A figure standing on an internal balcony

Going Up: Would You Live In A High Rise?

Christopher Fowler

In one sense high rises are very egalitarian. The resident in the 16th floor of a council tower block gets the same view as someone in an equivalent floor of the Shard - but JG Ballard's novel 'High Rise' imagined a block divided by its Have and Have-Not residents until a full class war broke out. It's finally making it to the big screen under flavour-du-jour director Ben Wheatley.

Would you live in one, though? First you have to overcome any nervousness of lifts and 'Towering Inferno'-style problems. More insidious is the lack of easy access to outside space. I've lived on the sixth floor for the past ten years and in that time London's climate has changed violently. It's now so windy that although I have terraces I get little use out of them. Those lovely photographs you see of couples sipping cocktails outside aren't so great in real life when you're trying to eat a salad that keeps blowing away. I like my view, although in the time I've been living here it has been halved by tower blocks. But I can still see St Paul's Cathedral from my bedroom, and that's a touchstone for me.

In Paris apartment prices rise and fall according to whether they keep or lose their view of the Eiffel Tower (there's a very funny film about one such flat), but we still have three sightline corridors for St Paul's, although how much longer they'll last under our Mayor's scams is anyone's guess. I've seen inside both the Candy brothers' Hyde Park monstrosities and the Shard apartments, and they're shonky beyond belief. The Candy photos were secretly snapped by a friend who attended a party in one - all gold taps, black marble (with gold flecks) and neon strip lighting. All they needed to complete the image of a 1990s coke-baron's brothel were a couple of pole-dancers.

Meanwhile the Shard has gone for a 'units carved out of Stilton' look that I associate with Pizza Express. It was a clever move putting the bonsai tree in the shot to make everything look bigger, though, but why the developers have to pretend that London is in the middle of the Mediterranean is anyone's guess (that is the sea outside, isn't it?) Stylish high-rise living IS possible; Google 'Walden 7' (below) and read about the astonishing high-rise built in Spain in the 1970s. This cubist vision of utopian living is, unusually, a middle-class high rise that has summertime cinema in its courtyards and multiple-use communal areas, a miniature city of light and space with stunning interiors.

It's probably only possible to build something like this with blue skies above - we Londoners have the Barbican, which merely inspires feelings of confusion and mild annoyance, mainly because it's finished in brutalist nobbled concrete - but even that looks passable on a sunny day. Walden 7 was clad in terra cotta tiles that drawn out the area's natural colours. London is serviced best by red brick, Portland stone, coloured tiles (the new green tiles at East Croydon station are terrific) and slates. Why? Because it has always been a city that looks its best in winter, plus half of the Shard is hidden in cloud then, to everyone's benefit.




Dan Terrell (not verified) Sat, 23/08/2014 - 21:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Some pretty appealing photos. Wonder what the suicide rate is over a ten year period? Going down, anyone?

Helen Martin (not verified) Sun, 24/08/2014 - 04:27

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

How much of the wind problem is the result of the funneling effect? If you narrow the area through which wind flows you increase the turbulence, although London buildings appear to be irregular enough in shape to avoid much of that. Just asking. There has got to be something that can be done to decrease Mr. Johnson's effect on the building pattern. We have a major problem with the Canadian Pacific Railway at the moment. (Yes, the one that "built Canada".) They would like to develop a rail right of way as housing but the city has it zoned as transportation corridor/green space and the people in the neighbourhood (self described a number of years ago as the Creme de la Creme) have been using part of it as allotment gardens and walking paths. The CPR went through last week tearing up anything on its land because they are going to bring it back to proper standards for transport. Of course they couldn't wait for harvest. No, the city will not change the zoning and they will pay the CPR only the value of that zoning. Come on, Boris, stand up for your people. All your people.

Fiona (not verified) Mon, 25/08/2014 - 17:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I lived in New York in high-rise apartment buildings and worked in one. I have lived on the 14th floor with a view across the East River which was fantastic. I lived on the 9th floor looking down 2nd Avenue with a view of the Chrysler Building looking northwards and I could just about see the top of the Empire State building if I stood in the right place. I loved the views and so did my visitors. Working on 47th floor of a building was something else. In windy weather the building would creak like a ship at sea, it was unnerving. We had fire drills where the fire warden would tell us that if there was a fire we should go two floors below! Which I guess is to stop a build up of people on the stairs but I'm not sure anyone would listen if there had been a fire. I was there during the blackout and had to walk down all the stairs to get out of the building, that hurt!

Not sure if I like Ben Wheatley's films but it'll be interesting to see how he works with an adaptation. There's some very disturbing stuff in that book!