Legislation is no answer to a city that expresses its vigour and confidence by rising into the clouds
Friday 17 January 1997
English Heritage is pushing ahead, and pushing its luck, with a report that it hopes will be enshrined in legislation calling for a legally enforced height limit of 100m (327ft) on new buildings in London. The limit is not retrospective, otherwise St Paul's Cathedral would be way over the limit. As this great civic temple occupies a considerable acreage of lucrative office space, there are many money-changers who would not be sorry to see it go the way of Babel.
Healthy cities grow and change. London is not the city it was even 15 years ago and has changed radically in the course of this century. For better in some minds; for worse in others. Your view of it if you are a Londoner will depend very much on whether you were brought up in the stucco streets of Kensington or the stock-brick slums of Whitechapel. If the former, then change is disagreeable: we have everything we need already. If the latter, then London is an infinitely better, and better looking, city than it was 40 or 50 years ago.
It is easy to be romantic about big cities and to believe they enjoyed some golden age. Nostalgics believe the era they were just too young to enjoy was somehow better than the one they live in. We all suffer from nostalgia to a degree and we are all sometimes right and sometimes wrong. Sixty years ago newspaper columns were concerned with the rise of the 100ft building in London. These high-rise horrors were surely at least 20ft too tall. Sweeping legislation is no answer to a city that expresses its vigour and confidence by rising into the clouds. Rather than allowing puritanical zeal to cut the city down to fit some historical ideal, each new building should be considered on its merit. Sometimes a 1,000ft building will be right; at other times, a building might be best constructed underground, or not at all.
Most of the truly horrid buildings in London are only one or two storeys high and though the zealots who run English Heritage might try - they would have to try very hard - to look down on them, there are many people who delight in living high above the street with inspiring vistas of the city below and beyond them. The view from Fortress House, grim headquarters of English Heritage, is, verily, a mean onen
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