“What a difference three decades makes. Thirty years ago, the word “high-rise” was associated with something very different. Not with expensive, privately-owned skypads, but with ramshackle council flats, broken lifts and blocked rubbish chutes.” The journalist, Christopher Middleton wrote this in 2014 and few could argue with this perspective. In today’s London many of the most expensive properties in the market are apartments in tower blocks, although it is unlikely that the top-end estate agents will describe these huge towers as ‘blocks’. Remember that most apartments in central, shiny new towers will cost well over £1m.
The reason for the change back to building high appears to have been due to the growing London population. There are swathes of Green Belt around London that many want to leave untouched but if you can’t build out you need to build up. There are currently dozens of apartment blocks being built around London often in development batches; for example, there is the significant development at Nine Elms and the huge makeover in Elephant and Castle. Arguably the most significant recent addition is One Blackfriars, where a three-bedroom apartment is around the £4.5m mark. This building is enormous and not without its critics. Nonetheless on our Modern Architecture tour people are always intrigued by this billowing building and often rather surprised that it is an apartment block as opposed to offices. Indeed, millions of pounds is an astonishing amount to pay for a flat without a balcony. Often referred to as ‘the vase’ (it was inspired by a piece of Fifties art: a Scandinavian glass vessel from the architect’s private collection) One Blackfriars has had its issues along the way. The building’s architect, Ian Simpson, claims that the project has absorbed 15 years of his life and a complete redesign was needed when English Heritage pointed out that it blocked the view of St Paul’s from a heritage bridge in St James’s Park. “We had to lower the building and change all proportions,” he says.
However, not all additions to the London skyline are apartment blocks. Towards the end of last year we were introduced to The Tulip, an incredible 1000 ft tall building designed by Foster + Partners. Sir Norman Foster said the building, shaped like a “bud” on top of a 787 ft “stalk”, was “in the spirit of London as a progressive, forward-thinking city”. The building will feature glass-floored internal bridges and visitors will be able to ride in glass pods rotating slowly on tracks on the exterior. It is expected to attract one million visitors a year. If The Tulip goes ahead it will be just one foot taller than architect Eric Parry’s proposed 1 Undershaft nearby. These buildings located in the area of the City known as the Eastern Cluster feel as if they are constantly competing for attention but there is no denying their visual impact.
At the moment there appears to be no end to the demand for tall buildings and if you can afford the eye-watering prices (look no further than Foster + Partners about to be opened Principal Tower) then you will not only have amazing views but will also be able to witness the ever-changing skyline as London continues to reach for the skies.
To see a wonderful cross-section of the newest tall buildings in London please join us on our Modern Architecture tour.