Mayor of London Kills the Tulip

Sadiq Khan Lays Out London's Plans For Tackling The Climate Emergency In Keynote Speech
Mayor Sadiq Khan lays out London's plans for tackling the climate emergency in a 2021 keynote speech.

Leon Neal / Getty Images

We can't keep building useless things like this.

When some of the biggest firms in the UK announced Architects Declare, promising to meet "the needs of our society without breaching the earth’s ecological boundaries," I wondered if that meant Norman Foster would give up on his silly Tulip. Fortunately, Lord Foster has been saved by the Mayor of London, who has just rejected the Tulip, writing that the proposal “would not constitute the high standard of design required for a tall building in this location.”

Mayor Khan lists a number of reasons for rejecting the Tulip, including urban design, its effect on the historic environment, strategic views and even bicycle parking. My objection was more fundamental: If you care at all about upfront carbon emissions (UCE), you don't build things that we don't actually need. I wrote:

Foster, who famously was asked by Bucky Fuller, "How much does your building weigh?", doesn't tell us how much this tulip-shaped tourist trap weighs, or what the Upfront Carbon Emissions are. Given its function, namely building a very tall elevator with a building on top, I suspect that the UCE are really high and really pointless.

Tulip from the river

So this is a dumb tower sitting among the dumb Gherkins, Walkie-Talkies, Cheesegraters and Scalpels, but why is this of interest to TreeHugger? Because it is such a good example of what is wrong with architecture today. Because every building should have the following attributes:

Radical Decarbonization: Design to minimize Upfront Carbon Emissions.

Radical Sufficiency: Design the minimum to do the job, what we actually need, what is enough.

Radical Simplicity : Design to use as little material as possible, whatever it is.

Radical Efficiency: Design to use as little energy as possible.

A glass restaurant on a stick has none of these. The fact that it has been rejected is great news everywhere.