City's tallest building to loom over the London skyline

For centuries, London's skyline was dominated by historic and imposing low-rise buildings such as the Tower of London, St Paul's Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament, all built to serve the church and state.

In recent years, however, the character of London's cityscape has been transformed by the arrival of high-rise buildings that are as unusual as they are tall.

From the sleek modernity of office tower blocks in Docklands to the strange, curving shape of Swiss Re's "erotic gherkin", a stream of tall buildings has left the city's skyline looking, to some eyes, broken and jagged.

Yesterday, the debate over the growing number of tall buildings in the capital intensified when planning officials granted permission for the Minerva building, which will become the tallest building in the City of London.

Looming from the shadow of the Tower of London, the Minerva will stretch to 217m (712ft) and house 10,000 workers in one million sq ft of office space.

Described by the architect Sir Nicholas Grimshaw as "four open books", the structure of the 50-storey tower is based upon a series of flat grey facades in glass and steel.

However, yesterday's decision by the Corporation of London to grant permission to the development prompted vociferous objections.

Historic Royal Palaces, the organisation which manages the Tower of London, has lodged an objection against the development with the Corporation and called for a public inquiry. It said the construction of the Minerva building would "inexorably ruin" historic views to and from the World Heritage Site. "Our main objections are the visual intrusions," said a spokeswoman.

"As well as blocking views from the Tower of London you will no longer be able to see it against the backdrop of a clear sky from the south. Once these historic views are blocked, they are gone forever.

"We feel that, by granting permission, the floodgates will be opened for more and more tall buildings to be constructed in the area."

Fears of the preservation of London's most historic sites were echoed by English Heritage, which also voiced its opposition to the project.

"The historic environment is key to London's prosperity and a social asset of immense value, providing the texture of the city, its quality and its diversity," said a spokeswoman.

"In future, we hope that proposals for further tall buildings will be considered in the context of a clear, London-wide, strategic planning framework for the protection of London's unique historic environment which makes it the most important and dynamic city in Europe."

The Minerva building, which will be located at the junction of Houndsditch and St Botolph's Street, will easily exceed the height of Tower 42, which is currently the tallest in the City, as well as Lord Foster's "erotic gherkin".

In the past 40 years, more than 1,000 new tall buildings have revolutionised the city's skyline. However, in the past few years the trend towards erecting skyscrapers designed to dramatically alter the skyline of 21st-century London has gathered pace. At present, there are as many as 32 tall buildings under construction, with a further 70 approved and 96 proposed.

The turning point for the skyline of London was believed to hinge upon a decision two years ago to approve the controversial construction of the Heron Tower. A lengthy battle by English Heritage failed to prevent the construction of the 42-storey building, which will stretch 183m (600ft) high in the heart of the City.

Since then, there have been a string of proposals for city skyscrapers, including the tallest and most controversial of all, the recently approved Shard of Glass at London Bridge.

Towering at 310m (1,000ft), the tower will overshadow every other building across the capital, including the Minerva building.

Last month, plans also came to light for the development of another City skyscraper, a 700ft high glass wedge-shaped tower at 122 Leadenhall Street. Developed by Richard Rogers Partnership, the architects behind the Lloyds Building and the Millennium Dome, design details for the project are currently being finalised.

Despite the objections from conservationists, the development of the buildings are regarded by many as essential to ensuring the future of the city as a major financial centre. Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, has repeatedly voiced support for the new skyscrapers.

Peter Wynne Rees, the city planning officer at the Corporation of London, said yesterday the historic legacy of the city could exist side-by-side with future developments.

"What we are trying to do is move away from the approach that all tall buildings should look the same, as they did in the 1970s and in American cities," he said. "This does not mean that the floodgates are open."

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