The End of Bling and the Beginning of Algae….

United Kingdom

This article was produced by Olswang LLP, which joined with CMS on 1 May 2017.

Although the immediate years to come will welcome the arrival of a select number of new and architecturally dynamic neighbours for the Gherkin and the Heron, such as the Pinnacle, the Shard, the Leadenhall Building, the Walkie-talkie, and so on, the expectation of the speakers at the fascinating City Property Association Seminar (Ken Shuttleworth from Make and Alan Davidson from Hayes Davidson) appeared to be that the cladding will change and the future of tall buildings is questionable.

The future of tall buildings….but what about the past?   The skyline of London, when set against the skyline of other large cities, looks…well, like Ronnie Corbett on platforms.  Whilst London is not known for its high rise skyline, Constructive was interested to see just how conservative the London skyline is in comparison to other major cities. The trials and tribulations of obtaining planning for these tall buildings are well known.  Among the challenges that developers of tall buildings have faced in London, is the perceived need to avoid juxtaposition of old and new buildings in the City.  St Paul’s, Somerset house, Big Ben – they aren’t scared of these new big bad buildings rising up beside them, in fact, they remain firmly on the tourist map co-existing peacefully with the more adventurous towers of the last decade.  It is a personal opinion, but it is the very juxtaposition of old and new that excites me about London’s architecture. A great deal of emphasis is also placed on what is considered to be an “attractive” view and the importance of visual perception, attention and memory as a method of determining the pros and cons of townscapes. In reality, ask yourself this: imagine you are standing on Waterloo Bridge looking towards St Paul’s;  how confident are you that you can you, without fail, position the key buildings from memory? If you can get it right, you are in the minority – even when confronted with a couple of options, most people can’t get it right.  Add a few more exciting tall buildings and maybe we will get it right in future.

But the woes of tall glass buildings do not stop with planning.  They have been known to be expensive, not just to build, but also to operate. The New 2010 edition of Part L of schedule 1 of the Building Regulations and New 2010 Energy Performance in Buildings Directive will all have an effect on offices, particularly those clad beautifully in glass. I have personal experience of working in a glass building.  Some readers may also relate to sitting in a winter coat shivering in both winter and even in summer when it’s 30 degrees outside, as glass is not the most efficient at temperature regulation. However, I must admit, the views from the top floors (or even middle floors) of one of London’s tall glass buildings are so beautiful – almost breathtaking – that it is hard to say it’s not worth the extra cost.

In a time of austerity and with a welcome focus on sustainability, have we heard the death knell of the tall glass box? Despite the exciting projects mentioned at the outset, which received planning years ago, by the time today’s designs get planning the view expressed was that the days of the tall vain glass towers and the bling of gold cladding (such as a gold clad building that was commissioned but never actually built) will be gone. Replaced with something else, perhaps equally as impressive, one of the new materials used may be….algae… and maybe even a tower of algae. Surprising at first, but sensible and sustainable, algae (which would consume CO2 and release it back as oxygen) has been designed to transform light energy into a beautiful lighting scheme on the outside of buildings. In fact, the runner up in the recent Taiwan Tower Competition was the “Tower of Droplets” designed by London’s CRAB architects. Whilst mainly conceptual designs at present, have we been missing a trick with all these years of vanity and impressive glass structures and now gone back to basics?




Good blog article.

I certainly think we are seeing a shift in values. perhpas london has always been more conservative in architecture during the last 100 years compared to other cities keener to “prove” their worth and skill by building high and/or with acres of glass.

In person terms, I welcome the shift in our thinking right now, to move back from the “cathedrals to mammon” to forms and materials which reflect more closely the needs of our modern carbon-conscious world and our children’s world.

I have been a fan of Ken Shuttleworth since he established MAKE, and had that team on a number of projects in 2004-2007. They consistently produced aestetically attractive, structurally clever, cost efficient and sensitive designs that delivered well the functional needs of the occupiers and reflected their surroundings. I think that is the hallmark of good architecture – not bling.

Kind regards

Nick Pollard