Why sleek skyscrapers are the height of fashion

01.11.16

Jane Slade looks up and out over the capital and discovers why sleek skyscrapers are the height of fashion

Over 400 tall buildings are destined to be built in London over the next decade with 73% designed primarily for living accommodation. Many will be built in East London with 42 on the Greenwich Peninsular alone. So what will London look like in 10 years? Will the capital be re-shaped to resemble Shanghai or New York? And how will these architectural giants impact on our historic landscape?

The most dramatic impact will be that new districts of prime and super-prime properties will emerge, mostly south of the river, and more iconic buildings such as a 57-storey residential Rolling Pin Tower in Tower Hamlets, will join the ever-changing the skyline. John Bushell, of the American architectural firm KPF, anticipates the capital’s south bank will provide a mirror to the north and become the new prime districts where views of the city will be just as alluring as those of leafy South London, Battersea Power Station and beyond. He envisages that just as the Shard denotes London Bridge and the Gherkin the City, others will rise to define existing territories and new ones.

“The planning system is very picturesque,” he argues. “Like a landscape garden where people compose things. London won’t be a free for all like New York. Planning has been carefully considered and the eye-line to St Paul’s is still preserved.”

In contrast to the grim concrete tower blocks of the 1960s and 70s, today’s high-rises are designed to appeal to high-income urbanites who want glamorous open-plan apartments with hotel-style services such as 24-hour security, concierge, valet parking, spas and indoor gardens. More than anything the view is paramount so the apartments commanding the best cost the most, and the more imaginative the shape of the building the greater its allure.

Aykon London One, one of KPF’s developments at Nine Elms in Wandsworth combines high-end residential homes with office and affordable accommodation. This sudden surge to build high has been sparked by London’s spiraling population and land scarcity. Tall towers can accommodate more people near major transport hubs and regenerate the areas around them. Aykon will provide 450 residences ‘designed for everyone’ according to Bushell. It will have lots of communal spaces too such as roof gardens, winter pavilions, and even a karaoke bar which its Chinese owner has stipulated. It will also have a horizontal office intersection and retail units on the ground floor.

Its neighbour One Nine Elms will offer 491 residences, an observatory and the country’s first Chinese five-star hotel - interestingly buyers are 50% from the UK and 50% from overseas.

Ian Simpson is a high-rise architect, his London project is One Blackfriars – a 50-storey skyscraper by Blackfriars Bridge where studio apartments cost an eye-popping £960,000 (a record for a home on the South Bank). The developer, St George’s, other lofty scheme is 49-storey Vauxhall Wharf Tower, nicknamed a super-yacht in the sky by its MD Mark Griffiths and also has big-budget buyers in its sights, offering entire floors with 360 degree views.

Planners have decreed that skyscrapers should be built in clusters redefining and regenerating areas of the capital once considered unfashionable. So high rise developments will be concentrated in places not populated by Georgian Squares but on former contaminated sites, old warehouses and derelict railway property. The Greater London Authority has defined those areas; Vauxhall, Hackney, City, Southwark, Waterloo, London Bridge and Canary Wharf as ripe for regeneration and providing much needed housing stock.

New buildings in Docklands for example don’t just comprise flats but communities; the modern architect is not just constructing homes for people to live in but structures for communities to flourish. Destined to be the capital’s highest residential building, City Pride, will be part of a cluster sitting on the axis of a long dock and the Landmark Pinnacle which at 75 stories is another tall residential tower, has two levels with the top given over to gardens. “They are like little villages,” Squire adds.

Peter Murray, chairman of New London Architecture, a forum for architects and planners, says: “We want to replicate New York in creation vital hubs near local amenities. However prices are staggering; it’s hard to see how it can continue on the levels we are seeing but in North Greenwich which is not premium site, a two-bed flat will cost about £750,000. The trend is providing a mixture of properties, pepper-potting affordable with very expensive penthouses.”

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