Category Archives: London

City-making and Sadiq

 

 

Writing for Make, New London Architecture chairman Peter Murray gives us his view on how London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, might deliver the “good growth” he has promised.

 

Make partner Jason Parker recently gave a talk in the City of London’s Guildhall about development in the Square Mile and why its cluster of tall buildings is the way it is. He talked about the protected view corridors of St Paul’s Cathedral, the restrictions on building heights, the conservation areas and the composition of the towers – the maximum height of which is defined by the requirements of the Civil Aviation Authority and flight paths rather than urban planners.

How will Sadiq Khan set about shaping the capital as he sits down to write new his plan?

The London Jason described is one shaped by pragmatism – a system of creating pieces of city that come about as a result of argument, enquiry, and a response to geographical, commercial and electoral pressures, rather than from a grand vision of a desirable city. In light of the growing debate about tall buildings and density in London, how will Sadiq Khan set about shaping the capital as he sits down to write new his plan?

The mayor has said that he supports the idea of London accommodating as much of its economic growth as possible, and at the same time he wants to do that without impinging on the Green Belt. Thus he will need to intensify development across the city, particularly in locations with good transport capacity. This means higher-density development and, in some cases, additional taller buildings.

In the current London Plan, large-scale development is proposed to take place in Opportunity Areas. Some of these come under a single development entity, like King’s Cross and Earls Court. Others have multiple ownership, like Nine Elms and South Quay on the Isle of Dogs. The two mayoral development corporations, for the Olympic Legacy and Old Oak Common, create masterplans with developers delivering individual sites.

As of March 2015. Opportunity Areas are London’s major source of brownfield land with development potential (eg commercial or residential) and varying levels of public transport access. Typically they can accommodate at least 5,000 jobs and 2,500 new homes, along with other supporting facilities and infrastructure. Image courtesy Mayor of London website.

King’s Cross is a good example of how masterplanning can work. The developers and their consultants produced a clear layout for the site, retaining areas of key heritage and providing locations and size of buildings with a mix of uses around the site. The plan was flexible enough to change as the economic situation changed; based on a series of sound rules, it retained a level of coherence in scale and detail. The architects of individual buildings were given freedom in developing their own palette of materials in order to create variety and interest.

By contrast, South Quay, not far from Canary Wharf on the DLR, is in multiple ownership. Each landowner jockeys for taller and taller buildings, with guidance arriving late in the day from the authorities when it seemed that the density of the area could exceed even that of Central Hong Kong. Although a masterplan has now been developed, it gives no hint as to the overall form, the townscape, of this key part of the capital.

Next door at Canary Wharf, today’s development is still recognisable in drawings made as far back as 1984. The architecture has changed over time, but the shape of the development is pretty much as planned.

In addition to Opportunity Areas, the mayor will look to develop more public land, particularly some of the 5,700 acres owned by Transport for London. Since many of the sites will be around and above stations, one can expect to see denser developments taking place in town centres across the capital. One can expect plenty of debate about whether this means more clusters of towers or lower-rise but denser developments.

How do other cities do it? Vancouver’s towers are more consistent in height and less clustered than London’s, although the location of tall buildings is similarly determined by views, in this instance of the natural landscape and geography that surround the coastal city. The strategy of creating “intense, dense neighbourhoods with short commutes” was developed by city planner Larry Beasley and dubbed Vancouverism – a key element of which is the podium block, providing an animated street scene with mixed use, green space and family homes at the base and smaller apartments in the towers.

In 1977 Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, then president of France, upset by the impact of the 210m-high Montparnasse Tower, introduced a law that banned any buildings over 10 storeys high in the centre of Paris, which has over the years become increasingly museum-like, with low economic growth. In response, mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo has adopted a policy of permitting taller buildings in select locations within the central area, the first being the 180m Tour Triangle by Herzog & de Meuron. The Central Sydney Planning Strategy, meanwhile, has come up with an envelope of maximum heights created to protect the views and light of parks and places.

With the extreme pressures that London is facing to accommodate growth within a limited footprint, Khan needs to shift away from the current reactive and regulatory planning system to one that is more proactive, positive and creative if he is to provide the “good growth” he is promising in his planning consultation document A City for All Londoners. A proactive plan will give a better idea of the 3D shape of the future city than the current 2D local plans, which leave it to developers to fill in the gaps.

London’s population has grown every year since 1988, and in the last five years has grown much faster than anticipated in the 2011 London Plan. The population projections of the 2016 plan show London growing from 8.2 million in 2011 to 10.1 million in 2036. Image courtesy Mayor of London website.

Providing a clearer idea of the shape of the future city will give greater certainty to developers and communities alike; it will reassure local people about what is going up in their backyard, reduce land speculation and make development less of a gamble. The London Plan sets out where development happens and what density it might be, but gives little thought to what it is going to look like or what form it might take.

As the mayor writes his own version of the London Plan, he has the opportunity to not just say what the London of the future will contain, how many people it can accommodate and what sort of jobs they will do, but also give us an idea of what it is actually going to be like.

 

Peter Murray is the chairman of New London Architecture and The London Society, and president of the creative agency Wordsearch. A trained architect, he founded Blueprint Magazine and the London Festival of Architecture.

Article extracted from Make Annual 13.

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2036: A Floor Space Odyssey

 

 

Property writer Peter Bill takes us through the key points of the City of London’s recently published City Plan 2036: Shaping the Future City.

 

“The best jobs in the future are going to be what I call STEMpathy jobs,” wrote New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman late last year. “Jobs that blend STEM skills (science, technology, engineering, math) with human empathy. We don’t know what many of them will look like yet.” Indeed. But we do know enough about human empathy to know that nothing of much value gets done in spare bedrooms by pyjama-clad loners – something the City of London holds to be true, for the next 20 years at least.

Corporation planners are devoting much of 2017 to figuring out how the Square Mile might look and feel in 2036. Consultation closed last December on the 75-page City Plan 2036: Shaping the Future City, which provides plenty of clues for architects, planning consultants and developers. Clues are embedded in questions and maps showing what they might want and where. A draft local plan will be published this autumn, with adoption chalked in for summer 2019. But this year is for exploring opportunities.

View over Liverpool Street Station of the City of London tower cluster, with Make’s 5 Broadgate in the right foreground. (c) John Madden

Where to start? Begin with the dull but reassuring 187-page London Labour Market Projections 2016, published by the Greater London Authority last June. Key sentence: “Demand for professional occupations, and managers [will account for] three quarters, or 979,000, of additional jobs between 2014 and 2041.” At 100ft² per worker, that works out at damn near 100,000,000ft² of space – about 220 Gherkins, London-wide. How many the City will attract is, of course, the corporation’s only concern.

Plan 2036 declines to enumerate how many of those jobs will land in the City – wisely perhaps, given its dull-dog image among the under-30s and EY’s worries expressed late last year about 83,000 banking jobs on the line as we Brexit. GLA economists predict 80,000 more jobs in the Square Mile by 2041, up 20% from today’s figure of 400,000. Nearly 20 Gherkins-full. The word ‘office’ has a quill-pen ring; ‘workspace’ has overtones of sweated labour. So let’s first see where the City might allow Friedman’s STEMpathy space.

The bad news is that half the space needed by 2036 has already been designed and granted permission, including 14 towers. “Schemes under construction and permitted but not commenced could accommodate the Local Plan’s projected increase in office jobs in the City up to 2026,” says Plan 36, without mentioning the diameter of the pipeline. But it’s not hard to root out City figures showing a 4,700,000ft² pipeline. Say 10 Gherkins, which sounds about right, given 20 are needed by 2036.

Do not despair. Work has begun on the biggest of the 14 towers, the 1,400,000ft² 22 Bishopsgate scheme. This 67-floor skyscraper will be towering over the City by 2020. It just needs two or three other big developments to begin and a few more to be abandoned and the pipeline will shrivel like a punctured inner tube. Then what? Actually “then where?” is the better question. The Eastern Cluster is where. Think of the gap between the Cheesegrater and the Walkie Talkie and east out to Aldgate.

City tower cluster including consented schemes, with Make’s 1 Leadenhall in the centre foreground. Visualisation courtesy of Millerhare for Brookfield.

Anyone with an interest in the next generation of towers will have been exploring this area since last summer, when the City released a plan delineating an Eastern Cluster. A 3D model of the area has since been produced and published. “This work is at an early stage but has already confirmed the limits of change in the Cluster that include impacts on the wider setting for the Tower of London,” says Plan 36. “The Local Plan review will consider whether any changes should be made to the area of the Cluster.” My italics.

Read that quote carefully, and remember the answer lies in the question. Move on. “What should the City look and feel like in 2036?” is the key question. “The current Local Plan evolved from the 2011 City of London Core Strategy, which was based on evidence collected prior to 2011. The Local Plan now requires updating to address recent development trends and to reflect the City’s emerging priorities and aspirations.” To translate: “The old plan is out of date. We need a new post-Brexit plan.”

Here comes the key phrase: “One option would be to identify a ‘Commercial Core’ where only offices and complementary uses will be permitted, with a more flexible approach to other land uses including housing outside the Commercial Core, though this may impact on space suitable for SMEs.” Bets are hedged, so as not to annoy small businesses. But to baldly translate: “If things get bad, we may need to delineate a formal Central Business District – the sort of thing that most other cities on the planet operate.”

A CBD would include Broadgate, and maybe further north and east into areas where under-30s might feel comfortable. “There may be potential for further business intensification in this area, particularly linking with the Tech City area around Shoreditch and Old Street.” Groovy. Meaning more developments like the 320,000ft² Fruit and Wool Exchange, now being rebuilt by Exemplar. But what might fill the areas between a new CBD and the 2,000-year-old Roman boundaries of the Square Mile?

1 Leadenhall, by Make, along Leadenhall Street. The scheme received a resolution to grant planning consent in January 2017. Visualisation courtesy of Millerhare for Brookfield.

More homes? A few. “Should we indicate where further residential development would be permitted?” asks Plan 36. The GLA is pressing for the present 110-units-a-year ceiling to be raised to 141 a year. The City has 8,000 full-time residents and 1,400 second-home owners. There is no indication more would be welcome. Over 200 flats are being built near St Bartholomew’s Hospital, close to Smithfield Market, an ancient blood-soaked spot which gets wary attention in Plan 36.

“Smithfield has been the home of a meat market for hundreds of years […] we will need to reconcile the needs of the meat market with greater pedestrian pressure resulting from Crossrail and the emerging Cultural Hub.” For “emerging cultural hub,” read the by-no-means-certain relocation of the Museum of London to empty market buildings. Will meat-trading be replaced by a Leadenhall-in-the-West gallery of shops and cafés? Maybe. But any proposal risks the porters’ terrible wrath. Don’t bank on it happening before 2036.

Make’s 40 Leadenhall Street scheme, which will house up to 10,000 people upon completion, is one of the biggest schemes to ever receive planning permission in the City. Visualisation courtesy of DBOX.

 

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