Until the early 1960s, St. Paul’s Cathedral was the tallest building in London. For a while, it was illegal to build anything higher than 80 feet, after a 12-story building blocked Queen Victoria’s views from Buckingham Palace. But things are quickly changing: There are now 200 skyscrapers over 20 stories high under construction in the city. A new exhibition aims to help Londoners see what the city skyline might look like in 20 years.
“Tall buildings in London are always something which raises an interesting debate,” says Peter Murray, who is curating the spring exhibit at New London Architecture (NLA). “We thought it would be interesting to find out what was happening in terms of the number of different sites and proposals for different buildings. What we hadn’t realized until we started to dig into the figures was quite how big the scale of change was.”
Part of the growth in new skyscrapers, as in other cities with booming populations, is driven by a clear need for more housing. While a handful of towers were built in the ’60s and ’70s, and more in the ’90s, almost all were commercial buildings. Now, many of the new towers being planned are residential.
The rendering above includes many of the new buildings, but not all yet. “We’re going through a process of digging into quite how many of these there are,” Murray says. “At the moment we’ve got a rough idea, but we think there are probably considerably more in the pipeline.”
When the exhibit opens in April, it will show every building known to be in planning on an interactive screen that lets visitors scroll back and forward through time, and even play with the placement or removal of buildings themselves.
It’s all intended to help drive public discussion. “There are some people who don’t like tall buildings at all, and are going to be against them,” Murray says. “The more prevalent view is that we need tall buildings, but we need them in the right place–so they don’t obscure historic views, and they’re in context with the buildings around them–and to have a high design quality. For both decisions, we need to have a public debate about what those things mean.”
It’s an interesting process that could be useful in other cities, like New York, that are also quickly adding skyscrapers, driven by similarly high land prices and interest from international investors. For the average citizen, reading a headline about a particular new project, it’s difficult to imagine how it might fit into the city as a whole. Something like this makes it easier to be part of the discussion.
“By revealing what’s happening in the city, and making it part of a public debate, we’re making sure we get the best possible quality out of the designs,” says Murray. “Otherwise, towers just happen before people know about it.”