A short while ago London was awash with plans to stick office towers throughout the square mile. Then came the credit crunch. But now, it seems, all those plans have been reignited, and despite the hard times, a rash of skyscrapers is set to appear across the capital. What happened?
Well, it’s not a new boom. Developers are simply meeting demand that currently exists, because there is a shortage of teched-up office space in the City. In the longer term, people have grave doubts about the state of the world’s economy, so they’re getting the product there while there’s demand. Renegotiating planning permission from scratch is too tricky, and it’s quicker to dust off old plans than to make new ones. London will get a clutch of tall buildings that were designed for a boom, and delivered in a still-ongoing recession.
The trouble with this is – apart from the immense divides it continues to create in cities like London – the buildings could be anywhere in the world, and already feel dated. This is the generic perfume bottle style that architects were in love with five to ten years ago. Architects can be slavishly conformist designers. After the perfume bottle look they discovered wood cladding, and when that started to look naff they began sticking vertical panes of coloured glass on everything. What is so depressing is that the remaining good buildings from the past are dismissed, even though Londoners love them.
The unusual thing about London is that it doesn’t have an old quarter. New York was never old and Paris is never new, but a great many cities have ring-fenced areas where you see the streets as they once were. London’s old and new buildings sit side by side. Perhaps we should have done what the architects of Gdansk, Poland did, and recreate the beloved buildings that were lost to war and rapacious developers. But we know that can never happen now.
So welcome to the future – or rather, the recent unlovely past.