What price beauty?

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

LOn­don­ers are now be­gin­ning to un­der­stand why coun­try peo­ple be­come stren­u­ously pro­tec­tive of ‘their’ views. The on­go­ing trans­for­ma­tion of the cap­i­tal’s sky­line con­tin­ues apace. ev­ery month or so, their emer­gence her­alded by the erec­tion of tall cranes, new tower blocks and sky­scrapers rear their heads. still more have re­ceived plan­ning per­mis­sion.

even for rel­a­tively in­formed Lon­don­ers, it’s very dif­fi­cult to know where the next ones will ap­pear. set­ting aside the hand­ful of pres­tige projects that gar­ner na­tional press cov­er­age, th­ese build­ings seem to come into be­ing without any real dis­cus­sion or con­sul­ta­tion. With some strik­ing ex­cep­tions, few have any pre­ten­sion to ar­chi­tec­tural qual­ity.

In part, this is be­cause the plan­ning sys­tem is al­most hope­lessly parochial when it comes to tall build­ings. By virtue of their promi­nence and height, th­ese have visual neigh­bour­hoods on an im­mense scale. They also in­trude dis­pro­por­tion­ately in rel­a­tively low-built ar­eas, in­clud­ing parks, and where there are con­cen­tra­tions of his­toric build­ings.

One cu­ri­ous con­se­quence—and this isn’t en­tirely a bad thing—is that Lon­don­ers are be­com­ing much more aware of the ac­tual topo­graph­i­cal re­la­tion­ship be­tween the dif­fer­ent parts of their city. Vaux­hall may feel like a dif­fer­ent world from Pim­lico—and be di­vided from it by the Thames—but the res­i­dents of each can now see the other.

There are pro­tected lines of sight, most fa­mously to and from st Paul’s. Yet, para­dox­i­cally, the lim­ited pro­tec­tion of th­ese views has ap­par­ently be­come a li­cence to fill the in­ter­stices be­tween them. Cen­tral Lon­don is be­ing ir­re­triev­ably al­tered and the streetscape closed in. The view from the house bought un­sus­pect­ingly, whether 20 years ago or last year, is now likely to be com­pletely dif­fer­ent—and not nec­es­sar­ily for the bet­ter.

Mas­sive, dis­tant build­ings shadow vis­tas down streets that used to close with the sky; glimpses of his­toric pub­lic build­ings, church spires and trees are van­ish­ing. That’s a much more im­por­tant cu­mu­la­tive trans­for­ma­tion than whether this or that ‘iconic’ sky­scraper is built.

In the coun­try­side, the ques­tion of who owns the view be­comes even more per­ti­nent, with the di­chotomy of beauty ver­sus lo­cal econ­omy and em­ploy­ment. It’s said that film-mak­ers are aban­don­ing scot­land be­cause of the wind tur­bines. Those who ob­ject to Hink­ley Point in som­er­set might not be de­pend­ing on it for a job. Farm­ers have to jump through hoops to con­vert barns into busi­nesses that em­ploy peo­ple or hol­i­day cot­tages that bring tourists. The go-ahead for frack­ing in Lan­cashire is a blow to lo­cal democ­racy, yet Bri­tain has to try out this po­ten­tially valu­able power source.

On page 50, the Cpre shows how so­lar pan­els can be at­trac­tive (Town & Coun­try). Can we have it all? As we try to be­come more self-suf­fi­cient as a non-eu coun­try, the ques­tion be­comes in­creas­ingly des­per­ate, yet ap­pears im­pos­si­ble to dis­cuss in a mean­ing­ful way.

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