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'Skylines are under threat': Super skyscrapers and ambitious architects could ruin our cities, warns the chief of English Heritage
27 May 2007
The Observer

BRITAIN IS entering a dangerous new phase of architectural excess with a harmful emphasis on building skyscrapers in our bigger cities, says the chief executive of English Heritage. He is warning of the 'extraordinary ambition' of individuals who want to 'create a monument to themselves'.

In a hard-hitting interview in the conservation journal Cornerstone , Simon Thurley describes his battle to convince those in charge of planning policy that preserving the history of our famous skylines does not mean preventing progress.

'We have been treading a very difficult path over the past five years, trying to balance the absolute necessity to protect and preserve and conserve with the absolute necessity to convince people that that activity is not holding the country back in some way,' he says.

English Heritage has recently objected to plans for a skyscraper known collo quially as 'the walkie talkie', designed by Rafael Vinoly and destined to dominate the City of London.

Unesco has also recently pointed to historic iconic buildings in the capital including the Tower of London and the Palace of Westminster, suggesting that they are now endangered world heritage sites because of surrounding high-rise building developments. The 'shard', Renzo Piano's proposed building at London Bridge, has also been criticised, mainly for breaking London's 1,000ft height barrier, as has Richard Rogers's 'cheesegrater' at 122 Leadenhall Street in the City. Plans for skyscrapers next to Liverpool's historic dock have also caused consternation.

'The issue about London's skyline, which is in fact a wider issue about tall buildings around the country, is a very, very difficult one,' said Thurley, a former director of the Museum of London. 'We have to accept that building tall is one of the expressions of our age.'

It is the understandable result, he says, of new technology coupled with civic pride and the new sense of wealth in the City of London.

'It is an expression of a small number of individuals' extraordinary ambition and desire to create a monument to themselves,' he argues, although he does go on to admit that these forces were also at work when Salisbury Cathedral or St Pancras station went up. The situation in the 21st century is more hazardous though, he believes.

'It has to be said that we have entered an entirely new phase, with buildings that can be seen from 35 miles away. And at night from 35 miles away - because they are blazing with light. That has a major impact, not only on the buildings that surround them, but on the image of the city or town they are in.

'Do we want London to be defined by a massive residential tower belonging to a foreign national who has bought it as an investment? Is that how we want London to be defined? My answer to that is no.'

Thurley, who will work with the new chairman of English Heritage, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, appointed on Thursday, to continue to look after the organisation's 425 historic sites across the country, revealed in the interview that relations with central government and with civil servants are improving, despite the fact that the early years of New Labour had seen conservation downgraded as a negative influence.

Thurley hopes the work of English Heritage can 'finally slay the dragon of the so-called "dead hand" of conservation. Conservation is not a dead hand. It is a living hand. It is not about the past, it is about the future,' he said.
 

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This is what Liverpool lost out on because it ruined the Wirrals view of the Cathedral, a 51-storey residential tower a few miles from the city centre.



We had this reudced by 15 storeys from 40 to a redesigned 25 and 20 storey towers because it was to close to the historic rope walks area.



We've had this reduced from a 40 storey tower to a 33 storey tower thats awaiting a decision.



We had the 32 storey Chieftain tower (left) rejected because it was to close to the Lime Street tower (right), we have to settle for a 10 storey building instead.



Now not all of these are English Heritage decisions but some are and they are having a massive affect in Liverpool, but the weird thing is they are based in Manchester where they are building taller buildings but arent causing them a problem.
 

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Amat victoria curam...
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I'm massively into conservation and our historical buildings (having just been to Blenheim Palace this weekend!), so some of what people from the likes of English Heritage say isn't always lost on me, but the fact is, a well-designed 50-storey skyscraper often has LESS of an impact on historical buildings than a 10-storey block. When will they realise that skycrapers in the right place, with small footplates are actually an aid to conservation, not a threat.
 

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This reminds me of our own identical problems in Kyiv, where dozens of projects were scrapped due to historical architectural incompatability with the surroundings, while in reality these historical areas are already flooded with ugly grey soviet lowrises from the 20th century.
 

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***Alexxx***
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if we're gonna go on and UP in the world then we gotta building skyscrapers...they on don't mess up the skyline when there well designed, keep new large businesses interested in having there headquarters here etc...
 

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In the bog.
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I don't see what the problem is when these skyscrapers, which may have their faults, are built on top of ugly poorly constructed, poorly planned 1960s and 70s blocks, sometimes as a result of corruption in planning authorities.

Allow Britain to enter the 21st century.
Such a fuss is made about every new building nowadays it would seem impossible for them to be any worse than whats already there.
 

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Buka Pintu
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EH are useless old farts whove no idea what theyre talking about whatsoever.They also fail to show any evidence that these towers will ruin those oh so great views.I used to like them actually.Now I hate them...half of the properties owned by EH are rotting away and they say theyve no money to restore them.Sure they dont!They spend all the money on their silly little crusade against skyscrapers.
They also fail to save buildings which are threatened by developers.Buildings like Smithfield Market.Its of little architectural merit they said and refused to list it which wouldve saved it.What is going to replace that historic building will be of NO architectural merit.
Why do we need such useless organisation?
 

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Luckily Brum does'nt have problems with EH, we just have the CAA restricting the heights of towers. One of the reasons I think Birmingham will become the testing ground for major architecture in the UK.
 
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