The Future of London's Skyline
London’s skyline is ever-changing; you can visit the city one year and take in the spectacular views of some of the world’s best-known buildings and landmarks, then return the next to find a massive new development has somehow appeared as if by magic.
But some of these skyscrapers, however impressive, struggled to justify their existence as the city, like the rest of the country, was gripped by recession. Projects both finished and in planning had trouble attracting tenants and funding, and many muted constructions stalled.
More than a year after officially opening, the £1.5bn Shard until very recently still stood almost empty, but with six new tenants recently announced taking it to a 50 percent occupancy, things seem to be turning around.
As Britain begins on the road to economic recovery, projects are back on track, with several already standing tall in the famous London skyline. We take a look at some of the biggest towers newly gracing the city.
22-24 Bishopsgate- ‘The Pinnacle’
Construction of the £1bn Pinnacle at Bishopsgate in London’s financial district began in 2008, but was hit by the financial crisis and has been officially on hold since 2012.
Planned as a 63-storey, 288m tower, it would have become the London’s second tallest building, after the famous 306m Shard, and the tallest in the City of London district. However, just a seven-storey concrete core was completed before the project faded in obscurity, earning it the nickname ‘The Stump’.
The curving façade of the original design earned it the nickname Helter Skelter, and for those that appreciated the striking design, the good news is that the latest review chose to leave this largely intact, reserving alterations mostly to the interior floor plans, and introducing a viewing gallery at the summit.
20 Fenchurch Street- ‘The Walkie-Talkie’
Like it or not, this one is a reality, topped-out and fully completed last month.
Located at 20 Fenchurch Street in central London, the bulging upper storeys of this oddly-shaped building are designed to offer maximum space to its more affluent occupants.
The summit of the 160m construction, overlooking the Shard, will be home to a three-level ‘skygarden’, free to all as a result of architect Rafael Viñoly’s desire to give something back to those concerned about another occupation of the skyline.
Last summer, a heated discussion began after it was found that the concave shape of the Walkie Talkie was magnifying sunlight and reflecting a beam around six times more powerful than natural sunlight onto the streets below, causing damage to cars by melting bodywork. The fryscraper?
Developers unveiled plans to install aluminium fins on the "Walkie-Talkie" to absorb sunlight and prevent this happening again.
122 Leadenhall Street – ‘The Cheese Grater’
Designed by architect Richard Rogers and developed by British Land and Oxford Properties, the 225m building at 122 Leadenhall Street, also in the City of London financial district, is also due for completion in the next few months, as a new neighbour to the Gherkin and Walkie Talkie.
The distinctive wedge shape that gave it its nickname is angled such that each floor is 75cm shorter on the south side than the one underneath. This angle serves an important purpose, meaning the building tapers away from the historic landmark St Paul's Cathedral and protects the much-appreciated view from Fleet Street.
However, this sympathetic approach to the view has also sacrificed office space: the 908,730 sq ft available a rather small return for a building of such stature.
52-54 Lime Street- ‘The Scalpel’
One for the future; set for completion in 2017, the team behind the Gherkin and Heron Tower developments helped Skanska win the contract for the £500m tower.
It will rise to 190m, with 35 storeys, making it 10m taller than the Gherkin. The façade’s glass cladding calls to mind the city’s current tallest tower, the Shard. A new public space will be created at ground level, as well as an underground restaurant.
Demolition works are set to begin in summer or autumn of this year, and superstructure installation will take place between winter 2014 and summer 2016.
When opened, it will serve as the European HQ of insurance giant WR Berkly Corporation, who will occupy about 20 percent of the building.
Brookfield Multiplex’s development in the financial district consists of two towers, one a 40-storey mixed-use tower standing at 172m, and the second a much more modest seven-storeys, containing offices and a restaurant. Combined, they provide more than 900,000 sq ft of office space.
The lower part of the tower is designed to in response to the site’s geometrical complexities, with the lower floors shaped as parallelograms and the upper floors shaped as more conventional rectangles.
The development faces the district’s current tallest building, Heron Tower, and is targeting a BREEAM Excellent rating and LEED Gold for its low energy use and use of sustainable materials.
It is currently scheduled for completion in 2016.
The construction industry: Facing a mental health crisis
Data collected by the Office for National Statistics has shown that more than 2,000 construction workers took their own lives in 2017. Other findings from a study conducted by the Glasgow Caledonian University show that the problem is getting worse. From 2017 to 2019, the number of suicides per 100,000 rose from 26 to 29, with people in the construction industry three times more likely to take their own lives in 2019 compared to other industries.
Why is the construction industry experiencing a rise in mental health conditions?
Bill Hill, Chief Executive of the mental health charity Lighthouse Club, says that one reason for the rise in mental health conditions is due to financial pressure. He said that it is a “huge factor” in construction, “causing stress, depression, and anxiety”. He added that several self-employed workers are “brilliant tradespeople but don’t have the education”, which may be helpful in running their business.
“They win a project, someone pays them a big invoice but they don’t put money aside for VAT [and then] the taxman asks for payment so they get finance. It tumbles from there. Sole trader-style business management should be taught at apprenticeship level”, Hill said.
According to Lighthouse Club, the industry is “hugely fragmented” and “difficult to reach over half of the 2.8mn self-employed construction workers. “Some larger companies have done a fantastic job on mental health”, Hill says. “But only apply their programmes and workshops to their own staff. Until you get to the huge mass of very capable tradespeople who are getting no input, one of the biggest problems is awareness”.
How can awareness of mental health be improved in the construction industry?
Chief Executive of the Construction Industry Council, Graham Watts, says that the industry has made positive steps forward on mental wellbeing but that “it is still not doing nearly enough” to support staff in this area.
Looking at how awareness of mental health can be improved in the industry today, Watts said: “Today, I would hope it is easier to be more open about mental health. I’m impressed by the leadership that is being shown by some companies – for example, Tideway, where Chief Executive Andy Mitchell has ‘mental health first aider’ immediately after his email sign-off – but it is still only being exhibited by the best of the best”.
Lighthouse club has also launched a campaign for construction workers to raise more awareness of mental health in the industry. Named “Help Inside the Hard Hat”, the campaign makes all workers aware of the services that Lighthouse Club offers, “regardless of employment status”, the charity says. Lighthouse Club is taking particular care to encourage contractors to put up posters on sites and ensure that they reach all workers, including the self-employed.
The charity also has a free app that allows workers to access mental health information and resources. Lighthouse Club is also improving the availability of information by working with partners such as the Safer Highways charity and Glasgow Caledonian University. But the charity is working on improving the understanding and destigmatisation of mental health in the industry one step at a time. Hill said: “The first thing is suicides,” says Hill. “That is the number one benchmark of all the work we are doing – are we reducing suicides in the industry?”.
If you are a construction worker - or someone you know is and you need support, you can call the Lighthouse Club helpline on 0345 605 1956.