The Landscape Guide

Thames skyline and high buildings: the need for a landscape policy

See index page for Chelsea to Tower Thames Landscape Strategy

There have been many calls for Central London to have a policy for 'high buildings' or for its 'tall buildings' or for its 'skyline'. The calls are justified - but what name should be given to the group of policies?

  • 'High buildings' and 'tall buildings' suggest the main focus is on height. Many Londoners remember how 'tower blocks' became unpopular in the 1970s and do not want to see the mistakes repeated. But all the world's big cities are building upward and one would have to make a strong case for excepting London - though this is what was done in Central Paris and in the historic cores of smaller towns in many parts of the world.
  • 'Skyline policy' is an attractive concept because everyone enjoys looking at beautiful skylines. But it has two drawbacks. First, it seems whimsically ambitious to control the buildings used by millions of people solely to create beautiful views. Second, surveys of 'the world's best city skylines' result in lists of cities (New York, Hong Kong, Sydney, Singapore etc) with dramatic clusters of skyscrapers + some un-reproducable examples of cities with historic skylines (Rome, Paris, Istanbul etc).
  • 'Urban morphology' is a technically useful term, because 'morphology' means shape, but tends not to be used in this context
  • 'Urban landscape' is generally used with regard to the 'design and detail of the space between buildings' but its use can be extended to include views of groups of buildings

The Thames Landscape Strategy needs policies for the composition of buildings with other structures, and with landform, water, vegetation and paved areas. This is explained by the three contributors to a debate (hosted the London Brance of the Landscape Institute in November 2013 and recorded in the below video). It embraces the four conceptual approaches outlined above.