Memorandum by Jerry Hicks, Goldrush (TAB
Thank you for your invitation to submit memoranda
concerning Tall Buildings. I'm submitting the following comments
to meet your rather tight deadline, and would be most grateful
if you can refer to the enclosed photographs and diagram and include
them with any publication of my response. They clarify critical
visual aspects of the questions you ask, and they make an essential
compliment to my written comments.
Without wishing to be pedantic it may be helpful
to remember that tall means: "higher than average or higher
than surrounding objects." Tall buildings must, therefore,
relate to environmental context and the enclosed photographs offer
extreme examples: In Florence one can easily identify three tall
buildings because they rise majestically above a restrained average
height of about four/six storeys. For centuries people have found
this an attractive and inspiring example of well displayed, high
quality tall buildings. The inset photograph of Dusseldorf shows
how difficult it is to identify "tall buildings" in
many modern cities where the average height has steadily risen.
Countless buildings in New York or Singapore were tall when erected
and would dwarf the great European "landmarks". They
now appear merely average amongst much higher recent buildings.
In the UK we must deliberate carefully before we change our context
any further and rob our fine tall buildings of part of their distinction.
Historic tall buildings rose high above their
surroundings for a number of complex reasons which included:
2.1 Fortified defence against invaders.
Height made unauthorised entry into castles very difficult and
offered diverse advantages to those repelling invasion. Ingenious
defences produced complex architectural enrichment which has been
continuously imitated as decoration.
2.2 Prestigious, elevated design of outstanding
quality which instilled awe and respect for church and rulers.
Both internally and externally miraculous domes and vaults soared
above a wondrous community which marvelled at carvings, frescoes
and stained glass. Architecture was truly the mother of the arts.
2.3 Places of entertainment, slightly lower
in this hierarchy of high rise; buildings which stretch from the
Coleseum in Rome, through Opera Houses and Music Halls to cinemas
Wembly Stadium and the Dome!
2.4 When standing alone in the landscape
or in the centre of a city these monumental buildings were designed
to be a visual climax. A beautiful building attracts admiration.
An exceptionally tall building attracts exceptions attention.
A tall and beautiful building attracts exceptional admiration.
There are many exceptions to these broad generalisations, but
it seems fair to say that the successful tradition of a tall building
providing a distinguished climax depends largely on the height
being unchallenged by surrounding buildings and on the architectural
quality being outstanding. Large cities have many centres with
outstanding tall buildings. Social change has complicated hierarchical
tradition; but the principle of exceptional height reserved for
exceptional visual emphasis should not be lightly discardedespecially
where existing tall buildings have served this purpose for generations.
To challenge St Paul's Cathedral, Big Ben, Nelson's Column, Windsor
Castle, Clifton Suspension Bridge, Blackpool Tower, countless
cathedrals and cherished tall listed buildings around the country
by erecting high rise structures alongside them, would diminish
them and diminish our inherited culture. Furthermore, we should
beware of destroying established views of these great landmarks
with large, baldy placed buildings.
3. MODERN FUNCTIONS
3.1 The invention of reinforced concrete
made it possible in a very short time to greatly increase the
height of buildings. Where there was no existing hierarchy of
heights it seemed at first there were no constraints; but experience
has raised serious problems.
3.2 The new technology which swept aside
height limitations of stone vaulting coincided with iconoclastic
revolutions in painting and architecture. The outcome was a universal
grid. Corbusier extrapolated from the richly decorated Parthenon
an austere, rectilinear approach to architecture, which excluded
pitched roofs and curvesbut offered unlimited storeys.
Mondrian's paintings moved exclusively to coloured rectangles.
Refugees from Germany's Bauhaus School of Design fled with these
new principles to America where huge rectilinear tower blocks
proliferated in new cities laid out as grids. Some of New York's
towers culminated in distinctive summits but this concession to
design quality has generally been abandoned.
3.3 Painting soon broke free of the grid;
but architecture has clung to a cheap, simplistic building method
where the only distinction is increased height. Recently tentative
departures from the universal grid have made an appearance in
3.4 I will not detail the extreme absurdities
of the elite clerisy which subjugated moderating alternatives.
This has been done with devastating effect by Tom Wolfe in "From
Bauhaus to Our House". New York has many admirers, and matters
of taste are minefields for rational discussion; but many of the
social problems in America are associated with high rise living.
Chicago has recently turned to Jane Jacobs' "The Death and
Life of the Great American Cities" a pioneering work on what
would now be called sustainable regeneration. Tower blocks have
3.5 The evidence of concrete towers in the
UK speaks for itself. "The planning mistakes of the '60s"
have created a permanently deprived underclassmany living
in the enforced isolation of "tall buildings" where
crime and squalor thrive. Desperate attempts to improve the superficial
appearance of tower blocks by painting them in different colours
has little effect on the demoralised inhabitants. They are victims
of a social disaster.
3.6 High rise towers used to accommodate
office quarters create deserted ghettos after working hours. As
a major ingredient of the urban landscape they provide a bleak
appearance. Excessive ground floor parking with offensive ventilation
grills at pedestrian level serves to encourage the enormous growth
in commuters generated by zoning policies.
4.2 The disastrous post war dispersal of
people into zones has at last been challenged successfully. The
Urban White Paper seeks to reduce the excessive need for motorised
journeys by a return to high density, mixed use, urban regeneration.
The related Rogers Report makes it clear that the land required
around a high rise block could alternatively accommodate a medium
rise mixed use enclosure that would achieve the same density.
(see enclosed diagram). This approach also contributes to compact
urban life styles which are beginning to reduce the pressure by
volume house builders who wish to develop green-field sites.
4.2 It is significant that there is a growing
market for those who wish to return to city living in converted
old buildings which retain the character we have lost in much
modern design. There is a place for tall buildings if they have
architectural distinction and are used sparingly. Birmingham has
consciously turned its back on the high rise, road dominated developments
of the '60s; the award winning Brindley Place features one distinctive
tall building amongst a mixed-use, medium rise sequence of developments
around pedestrian spaces and alongside regenerated canals. Bristol's
cluster of high rise offices are immediately adjacent to the mediaeval
city and have pedestrian elevated walkways and drab concrete design
which are loathed by most Bristolians. Whilst the suburban village
of Clifton continues to attract a diverse social mix to the high
density Georgian squares and terraces. The only high rise building
(apart from the Suspension Bridge!) is the local church.
5.1 Tall buildings (higher than the average)
are not an essential means of achieving high density. There are
better, more sustainable ways.
5.2 High rise office quarters have already
generated too many out of town commuters and they create urban
ghettos after working hours.
5.3 Some tall historical buildings are beautiful
because of their very selective use and the rich diversity of
their form and decoration reflecting special functions. These
characteristics should be the essential requirements of tall buildings
designed as a visual climax in future.
5.4 Strict constraints are needed to limit
tall buildings, protect important views and avoid depressing clusters
of monofunctional deprived homes, standardised work places and
5.5 Many cities are still perpetuating the
mistakes of the '60s with tall buildings that resemble countless,
very ordinary small buildings piled one on top of the other and
euphemistically called "landmarks". They are unsustainable
in their service demands and may even become terrorist targets.
They have misused technology to bring unprecedented squalor to
5.6 The public have endured much manipulative
"consultation"which should now be replaced by
well informed participation in "planning for real".
The "experts" are fighting a retreating battle to defend
their Emperor's Clothes; but the tower blocks have had a more
than adequate trial. By their fruits ye shall judge them.
5.7 We await, from Government, an Urban