Stacking Up: London’s Skyline is Officially Out of Control

British firm Wilkinson Eyre is officially joining the high-rise party in England’s capital. Its proposal for Bishopsgate in the heart of the City has been granted planning permission, and the 40-story glass edifice is now due for construction alongside the plethora of novelty silhouettes on London’s burgeoning skyline.

Commissioned by Mitsubishi Estate London, the Bishopsgate and Leadenhall Street Tower will incorporate more than 750,000 square feet of office space together with ground-floor retail and a public viewing platform on the top floor. It has been designed as a series of stacked boxes that diminish in size further up the building, revealing sky terraces reminiscent of BIG’s recently revealed 2 World Trade Center in New York.

Bishopsgate and Leadenhall Street Tower

Bishopsgate and Leadenhall Street Tower

The renderings reveal the extraordinary proximity of both present and future buildings slated for the business district: the new building will shimmy up next to London’s galleria of nicknamed towers, with Richard Rogers’ Cheesegrater, Norman Foster’s Gherkin, and the Scalpel by Kohn Pedersen Fox all close by. It will also get incredibly intimate with a future skyscraper by PLP Architecture — Wilkinson Eyre’s computer-generated images appear out of date as they still show KPF’s long-forgotten Pinnacle directly behind the new tower.

Bishopsgate and Leadenhall Street Tower

Bishopsgate and Leadenhall Street Tower

While the architecture of the latest skyscraper is not overtly offensive, Wilkinson Eyre’s images raise questions about the collective identity of London and its increasingly jam-packed “Eastern City Cluster,” an area designated by planners for tall commercial buildings just north of the Thames. Reflecting on PLP’s “steroidal” proposal for 22 Bishopsgate, the Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright recently vented his fears for the city’s skyline, concluding a cutting write-up with near-terrifying pessimism:

“With permissions already granted for many more towers, from the Scalpel to the Can of Ham and a monstrous ‘Gotham City’ mega-block by Make, we can say goodbye to a skyline of individual spires, between which you might occasionally glimpse the sky. With developers calling the shots, while planners egg them on, the future of the City’s silhouette looks set to be a lumpy blancmange.”

London’s future skyline sans Wilkinson Eyre’s new tower. PLP Architecture’s 22 Bishopsgate office block is the tallest building pictured. Rendering via the Guardian.

Gazing across the Thames toward a rendered preview of 22 Bishopsgate, it is apparent that Wainwright’s “lumpy blancmange” will be made even more dense by Wilkinson Eyre’s new stack of glazed blocks, concealing the tapered form of Richard Rogers’ Cheesegrater once and for all. If Richard Weston’s “contextual tower” — analyzed at length in this article — is completed at 1 Undershaft, the skyline will begin to resemble a single wall of reflective glass, a gargantuan mirror into which the planners will stare and wonder: what has become of this great city?

Of course, the counter-argument is clear. This is a supply-and-demand issue: office vacancy rates in the City are now as low as five percent, and, with clients such as Mitsubishi willing to pay despite sky-high land prices, the growth of London is as rational as it is ridiculous. However, does this mean we must settle for a congealed mass of steel and glass upon the fast-disappearing horizon?

Bishopsgate and Leadenhall Street Tower

Bishopsgate and Leadenhall Street Tower

Protected viewing corridors toward certain landmarks, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral, have been designed to prevent this swathe of commercial towers dominating every corner of the city’s frenetic center, but many will be asking if this is enough given the rate of change currently being witnessed just north of the Thames. How important is a skyline’s composition? How closely does it correlate with a city’s cultural identity on the global stage, impacting on tourism and the wider economy?

These are not questions that are easy to answer, but they are certainly ones worth asking on the streets of London in the coming years.

Yours overcrowded,

The Angry Architect

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