The Gherkin or the Swiss Re Building, 2010
A skyscraper in the City of London, this building is 180 metres (591 ft) tall, with 40 floors.
When you picture a high density city, you probably picture Hong Kong or New York City. And one of the big changes in London over the past few years is that it’s become home to a growing number of skyscrapers. As recently as 2000, St Paul’s Cathedral was the 15th tallest building in London. Today, it barely makes the top 50. This year’s London Tall Building Survey found that another 455 skyscrapers are planned, of which 420 are intended for residential use.
But London is still a long way from looking like Manhattan. And there are other models of high density housing. Paris houses around 21,500 people per square kilometre. Even the most densely populated London borough, Islington, only manages 15,670 per square kilometre. Paris achieves its greater density not through skyscrapers, but through mansion blocks, six or seven storeys high. Most Londoners, by contrast, still live in houses – and houses take up more space.
So the solution put forward by the pressure group Create Streets is simple: be more like Paris. Its proposal for the redevelopment of Mount Pleasant, in Clerkenwell, involved mid-rise mansion blocks with narrow frontages. Each would have its own front door, and shops or bars on the ground floor, to give the development the atmosphere of a bustling street, rather than a block of flats. Throw in some decent design and, polling suggests, even those local people most suspicious of redevelopment might approve.
Such proposals currently face two problems. One is that they are often stymied by planning rules, which nudge developers towards boxy architecture with big main entrances. The other is that pesky lack of land again. Sites on the scale of Mount Pleasant rarely come up, and because so much of London is occupied by individually-owned homes with gardens, that’s unlikely to change.