Memorandum by City Heritage Society (TAB
We are opposed to high buildings which we regard
as inappropriate in an historic city centre such as ours. Unlike
English Heritage we strenuously opposed the Swiss Re tower which
we described as the City's great planning disaster of the year
We came into being in 1973. Had we been there
earlier we would have opposed the National Westminster tower equally
The Society's objections to tall buildings in
the City are threefold:
We disagree with the City Corporation's view
that to maintain its leading position as an international financial
centre there is a need for further skyscraper buildings in the
This view is based on statistics said to demonstrate
that there will be a substantial increase in the City's workforce
over the next decade; and coupled with this the City Corporation
is claiming that there is now, and will be in the future, a demand
for very large office buildings to satisfy commercial demand that
can only be met by building upwards.
In fact all the current signs, and all the indications
for the future, are that the overall demand for office space from
the City's traditional employersbanks, insurance companies,
dealing houses and the likeis bound to shrink as the logical
outcome of merger, take-over, restructuring and changes brought
about by new technology.
Scarcely a week goes by without our reading
in the Press of staff cuts in the financial sector eg Credit Suisse
First Boston2000 jobs cut; Deutsche Bank7000 this
year; Dresdner Bank7800; Prudentialanother 2000;
London staff have been reduced at Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs,
UBS Warburg, Lazard, Societe Generale and Standard Chartered.
The City Corporation's own advisersthe
Centre for Economic and Business Researchwas reported in
the Evening Standard (31 August 2001) as predicting that some
150,000 London jobs will be lost by the end of 2002 with a devastating
downturn in the City.
The City Corporation, relying upon statistical
projections, says that such reductions are only cyclical blips
and that in the longer term there will be an increase in the financial
sector workforce. City Heritage believes that view to be a nonsense.
Continuing mergers, restructuring and the impact of IT must to
any reasonable mind spell a continuing reduction in the number
of workers employed.
Clearly the mergers and take-overs will also
result in the creation of larger conglomerates and such conglomerates
might possible require a single large headquarters building. But
the demand for such very large buildings is necessarily strict
limited. For example, in the 1980's there were still 150 substantial
insurance companies in the UK, mostly City-based. Today there
is a tiny handful and it is not fanciful to forecast that in the
not distant future there will only be two or three major players
leftprobably American or German owned. So one cannot see
a demand for very large buildings from many insurersthe
same argument applies to banks and to dealing houses.
The latest tower proposal, the Heron tower,
unlike others, is intended to provide space for smaller firms,
not just one occupant, in recognition by the developers that there
is now a very restricted demand indeed on the part of major conglomerates
for big buildingsthere just aren't many such giant concerns
left, bearing in mind the downturn in the global economy.
But why build a tower to house small firms?
It is really a contradiction in terms, Bearing in mind the high
costs of building upwards, costs which are going to increase substantially
since the World Trade Centre attack because there will be more
demanding Building Regulations and higher insurance charges, it
must be economically more viable to satisfy the demand for space
from smaller firms in buildings of low to medium height. Such
space will become increasingly available as some of the very big
players like HSBC, Citygroup and Clifford Chance move outside
The danger for the City is that in creating
large buildings those buildings are increasingly likely to be
substantially under-occupied and therefore not cost efficient.
That is already happening. But once you have a skyscraper its
demolition and replacement by something smaller is difficult and
very expensive. These are the reasons why the Americans appear
to have fallen out of love with skyscrapers. Long before the attack
on the World Trade Centre, the construction of skyscrapers was
drying up and many existing ones emptying.
We believe that economic dictates and the City's
future prosperity lie not in high towers but in high-grade buildings
of medium size to house headquarters operations, the key staff
who need to be in close proximity to the markets and other related
business, and smaller firms.
2. SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS
Second, we object to towers on safety grounds.
Towers present particular problems in the case of fire, bomb and
arson threats, because of their attraction as targets, because
of the widespread effects damage to the tower will have on the
immediate surroundings and the danger to life of the occupants
particularly resulting from the length of time it takes to evacuate
people from higher floors. It seems to us foolhardy in the extreme
to add to the City's existing vulnerability in all these respects.
Sir John Keegan, the military historian and
commentator, has said that in the light of the destruction of
the World Trade Centre he believed that few in any organizations
would in future wish to locate in high buildings, nor would staff
wish to work in them (Seminar on "Architecture of Defence",
Apothecaries Hall 16 Oct 01).
It has been argued that high buildings have
always been a feature of the City, the dome of St Paul's, the
other Wren spires and Monument being instanced as examples; and
that the process has continued with office towers. This seems
to be sheer sophistry. Churches were built to the glory of God
and in terms of architectural excellence there can be no comparison
between the dome of St Paul's and the Tower 42.
Existing City towers have already created a
visual chaos and the addition of further towers would certainly
add to that chaos, and would finally put paid to the dominance
of St Paul's dome as the major point of reference on the City
The City Corporation's unitary development plan
says: "St Paul's is architecturally the most notable building
in the City and so demands special consideration. The Cathedral
forms a dominant element in the townscape both locally and London-wide.
The Corporation wishes to ensure that St Paul's setting within
the City is appropriate and that its dominance of the local street
scene and its place in the wider skyline is maintained and wherever
possible enhanced. The Corporation has therefore adopted the following
To protect a variety of views of
To achieve a fitting environmental
setting to St Paul's".
The approval for towers such as the Swiss Re
or Heron makes a nonsense of these objectives and stated policy.
Towers are bound to overshadow and dominate everything around
them, inevitably diminishing all the low-to-medium-rise buildings
in their immediate vicinity, impacting adversely on surrounding
conservation areas and adding to the visual chaos of the London
To have as a stated objective the creation of
buildings to house thousands of people seems to us environmentally
perverse in that it would result in thousands more commuters struggling
to find places on already overcrowded trains. It should be an
objective of London authorities to restrain the creation of vast
new centres of employment until public transport is able more
effectively to meet the existing demand.