To mark American Independence Day, we will have a look at the history and the future of skyscrapers in London. As London based architects, we at Extension Architecture are always keeping an eye on the skyline for inspiration and to fuel our love of architecture.
July 4th is American Independence Day-a national celebration to mark the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in the 13 states that rejected British rule and became the good ol’ US of A.
Yet despite this rejection, British and American cultures have often blended, borrowed and bestowed elements to each other. We gave them The Beatles, Afternoon Tea, the toilet, and the Internet. They gave us light bulbs, Apple, Donald Trump, and Skyscrapers. Quid pro quo?
This feat of engineering has long excited and challenged architects all over the world and has revolutionised how we live, work, and socialise in cities. They have allowed more capacity for commerce, leisure and living in high density areas whilst preventing urban sprawl.
Around the globe, skyscrapers are becoming more daring, more extravagant, and almost unfathomable in their design and engineering. The city of London, in particular, has been transformed over the years by higher and more daring skyscrapers, bursting from the city in great, glistening pillars.
Where was the first skyscraper built?
The first skyscraper was built in Chicago in 1884. Standing at 10 storeys, the Home Insurance Building was the brainchild of William Le Baron Jenney. According to rumour, he first suspected that a metal frame would bear the weight of a tall building after watching his wife place a heavy book on top of a birdcage without the cage crumpling, much to the relief of the bird.
Crucially, the proposed iron skeleton (later changed to steel after he was offered some cheap) of the building was fire resistant, which, given that Chicago had just suffered a devastating fire that destroyed a huge amount of the city, was very important.
This building was so influential it spurned its own architecture style; ‘Chicago School’-square, boxy buildings with a steel frame, the likes of which can be spotted in our very own London, Adelaide House in the City of London being one such example.
What was London’s first Skyscraper?
The honour of being London’s first skyscraper is contentious, yet it is often given to 55 Broadway in Westminster, which was completed in 1929 and has 15 floors. However, some argue that Adelaide House was in fact the first skyscraper, which was completed in 1925 yet had only 10 floors.
The next building to claim the title of ‘London’s first skyscraper’ was Senate House in Bloomsbury, which was built between 1932 and 1937 and consisted of a daring 19 floors.
Despite this apparent race to be the tallest high-rise, many architects in London agree the first modern tower was the Natwest building. Located in the City of London and completed in 1980, the Natwest Tower (now Tower 42) was 10 years in the making-so long, in fact, that it looked dated before it had even opened. The tower stands at a neck-straining 42 floors.
What is the future of skyscrapers in London?
The 21st Century has witnessed a huge boom in ‘scraper development in London. Building such as The Shard, The Gherkin (30 St. Mary Axe), the Cheese grater (Leadenhall Building) and the Walkie-Talkie (Fenchurch Street) have been lauded and loathed by critics across the world yet all dominate the London skyline.
The tallest of these being The Shard, which stands at a nose-bleeding 87 floors! One to be avoided if the lifts are out. Although, it does have 36 of them so the chances are slim. It also has a hotel, serviced apartments, shops, bars, restaurants. Fun fact-the length of the wiring used in the building would stretch from London to Paris!
More than 400 high rise towers in areas such as Paddington, Stratford, Lambeth, and Canary Wharf have been granted planning permission and work has started on many of these. It could be reasonable to consider, however that the Grenfell Tower disaster might have an impact on the developments whilst Fire Safety regulations are reviewed (read more about that in last week’s blog).
Some of the ‘scrapers to look forward to are:
- The Scalpel-perhaps the best well known of future builds. Its tip is to be slanted to protect the view of St. Paul’s Cathedral and will stand at 35 floors.
- Two Fifty One in Elephant and Castle will be predominantly a residential block and will have 41 floors.
- Embassy Gardens in Wandsworth will feature a suspended, clear ‘Sky Pool’ joining two buildings together. It will partly house the US Embassy and will be part residential.
- The residential Manhattan Tower in Tower Hamlets has been inspired by the Meat Packing district of New York and will feature a gym and rooftop gardens.
- London City Island in Newham will sit on a whopping 12 acres and will host thousands of homes, restaurants, offices, and the English National Ballet.
Whilst we have our American friends to thanks for the invention of the Skyscraper, it is clear that Londoners are embracing the high rise building and these glittering, imposing buildings will continue to dominate the skyline. As architects, we can’t wait to see what comes next!
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