The problem of tall towers in cities

Earlier this week I heard the end of a very interesting talk at Ecobuild from Dr Julie Futcher about the challenges posed by developing and building in cities at high densities, especially with tall buildings.

In summary:

Using London as an example, tall buildings are being planned for and developed in isolation without enough regard being given to the effects they have on their surroundings, neighbourhoods and neighbours.

Many of these individual towers are being designed to be ‘green’ and low-carbon, but some basic issues are being missed. For example, these tall buildings soak up heat during the day and then release this heat during the night – and this effect is even more marked in clusters of tall buildings which is being missed in the pre-planning and pre-construction modelling and simulations.

This leads to heat-islands which are not that great a problem when these buildings are offices which are not occupied at night – but will be a problem when they are residential towers, of which many are now being planned for London. Tall residential towers, especially when in clusters, could well lead to very uncomfortable sleeping conditions.

Also, these tall towers are having, and will have, a detrimental effect on the environment of their neighbours and neighbourhoods. For example, the proposed tall tower cluster at Bishopsgate Goods Yard will cast a large shadow over the low rise Boundary Estate – a Council Estate which was laid out to take advantage of passive solar design; so that the streets received sun-shine and daylight and the homes received passive solar-heating.

Studies have shown that the new tall towers will remove this passive gain to such an extent that the heating costs of those on the Boundary Estate will rise by about 5% .

So, the people living in this area will not only be living in a giant shadow with all of the ‘liveability’ issues that brings but will have to pay out more in heating costs.

The question has to be asked if it is right that one landowner should be allowed to pass these costs onto their neighbours in the interest of profit maximisation?

I can’t help thinking that we seem to have moved away for the point of having a Town Planning System – to balance the needs and interests of society as a whole.

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