Architects Journal: London tall buildings disregard quality of life

Monday 2 July 2018

Leading architects have warned that the Draft London Plan’s policies on tall buildings lack vital requirements to safeguard the quality of life for residents

During a session of the Greater London Assembly’s planning committee this week, Sunand Prasad, senior partner at Penoyre & Prasad and a former RIBA president, criticised the draft plan’s criteria for where tall buildings would be appropriate.

The current policy outlines three factors that councils should take into account: visual impact; contribution to housing and regeneration; and public transport connectivity.

But, Prasad, a member of the London mayor’s Design Advisory Panel for London, said: ‘We need to add a fourth sentence that captures social capital about communities and put it number one rather than starting with visual impact.

‘We need to start with saying, above all, they have got to work and also that alternative means of doing the same thing need to be exhausted.’

Prasad said the current conversation about tall buildings needed to shift away from its focus on the skyline impact.

‘The skyline is only one of many issues about tall buildings,’ he said. ‘What is it like to be right next to it? What is it like to be in it? What is it like for the local town centre and the communities that will hopefully thrive in these developments?’

Also giving evidence to the committee, ZCD Architects co-director Dinah Bornat said that new high-rise development should only take place if it could be shown it would add social value.

‘The Treasury’s green book now has an emphasis on sustainability,’ she said, ‘and the social return on investment is a potentially measurable requirement.

’Some of the work I am doing would suggest local authorities and landowners could be baselining the inherent social value of existing estates and neighbourhoods so any future development works on an improvement on that.

’We could look at putting towers on new sites based on what their contribution will make and [where they] shouldn’t have a negative impact on the inherent social value. But we need to agree some measurements for those things.’

But Barbara Weiss, co-founder of the Skyline Campaign, which fights inappropriate high-rise development, said it was always going to be difficult to prove towers improve social capital.

‘I don’t think towers are the best place on the whole for families to live,’  she said. ‘I know that in New York everybody lives in towers, but in London it is not part of the city’s DNA to have children high up in the sky.’

The architects appeared during a session of the committee’s current inquiry into tall residential buildings.

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