When we think of iconic skylines, the same cities tend to come up. New York, Dubai, or Shanghai, to name a few, but rarely does a European city pop up on the list. The typical European skyline is much lower than those in metropolises throughout areas like East Asia and the United States, as Europe’s cities trade massive skyscrapers for centuries-old cathedrals or government halls. But that’s all about to change now. Though London has dabbled in skyscrapers over the last decade or two, over the next decade they are leaning into these super-tall megastructures. Today, we’re going to discuss some of the upcoming changes, and what to expect from London’s skyline in 2030.
At the turn of the 21st century, the entire continent of Europe included only two buildings over 250 meters tall, both of them located in Germany. London’s first entry into this exclusive club was the iconic skyscraper called The Shard, completed in 2012 to become Europe’s tallest building. It was soon eclipsed by a handful of structures in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but it established a new precedent in a city that had previously followed the European tradition of limiting skylines to about 200 meters, with a couple exceptions.
As of mid-2020, there are five buildings in London of at least 200 meters tall with another five on the way shortly. On a slightly shorter scale, the capitol has about 70 buildings at least 100 meters tall, with another 20 near full completion. For the upcoming decade, however, there are plans to build over 400 buildings of at least that height, with 40 of them already under construction. We can safely assume that many of them won’t be built, but even if just a fraction are completed we can expect the London skyline to change dramatically.
London mayor Sadiq Khan seems determined to approve as many as possible, as long as they will clearly benefit the English capital’s citizens. London is currently facing somewhat of a crisis of affordable housing and office space, a problem that the new construction aims to address. This is seen clearly in the locations of many of the upcoming projects. The City of London, a confusingly-named financial district in the center of London, and the Isle of Dogs, a residential district along the Thames, currently house more than half of London’s skyscrapers. These same districts will be home to a huge portion of the next decade’s projects, though a handful of notable towers will be built in other, primarily residential, neighborhoods.
2020: A Very Tall Year
To start our breakdown of the upcoming additions to London’s skyline, we have to mention the massive number of skyscrapers that either have been or will be completed this year. A total of nine buildings over 150 meters (492 ft) are set to be opened in 2020, taking London’s total over that height from 21 to 30. Eight of those nine buildings have technically already joined the London skyline, as they are architecturally topped-out, but there is still work to be done on the interior before they can be functionally opened.
Not only will this year’s completed structures make up nine of the tallest 30, but five of the skyscrapers will be among the ten tallest in London, all standing over 200 meters tall. Those five buildings are, in descending order of height, TwentyTwo Bishopsgate, Landmark Pinnacle, The Newfoundland Diamond Tower, Valiant Tower, and One Park Drive.
Of those five, the TwentyTwo is the tallest among them at 278 meters (912 ft) tall, making it the second-tallest building in London, and the tallest in the City of London district. The rest of the top five are located on the Isle of Dogs, and will be strictly residential. It’s unclear how heavily the progress on these towers has been affected by COVID-19, but we can expect all of them to be finished by 2021 at the latest.
Our first entry is a tower with many names, including Bishopsgate Tower, 150 Leadenhall, or Prussian Blue. Proposed in 2015, Prussian Blue was quickly approved, though construction was delayed for almost two years due to a neighbors injunction stating that the building would infringe on his legal right to sun exposure in his building. Yes, that is a real English law. But the government stepped in and ruled that the immense public benefit that the building would provide far outstrips any detriment to the man’s property, so construction began in 2019.
The construction site is in the immensely popular City of London district, where it will stand next to the building known as the Cheesegrater. Despite their differing silhouettes, Prussian Blue’s shape was heavily influenced by this neighbor. Both buildings taper upwards to a similar point, but, while the older Leadenhall does so with a smooth slant, Prussian Blue utilizes a three-tier stacked block structure that recedes back from the street with sharp right angles at each tier. While these shapes mean less floor-space for the buildings, the cutout portion is meant to protect the sightline of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Prussian Blue’s stacked tiers create huge open air spaces from which to view the iconic church.
The tower will stand at 204 meters tall, and is set to be complete in 2022.
Next on our list is the controversially named tower The Cucumber, officially known as 1 Merchant Square. While London has a long tradition of giving odd names to skyscrapers, many locals were put off by the similarity to the Gherkin, which is a British word for pickled cucumber. Still, it’s hard not to notice the resemblance that the building bears to the green vegetable. The tower has rounded walls that taper slightly inwards both up and down from the middle of the structure, with an offset spire “crown” on top. The top two floors will house a Skybar, so tenants won’t even need to leave their building to get a boozy refreshment with a view.
The Cucumber is the only building on this list that will be built in Paddington, an area located in the Westminster borough of London. Many of the other skyscrapers on this list will stand in clusters with other similarly sized structures, but the Cucumber will tower over the rest of West London, standing 30 meters taller than the next highest structure. Compared with the rest of this list, the height will be a relatively modest 150 meters, but the building’s eye-catching style warrants its place here.
The Cucumber was proposed back in 2010, with the local government finally approving the proposal in early 2019 when developers committed to dedicating the tower to residential space, but construction has been held up over negotiations on the amount of affordable housing. Construction has yet to begin on this skyscraper, but it’s less a question of “if” but more likely “when”.
The 1 Undershaft Tower, affectionately referred to as The Shaft, was proposed in 2014 and approved for construction by the City of London in 2016. The building is intended to replace the 51-year old St. Helen’s tower, which holds a prominent spot on the London skyline just beside the Gherkin, London’s most recognizable skyscraper. While the design changed dramatically throughout the approval process, the most recent version seems to have stuck, and it is stunning.
Its shape is a standard square, but the distinguishing feature is the external cross bracing that runs the entire height of the structure, creating a compelling weave of dark metal that contrasts against the clear glass walls that make up the majority of the high-rise. Apart from its visual appeal, this design provides additional structural support, allowing for a smaller core and maximizing floor space. At 290 meters tall, it will be the tallest building in the City of London district, and is likely to remain that way for some time, as the height was limited by the Civil Aviation Association’s claim that an additional few meters would cause the building to intrude on airplanes’ flight paths.
Besides being a magnificent addition to London’s skyline, the Shaft will also provide a fantastic vantage point from which to view the rest of the city, as the top level will be the city’s highest public viewing gallery, and a public restaurant will sit just below that. At the base of the tower, an elevated first-floor lobby will clear space for the public to walk freely beneath the skyscraper in a public square.
The Aspen at Consort Place is an exciting project already under construction in the Canary Wharf neighborhood of the Isle of Dogs. Canary Wharf already houses four skyscrapers at least 200 meters tall, but, at 215 meters, the Aspen will add to the already impressive skyline found there. Set for completion in 2022, this tower was inspired by its white-barked arboreal namesake, sporting a reflective exterior that’s sure to blind anyone who stares for too long.
Located less than 300 meters (1,000 ft) from the Thames, the building’s distinct triangular footprint creates a unique shape no matter which angle it’s viewed from. Outdoor spaces are incorporated every twenty floors for inhabitants to enjoy 360-degree views of the surrounding area, but for the best possible view we suggest the open-air observation terrace above the top floor.
While the City of London is currently considered the skyscraper capital of London, the aggressively expanding Canary Wharf neighborhood seems poised to make a run for that title. Aspen Tower is just the next major addition, but look to this neighborhood for an example of just how dramatically London’s skyline will change over the next decade.
The project that poses the greatest potential impact to the London skyline is the European Trade Center complex. This project is between the planning and proposal phases right now and there is no official site yet, but the planned structures would provide massive amounts of residential and office space, making it an enticing possibility for Mayor Khan, especially as London looks to maintain economic relations with Europe following Brexit.
As for the complex itself, it would include seven buildings, five of which would be skyscrapers. Of those five towers, four would be 230 meters (755 ft) tall, placing them comfortably among the ten tallest buildings in London. The other tower would stand at 500 m (1640 ft), making it the tallest building in Europe, and the eleventh tallest building in the world.
The main tower would include 111 floors, divided into residential, office, and retail space. It’s base would be a square with 63 meter (207 ft) sides, tapering upwards to a top-floor with 34 meter (112 ft) sides. The total usable area of the entire complex would reach about 700,000 square meters (7.5 million sq ft).
The European Trade Center (ETC) Real Estate Holding Company is reportedly still open to constructing this seven building complex in another major European city, but London is the clear first-choice at the moment, as it is the only European city outside of Moscow with any history of such massive construction projects. The company plans to begin construction in 2023, with a completion target date set for 2026.
Our final entry is a tower whose status has changed several times over the past few years, but we couldn’t leave out the incredibly distinctive tower called The Tulip. Proposed for construction just next door to the Gherkin, which was designed by the same architectural firm, The Tulip was approved by the London planning committee in April 2019. But just three months later, Mayor Khan rejected the proposal, stating that the building provided no public benefit to London’s citizens and that it would be detrimental to the iconic skyline. It’s hard to argue his first point, as the 305 meter tower would serve exclusively as a multi-story observation deck for the rest of the city, meaning well over 200 meters of the building’s height would be dedicated exclusively to elevator shafts.
However, there is no denying the buildings striking design and appropriate naming, with its long, slender support blossoming out in the shape of tulip bulb. The building design also incorporates glass pods rotating in conjunction around three ovular protrusions on the bulb’s exterior.
While our best bet at this moment is that this skyscraper will not be built, the prominent design firm Foster (and) Partners filed an appeal to the mayor’s decision at the start of this year. If it is ever built, there’s no doubt that it would massively impact London’s skyline. Whether for the better or worse, will remain up for debate.