Skyscrapers are killing our cities. Just like cookies, while one or two are fine, if you have too many, everything is thrown out of balance. The problem is that these huge buildings stand alone and don’t relate to their surroundings, instead following an almost cookie-cutter design and creating a sameness to the skylines of every major (and not so major) city.
That’s the argument of writer Eric Reguly. Taking London as an example, he cites the tall behemoths that dwarf the existing buildings in London’s financial district. The Square Mile–as it’s known–is full of beautiful, historic (and short) buildings, but the ingress of tall status symbols is “quickly eroding the City’s character.” The architecture of our great cities is becoming as homogeneous as the selection of stores on our downtown streets, and in our shopping malls.
Skyscrapers are also environmental disasters. You can’t open the windows, so you need air-conditioning on all summer long, and however great a multiple-glazed window may be at insulation, it doesn’t beat a good foot or two of stone wall for regulating temperature. They keep the heat out in the summer and act like a storage heater in the winter. Too hot? Air a bit stuffy? Open a window.
Not only do these vertical islands suck up resources and throw the surrounding streets into shadow, but they are single-serve structures. “Bank towers with enormous open trading floors wired to the fastest communications networks cannot be easily remade into housing, factories, or shops,” says Reguly. By contrast, old low-rise building can be and are remade, over and over. Factories become loft apartment buildings, as do old red-brick British schools. One of London’s most famous art galleries, the Tate Modern, is housed in a former power station by the side of the Thames, and its huge ground-floor Turbine Hall space has done much to bring art to a public that normally wouldn’t bother.
Skyscrapers, on the other hand, have more in common with the fast-fashion clothes you find in H&M than they do with an old woolen overcoat you can pass down to your grandchildren. “For the most part,” writes Reguly, “[skyscrapers] will have to be torn down when they have outlived their usefulness.” And the bigger the attention-grabbing “Renaissance codpieces” are, the more wasteful it is to demolish them.