Memorandum by J R Buckler (TAB 03)
In British townscape, buildings of a height
greatly in excess of width, are a product of building technique
allied to post war political drive for new dwellings. An element
of local authority competitiveness may also have been a factor,
but subsequent demolitions surely demonstrate that most towers
were wrong for reasons beyond poor management or constructions
weakness. There are few, if any, examples of towers that positively
enhance the local scene of low to mid rise (say three to five
stories) housing perhaps with a skyline punctuated by church tower
People's preferences for low rise dwellings
are epitomised by ground level access, and flexible safe space
for car, children, and even the vegetable garden that can produce
more fresh food than the equivalent area of farmland.
Lacking these virtues, the towers are intrusive,
overlook properties, create wind and access problems, and in construction,
service maintenance and the inevitable recycle factor with demolition,
may not be superior in pure financial terms, other than (presumably)
to the land owner/developer. The events of September 11 were (hopefully)
not likely to be a general precedent, but should not be discounted
on that basis. Even in normal conditions, towers blocks can experience
power failure or impeded staircases that imprison particularly
the less active living above say the third or fourth floor.
Towers used as office have all these design
downsides, plus the need to incorporate large access and service
"corridors" in vertical form, have an occupancy ratio
(permanent staff and visitors) higher than the residential equivalent
and less easy to monitor (eg the WTC event) in case of the unexpected
incident. The use of staggered workings hours may not compensate
for the higher rate of access movements at the base of the tower
and new technology, with improved flexibility of work stations,
would fit in better with Government strategy for closer links
between home and workplace.
The tower block has had its quota of fashion
and other than an investment, itself likely to be open to debate,
no longer can enjoy the claim of superiority over the more traditional
and attractive low to mid rise buildings as Broadgate London.
It is such the density of site development and the quality of
design that is far more important than mere height competition.
In terms of good and bad manners in architecture, meaning not
just intrusive building detail but its respect for the overall
setting of neighbours and longer distant views, the tower has
rarely if ever demonstrated good manners, and in the context of
the other drawbacks should now be consigned to an important but
transient chapter of townscape history.