Memorandum by John Worthington Founder,
DEGW plc (TAB 52)
DEGW is an international firm of consultants
and designers, focussed on the workplace and the wider issues
of urban change. The practice was established in 1973 and has,
from its inception, advised both public sector and corporate clients.
The practice is unique in its understanding of organisational
demands and the urban and building design implications. We have
a tradition of research that influences practice, beginning with
the Orbit 1 study (1983) on the impact of information technology
on office design. This led to a similar multi-client study in
North America (1985), and was followed by a series of multi-client
research programmes on the "Intelligent Building in Europe"
(1991-92), Asia Pacific (1995-96), and Latin America (1998-99).
DEGW is currently undertaking a research programme
for the European Commission, SANE, with a network of partners.
SANE (Sustainable Accommodation for the New Economy) is addressing
many of the issues of the physical and virtual office environment
and its impact on building typologies and urban form.
DEGW was research, briefing and space planning
adviser on both Stockley Park (Heathrow) and Broadgate (City of
London), as well as Canary Wharf. Consultancy in Europe includes
building assessment at La Defense, Paris, Babelsburg Film Studios,
Berlin, and major developments in Barcelona, Milan, Copenhagen
and Dublin. In the Netherlands, DEGW has advised the Dutch Ministry
of Planning (VROM) on the impact of high-speed rail on urban regeneration
and the redevelopment of Utrecht City Centre.
DEGW is also involved in advising on high rise
strategies for Rotterdam and Dublin, and is currently advising
the GLA on the appropriateness and impact of high buildings in
London. I chair a high-rise committee for Central Rotterdam on
innovation and aesthetics, and an advisory panel to the City Manager
on architecture and planning in Dublin.
High rise and tall buildings are relative terms.
In a city quarter of predominantly one or two storied buildings,
those of three to five floors could be considered of significant
height. From a construction and urban impact perspective, DEGW
has identified four key heights:
Low-rise up to five floors
Mid rise up to 15 floors
(50 metres) "groundscrapers"
High-rise up to 40 floors
(150 metres) "skyscrapers"
Super high-rise above 150
High-rise and super high-rise have a role to
play in both intensifying and signposting the city. They can be
effectively used in clusters to increase density dramatically
and generate the sense of place. Used sparingly, they can become
landmarks to navigate an increasingly complex urban landscape
and provide spectacular views both for those who live in and visit
the city, and whose who actually inhabit them. However, high buildings
can equally be disruptive to build, inflexible to adapt, impossible
to phase, inefficient in space utilisation, and costly to construct
or replace; a closed system that separates inhabitants from the
city below, and a source of congestion. The challenge is to find
design solutions and appropriate locations that reflect the opportunities
and respond to the shortcomings.
Our research has shown that to gain significant
increases in density, tall buildings should be used in clusters,
the single tall building providing a significant landmark without
a major impact on overall neighbourhood density.
Evidence exists that European cities can achieve
high densities within the mid-rise threshold of 50 metres (groundscrapers)
by building to the perimeter of the city block with courtyards
or atria within. Paris, Milan and Barcelona are highly dense cities
built to this model. Broadgate in the City of London, the Grosshandelsgebouw
in Rotterdam or Ake Brugge in Oslo, follow a similar pattern.
However, to achieve such development requires large sites that
can be planned comprehensively. Available in brown field areas
(eg goods yards or port areas), but harder to achieve in existing
city cores. In these cases, where there is a high level of market
demand and multi-modal accessibility, but small plots, the need
for greater intensification may be forced upwards (eg Heron Tower
in the City of London).
Four aspects impact on the need for urban intensification,
and therefore the decision of whether to build high:
1. Market demand"skyscrapers"
and extreme densities tend to have been most successful and achievable
in metropolitan areas with a 10 million plus hinterland and an
excellent centralising public transportation network (Manhattan,
Chicago, Tokyo, London)
transport systems which are designed to absorb large numbers of
people at peak periods of the day. Mainline stations and airports
have addressed these attributes and shown themselves to be prime
locations for high density, high-rise, nodes.
3. Site availabilityto create
a significant density increase the city will require large sites
that can be comprehensively planned. This has tended to direct
development to areas of change with large sites in single or partnership
4. Urban character DEGW's
study for Dublin Corporation identified a sequence of development
opportunities depending on the character of an area. The spectrum
of development ranged from "do nothing" and consolidate,
in areas of conservation and high character value, to totally
new development in brown field sites with few residents and low
intrinsic value. High building developments inevitably have a
significant impact on local townscape character, which needs to
be considered in parallel to skyline aesthetic impact in cities.
Approaches to comprehensive development in the
past have invariably failed. The underlying conflict is that development
to meet demand and use resources effectively needs to move fast,
whilst local communities, to assimilate change, need time. The
past was epitomised by comprehensive plans that were also comprehensively
implemented (eg the inner road systems of the 1960s). Today, we
are learning the need for a clear vision that can be delivered
incrementally. A vision with humility.
High rise developments are, by definition, large
scale, high profile and need to be considered on their merits.
Due to their special nature and impact on the urban landscape,
it is probably unwise to handle them within the day-to-day planning
process. Experience from abroad suggests the following factors
that may contribute to the successful implementation of a high
rise planning strategy.
A strategic framework for the city
which locates high density (and potentially high rise) areas,
the positioning of landmarks, and sets guidelines for how proposed
developments that counteract the established development plan
would be assessed. The strategic framework should recognise that
conditions, site availability, and market demand are continuously
under review, and that in order to grow and flourish cities will
need to respond rapidly and change.
A clear planning control framework
for approval and implementation within the public sector
The preparation of area plans to
direct development, working closely with landowners, the community
and key stakeholders
3D computer modelling to assess capacity
massing and bulk. These models, which may be physical (eg L'Arsenal
Architectural Centre, Paris) or electronic (ones exist for Bath
and Glasgow), should be publicly available and centrally managed.
Iterative planning review process,
where landowners, developers and the municipality agree the brief
(ambitions and expectations), review development options, and
establish an outline planning concept before giving permission
for detailed plans.
Recognition that community interests
for major sites is often national, regional or city wide as well
as of local interest (eg Kings Cross lands)
Recognition that local communities
need time to assimilate change, whilst developers are looking
for speedy outcomes.
We would advocate a planning policy that recognises
the need for a clear long-term vision, a firm planning framework,
tempered by appropriateness, humility, and a recognition that
we are designing in a world of paradox.