Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda

Memorandum by Professor Robert Tavernor, University of Bath (TAB 27)


  1.01  My name is Robert William Tavernor. I am a registered architect and university professor of architecture (previously at Edinburgh University and currently at Bath). My expertise derives from my experiences as a university professor of architecture, architectural historian, and as a designer, analyst and critic of modern architecture and urbanism. I have published widely on architectural and urban issues, and have a particular interest in definitions of architectural beauty especially in relation to classical buildings and cities.

  1.02  This memorandum derives from my recent experience as a principal Expert Witness at the Heron Public Inquiry held in the City of London between October and December 2001, concerning the application by the Heron Corporation to build a 37-storey speculative office building at 110 Bishopsgate. I supported the Heron Corporation's proposal designed by the architects Kohn Pederson Fox (KPF), which had been granted Planning Permission by the City Corporation but was called in by the Secretary of State following objections by English Heritage regarding—what they considered to be—its potential harmful impact on views of St Paul's Cathedral.

  1.03  I evaluated KPF's design for 110 Bishopsgate by referring to the English Heritage/Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (EH/CABE) consultation document, "Guidance on Tall Buildings", dated June 2001. I did so because it provides a useful compendium of the considerations contained in the relevant Unitary Development Plan (UDP) and other policy documents. I concentrated on the criteria the document recommends for evaluating tall building proposals in paragraph 5.7 (i), and the relationship of the proposal to its context. I also expressed my view concerning the quality of the architecture of the proposed scheme outlined in paragraph 5.7 (iv). My main conclusions were that:

    —  KPF's design for 110 Bishopsgate will produce an urban building that provides new accommodation in the City of exceptionally high quality.

    —  It will enrich the public realm and add to the variety of the street and the available building forms within the city.

    —  Its inclusion within the existing Eastern Cluster will enhance the skyline and will properly serve its context.

    —  It is a custom designed building that is entirely suited to its particular position in the Eastern Cluster.

    —  It will provide accommodation that reflects the changing attitudes to city life in the 21st century.

    —  Through a measured appreciation of the ancient and modern context in which it is to be placed, KPF have designed a forward-looking and ecologically advanced building that also acknowledges and respects its historic location.


  2.01  Most cities comprise of an agglomeration of different building types—predominantly residential and commercial. Buildings of the highest quality correspond to those parts of the city in which it is most desirable to live and work. These areas usually relate to opportunities for interaction and exchange, to quality of light, views and air, and are marked by high land values, which in turn tend to determine a high density of occupancy and/or exclusivity for that part of the city.

  2.02  There are only very few isolated monuments in any city, and they usually bear significant public, state or religious significance. Such buildings are usually designed by the nation's leading architects. They define a city's status, quality and aspirations, projecting it nationally and even internationally. Such buildings may be physically detached from surrounding buildings, have an inviting public entrance—that is perhaps related to public open space—and be set apart from adjacent buildings by their appearance and the high quality of their materials and design. Although architectural monuments usually assert their presence on the urban scene, they are not necessarily tall.

  2.03  A tall building is by definition prominent, but it is not necessarily a building of significant public value: height may have resulted from high land values, the demand for proximity and density of occupation, or because height symbolises power, authority and wealth. Consequently, some consider that a tall commercial or residential building has no right to dominate existing city views—especially in those cities where the quality of their historical monuments, spaces and buildings are revered. Where it is deemed beneficial to the future prosperity and image of a city to build tall buildings, clear guidelines concerning location, response to context and quality of design are essential. I believe that sufficient guidelines exist for this purpose already, notably the EH/CABE document on Tall Buildings, as well as the planning legislation enshrined in PPG1 and PPG15. (There are however problems associated with the implementation of these guidelines and Acts, which I will outline by way of conclusion to this memorandum.)


  3.01  Architectural quality is identified as a criterion relevant to the evaluation of Tall Buildings in the EH/CABE document. I agree. Because a tall building is visible from many vantagepoints, near and far, its design must be of the highest architectural quality. The same document also proposes that new tall buildings should usually be located within existing clusters of tall buildings. I also agree to this. Tall buildings have a "monumental" stature due to their very prominence, but, individually, they are unlikely to have true monumental—public and civic—status. It is their collective worth, their close proximity to one another in a "cluster", which brings economic and visual benefits to a city and its people. With this in mind, I would wish to emphasise the following criteria as essential determinants of quality in tall buildings.

  3.02  To add positively to an existing urban environment a tall building must normally be designed as an essential part of a "cluster of tall buildings": as part of an existing cluster, or in a location where a cluster has been planned. A cluster de-emphasises the individuality of a single tall building, and will create a collective silhouette on a city's skyline. It will perhaps form a backdrop to, or be seen in relation to valued historic monuments, and the extent and shape of a city's cluster or clusters should be determined in response to the views of principal monuments and their settings.

  3.03  The shape and silhouette of a balanced and well designed cluster cannot be designed in the abstract, or according to generalised criteria. Its ideal shape and profile will be a measured response to its particular setting—topographical and historical—and good judgement will be required as to how an existing cluster can best be augmented by new buildings, or a new cluster defined and developed over a period of time.

  3.04  Clusters of office buildings or mixed-use developments (retail, office and residential) are best located close to and even above transport interchanges (especially railways and bus stations), where there is likely to be an intensity of activity: such interchanges are also known as "nodal points" in the city. Advantage can be taken at nodal points of a high-density working and living environment that is supported by public transportation, and which minimises the need for private modes of transport and secondary journeys.

  3.05  I believe that tall buildings should only be built in close proximity to urban nodal points, and that the cluster should be limited and well-defined. The desirability that tall buildings form dense urban clusters will usually preclude their location in non-urban environments. An isolated tall building should be an exception and should require special pleading—perhaps because it is of exceptional design quality and has extraordinary symbolical value for that city or site. Generally, isolated, one-off tall buildings that are not part of an existing or proposed cluster should be avoided.

  3.06  The following considerations are relevant when designing the appearance of a tall building in relation to a cluster:

    —  its external form should be modelled in response to its compositional place within an existing cluster (so that it becomes an integral part of the existing urban scene), respecting the status of any revered public monuments and landmarks that may be affected by it;

    —  the materials of its exterior skin should be recognised as belonging to and enhancing the characteristics and qualities of the existing cluster, and set design standards for a proposed cluster; and

    —  the projected profile of an existing or proposed cluster should be outlined on maps and photographs (or equivalent—there was beneficial extensive use of computerised models and physical models and montages at the Heron Inquiry) so that its effect on the setting can be scrutinised from key viewing positions: in plan, in relation to bounding streets (as in the proposed "Mayor's triangle" in the City of London), and as a skyline silhouette

  3.07  A tall building should be designed in response to its immediate physical context (using detailed Environmental Surveys). The existing street layout—open, straight, grid-like (Canary Wharf) or tight winding streets (City of London), their width and length—will dictate the footprint of a tall building and its potential to enhance or harm the existing streetscape. In this respect, an understanding and appreciation of the historical development of the immediate context is essential, and should be reflected in the design of the tall building. For example, the building's role as an historic gateway into a commercial area could be restated through the character of its elevational design.

  3.08  The experience of a tall building at ground level is of paramount importance. It provides an opportunity to enrich pedestrian movement along surrounding streets, offering views into and through the entrance, framing and opening new views of existing or proposed local landmarks. Designs for tall buildings should explore the public potential of ground level and adjacent streets, and emphasis should be placed on the enhancement of public facilities, including retail and leisure. The quality of an integrated landscaping scheme at ground and street level is crucial if a tall building is to appear rooted to its site.

  3.09  Ultimately, of course, the design must be fit for its intended purpose, and provide desirable, attractive and convenient accommodation for its occupants. In my opinion, the effect on the quality of street life of tall buildings with small footprints is preferable to that of groundscrapers, which consume entire urban blocks and dominate the character of whole street frontages.


  4.01  I have referred already to CABE, English Heritage and, indirectly, City Councils as the formulators of UDPs, and they have their equivalent counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These bodies have access to relevant knowledge and expertise to make informed judgements about the potential development of clusters in different parts of the UK. However, relations between these authorities and interested parties are too often adversarial, and when discussion breaks down, the expensive, time-consuming Public Inquiries that result serve only to polarise opinion which is often undermining for negotiation in the future. At the Heron Inquiry the battle lines comprised of the Heron Corporation, the City Corporation, the GLA, and CABE, who were set in opposition to English Heritage, Westminster City Council and other interested parties.

  4.02  Measures should be implemented to minimise the need for Public Inquiries. Alternative procedures may be found by studying good practice elsewhere in the world, and effective mediators and opportunities for mediation should be sought.

  4.03  The process of mediation would be greatly assisted if readily updateable 3-dimensional computer models of cities existed, built to agreed national standards by impartial organisations. They should become trusted tools, as reliable and neutral as an Ordnance Survey map.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 22 January 2002