the announcement that Norton Rose, the current occupiers of the
site are finally going to move we take an in-depth look at what
was the zeitgeist in London planning reform, but still hasn't been
110 Bishopsgate is currently occupied by a rather staid grey post-war
concrete mid-rise, the sort of thing that was the staple diet of
City office space in the 1960s. With the successful application
of 30 St Marys Axe by Swiss Re, Heron Properties bought the site
with the intention of knocking it down and building a brand new
skyscraper to cash in on some of the success of Tower 42 and the
recently refurbished Citypoint.
Heron gambled big in the 80s and lost even bigger, their owner Gerald
Ronson saw his name become synonmonous with the collapse of the
Thatcher Boom of that decade but now he's back with bigger ideas
than ever. The site off Bishopsgate is one of the few that has little
problem with the protected sightlines towards St Pauls that cut
the City into slices so realising this makes it ripe for another
skyscraper thanks to the seeming precedent Swiss Re had set.
Bishopsgate is designed by the well know american architects KPF.
Their main requirements for this tower was to create something of
a similar massing and space to the already standing Tower 42 that
fits in well with the City.
This building certainly does that, appearing different from each
The view from Gracechurch Street shows a stepped tower culminating
in a spire of 222m. Looking down London Wall towards Bishopsgate
shows a sheer facade of blue glass and contrasting white clearly
designed to fit in with the neighbouring 99 Bishopsgate. There's
plenty of references to other buildings in this tower too including
diagonal bracing on the cladding to give it that technological feel
so many of todays City buildings have.
The tallest portion of the tower, the area around the spire is positioned
as to not cause much visual disturbance on the views from Waterloo
looking towards the City so it should appear behind Tower 42. It
is only when looking away from St Pauls that this feature becomes
more promiment. This reduction of the visual profile is helped by
the stepping on the top third of the skyscraper, creating the illusion
of a tower that appears shorter than it is.
It is this tallest portion of the tower that is the core, set on
the south side of the site and on which the buildings services are
located. As well as the moving lifts using motion to break up what
would be an otherwise staid view, they will also be providing access
to a rooftop restaurant that will be open to the public and provide
stunning views of London.
It may not be the most exciting design in London but it fits in
well with the rest of the cluster whereas new buildings such as
Minerva and 122 Leadenhall are clearly design to make much more
a statement. Aesthetically speaking it is perhaps the perfect traditional
skyscraper for the City because it is so conventional looking.
With planning in the City of London there will always be a 'before
Heron' and 'after Heron' watershed thanks to the tidal-wave of reform
this tower created.
City of London was under seige from Canary Wharf and at panic stations
about Frankfurt usurping it's position. The planning board there
had previously been anti-skyscraper but faced with losing the likes
of HSBC to Canary Wharf, a company so desparate to stay in the City
it had spent 5 years trying to find a site to build a new skyscraper
to no success things had to change.
With the desparation of the Corporation of London to build more
office stock that firms there wanted they awarded outline planning
permission to 110 Bishopsgate in 2001.
The next factor in the tower's progress was the newly elected Mayor,
Ken Livingstone who is a skyscraper geek, taking it as far as occupying
Centerpoint in the 70s to protest at bad planning. With London's
most senior politican being an expert in architecture and having
ultimate say of the planning decisions he rubber-stamped it and
provided a powerful voice of support. Had Steven Norris been Mayor
it is likely he would have refused it there and then.
Apart from Swiss REs gherkin, there hadn't been a serious proposal
to build anything tall in the City since 1988 when British architecture
was still reeling from Prince Charles' attacks on it, but those
were the days when people still took his opinions seriously.
For whatever reason the Gherkin wasn't called in to a public inquiry,
mostly because English Heritage failed to insist on one. For them
opposing 110 Bishopsgate, this was probably the fatal error that
they opposed the wrong building. In letting through an equally tall
and even more avante-garde structure that would change a skyline
basically frozen in time since the early '80s Heron Properties had
a recent precedent.
This building didn't infringe the St Pauls sightlines anymore than
their own they claimed giving them the first thing to beat any opponents
with. Indeed from the most cherished viewpoint of Waterloo 110 Bishopsgate
is barely visible whilst Swiss Re stands out like sore thumb.
Despite this English Heritage put massive pressure on the Deputy
Prime Minister who was forced to announce a public inquiry. The
nature of their decision is still open to discussion, as they had
a number of votes before the chairman got the result he wanted.
At the cost of 12 million pounds of public money English Heritage
spent months trying to argue that St Paul's would be ruined by this
building. They cited sightlines where thanks to smog the City isn't
visible whilst cutting down trees to ressurect old sightlines without
the permission of the local councils to ressurect sightlines from
the original 1886 legislation. Every time they argued this planners
from the Corporation of London and the Mayors office stood up and
said the opposite, with such powerful interests E.H had the case
stacked against them from the start.
All this time the public inquiry dragged on other developers watched
nervously and planned proposals were put on hold, certainly delaying
development of towers in the City by a couple of years.
The heritage lobby lost the inquiry but this was hardly a surprise
given the complete lack of evidence that they had produced in comparison
to the lobby protesting for the building, indeed their entire case
was centered around a dogmatic ideology that anything tall distracts
the view away from St Pauls', in otherwords St Paul's has an unalienable
right to be the dominant feature on the London skyline and that
nothing tall should be built within miles of it.
In having an inquiry into a building that has little impact compared
to the likes of Minerva English Heritage gambled and lost on the
wrong project. Had they picked their battles better they might have
won, but instead all they managed to do was create a legal precedence
other developers could use as long as they didn't block the sight-lines
to the cathedral. This decision was in turn cemented by a second
public inquiry, this time into London Bridge Tower whilst the cost
of losing these two inquiries has wrecked the finances of English
Heritage and starved it of funds it could use for restoring old
Gerald Ronson originally planned construction immediately after
a public inquiry in 2002 but the office market by then was experiencing
a downturn thanks to Sept the 11th. In no rush to build a tower
speculatively and have it finished before an upturn in the office
market he let Norton Rose, the current occupiers of the site stay
and concentrated his efforts on buying a neighbouring property to
create a second building of similar design slightly under 100m tall
with the americanesque name of Heron Plaza which is planned to see
simultaneous construction with it's taller neighbour.
With the office market now looking up in 2004 Norton Rose are reluctant
to move until they have new premises and Heron are faced with their
tower starting after the likes of Minerva's even though they got
planning permission two years before. This is particularly bad if
they want to catch the upturn in the City office market first and
robs them of the advantage they would get from that.
It looks likely they will try to buy out the remainder of Norton
Rose's lease and start construction in 2005 because otherwise they
are faced with a 2007 start for the tower which means they may even
have to reapply for planning permission. Of course by then 122 Leadenhall
will be under construction too as well as a smattering of mid-rises
so their investment will be facing increased competition.
This tower, and it's shorter twin WILL goahead in the end. Just