods in Westminster
have been regenerated.
7. It should be remembered in considering
proposals for tall buildings that the careful arrangement of low-rise
buildings can often offer the equivalent amount of space. Sir
Terry Farrell has demonstrated this in his scheme for the redevelopment
of the site currently occupied by the Marsham Street Towers in
8. If tall towers are to be allowed, even
encouraged, then a working mechanism should be established to
bring about the demolition of unpopular, intrusive towers which
have never found favour with the public, for example the Hilton
Hotel at Hyde Park Corner.
9. Developers, designers and would be tenants
of tall towers often present their own short-term immediate interests
as being of importance to the economic well-being of a city or
neighbourhood. This reasoning is often specious. Tall towers are
not always symbols of economic success. Some have proved to be
white elephantsCentre Point in London was empty for years,
representing an enormous waste of space and resources.
Tall towers are likely to be costlier to build
following the events of 11 September. Insurance charges can be
expected to rise, building procedures will probably tighten and
fire and escapes systems are bound to be improved.
10. In many parts of the country more conventional
redevelopment schemes and adaptive reuse of older buildings will
often produce a more lasting, far- reaching regenerative effect
than the construction of one or two tall towers. There will be
less disruption during a construction period and a greater variety
of employment available in a large number of small, varying buildings.
11. While high densities of occupation can
be achieved in tall buildings, the arrival and departure of many
people at peak times can place intolerable pressures on transport
facilities and other infrastructure.
12. High-rise residential living is unattractive
to many people, especially families and the elderly, although
it may be ideal for students and people without children.
For all the above reasons I feel that new policy
should be developed to deal with proposals for the construction
of tall towers in future. The tone of new policy is ably established
in the new consultative document on Tall Buildings, produced by
the CABE and English Heritage. This line of thinking should be