How skyscrapers are killing great cities

London annotated
CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter/ London annotated

Eric Reguly is a business columnist for the Globe and Mail, based in Rome. That's one of the few European cities that is not getting a lot of new tall skyscrapers. However he really has nothing good to say about what has happened in London recently. He notes in his article, Why skyscrapers are killing great cities, the awfulness of the Strata Building, AKA the Philishave, which TreeHugger covered when it won the Carbuncle Cup a few years ago. It's the so-called green building with integrated wind turbines that don't do anything, and that the developer wanted motors added so that they looked like they were.

He also mentions the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater and the dreaded Walkie Talkie, the Worst Building Ever, which we have covered a few times because of its overwhelming awfulness. However Reguly's judgements are not just architectural; he also picks up some of the points we have been making over the years when talking about Steve Mouzon's the Original Green, how buildings should be frugal; how the old buildings in London are and these towers are not.

The process of turning big cities into clones of Atlanta or Hong Kong can create more than freakish cityscapes. They create long-term problems. One is environmental. Sky-piercing buildings covered in glass windows that can’t be opened require huge amounts of energy all year round for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Energy prices may be falling, but at some point they will reverse course. Many old buildings in Europe simply rely on thick walls to repel the heat in the summer and retain the heat in the winter. Their windows can be opened to create a breeze, and ceiling fans do the rest.

He goes on to note that older buildings are more durable and flexible, two other attributes of the Original Green.

Another big problem with modern high-rises is that they are single-purpose structures. Bank towers with enormous open trading floors wired to the fastest communications networks cannot be easily remade into housing, factories or shops. For the most part, they will have to be torn down when they have outlived their usefulness. In Europe, strong old buildings keep getting reinvented, century after century. An 18th-century monastery can be converted into a hospital, a church into condos, and a warehouse into an office.

Then there is the final Original Green attribute: Are they loveable?

But the main shortcoming of the skyscraper craze is the loss of urban identity. When I go to the City, I now go there because I have to. It’s far more enjoyable to stroll through Kensington, Hampstead village or Chelsea. Millions of tourists go to Rome, Florence, Paris, Prague, Edinburgh, Berlin, Barcelona, St. Petersburg and London because, for the most part, they have not been “liberated” (yet) by towers that could have been designed on an Etch A Sketch. If these cities look like Dubai, who will want to go there? Not me.

I doubt Eric Reguly ever heard of Steve Mouzon, which perhaps proves the point that his ideas are not one person's opinions but obvious and universal truths; That old buildings are more flexible, greener and yes, more loveable.

More Mouzon in Related links below.

How skyscrapers are killing great cities
And why old buildings remain more flexible and frugal.

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