Group of people chatting on bridge.

The ins and outs of tall buildings

18 November 2016. Published by Johanna Hall, Senior Associate

Whilst iconic design can be fabulous, will we see developers and architects put more thought into the needs of their occupiers and surrounding landowners, and less of a focus on headline-grabbing exterior designs.

London has for many years lagged behind other world cities such as Shanghai and Tokyo which were quick to embrace the dramatic skylines created by tall buildings but many Londoners have fallen in love with these frequently iconic structures which are now spreading throughout the square mile; no longer confined to the Isle of Dogs.

Are tall buildings the way forward or will we live to regret allowing these modern monoliths to sit alongside London's most ancient monuments?

Tall buildings are clearly necessary in cities where land values are so high the onus is on developers to make the most out of the footprint available by building upwards. This is even more acute when unusual designs limit the useable space on each floor compared with a regular box-shape. Quirky designs give a city character and designers should be encouraged to think outside of the box when it comes to the shape of buildings but there is a lot more to successful design than just outline. After all, the tallest of these buildings may prove to be almost impossible to demolish and therefore they need to be able to withstand the test of time.

Tenants expect new buildings to offer the very latest in technology and it is surprising that things such as wireless technology and mobile phone reception could have been overlooked in the design of such spaces and yet there are examples around London where this is the case. At least now designers are taking seriously the issue of downdrafts created by tall buildings but what more needs to be done?

Some have continued to focus on exterior design. In 2015, an architectural practice announced it had designed a "no shadow" skyscraper which solved the problem of skyscrapers permanently blotting out sunlight for neighbouring buildings. The design focused on curved glass panels reflecting light onto the street below (presumably learning from the problems that ensued from the curved glass of the Walkie Talkie).

Others have focused on interior design and the needs of their occupants. Tower 42 was one of the first skyscrapers in London to offer full 4G mobile network coverage to its occupants in February 2016. It is a feat that nearby modern rivals have failed to achieve, and its value to potential occupiers should not be underestimated – the announcement caused speculation that rivals such as the Shard and could fall in rankings for the most desired office space.

Developers are also considering whether glass and steel skyscrapers really are the future of construction. Glass buildings are notorious for suffering heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer, hence the costs of both heating and air conditioning are considerable. With this in mind, developers and architects are now assessing the best locations for windows, and designing building shapes specifically with the purpose of keeping them naturally cool.

Whilst the onslaught of new skyscrapers in London shows no signs of slowing down, perhaps we will see developers and architects put more thought into the needs of their occupiers and surrounding landowners, and less of a focus on headline-grabbing exterior designs.