Architecture is frozen ambition

Office Space

Despite talk that tall buildings have had their day, skyscrapers still reflect our highest values

TALL buildings are a mirror of human confidence, ability and enthusiasm. They reflect our belief in our own capabilities to design and build them, and in the appetites of the markets to fund, lease and buy them. In London in particular, it is by the continuous development of extraordinary modern buildings that an otherwise ancient city maintains its unique verve, a visual demonstration of its ability to continually change and innovate.

On a global scoreboard, London doesn’t boast the tallest skyline. But it is rightfully renowned for both the variety of its buildings, the juxtaposition of old and new, and the quality of their design. Its tall buildings have to deal with the strictures imposed by a mediaeval street pattern, a rigorous and righteous planning system and a highly competitive market – and they usually rise beautifully to the challenge. The result is a collection of unique and bold statements of intent. In fact, London’s rapid development of extraordinary contemporary commercial space has been at the heart of its remaining the financial capital of Europe, if not the world: without the bold development of Canary Wharf in the 1980s, it would have been in danger of losing the financial sector to Germany for the lack of evidently modern, international office space.

London’s ongoing commitment to extraordinary architecture helps keeps it centre stage. Without the arrival of 30 St Mary Axe (Swiss Re’s headquarters in the City, familiarly known as “the Gherkin”), London might not have won the bid to host the Olympic Games in 2012. Norman Foster’s brilliantly conceived landmark tower finally moved the look of the City out of the 1970s and into the 21st century; that achievement reinforced London’s pitch that it would be able to regenerate Stratford, East London, into a successful Olympic venue and to present a truly modern games.

Happily, the general public’s response to our latest iconic tower, the Shard, has been positive, too. Just last week, a patient occupying a south-facing room on the 10th floor of the University College Hospital, with views of the Shard site, turned to her doctor and said simply: “Watching that building go up has kept me going. It is a daily reminder of the amazing things people do; it makes me confident about the future.”

That story from UCH, reported to me by my sister, the surgeon in question, shows the power wonderful buildings have to inspire – their inhabitants, resident businesses, the local community and a global audience. Their value is much greater than the cost of their construction. Economic systems are all about confidence: the Shard is a building that exudes confidence, and that will be good for London in many ways.

It may seem grandiose, but I believe the spirit behind the creation of iconic tall buildings is reflected in a speech President John F Kennedy made in 1962 about why America sent a manned space mission to the moon:

“We choose to [do these things], not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

William Murray is one of the four directors of Wordsearch, a leading marketing agency for iconic buildings, including the Shard.

The Walkie Talkie
20 Fenchurch St completing mid-2014

Heron Tower
110 Bishopsgate, completed Mar 2011

The Cheesegrater
Leadenhall Building, completing mid 2014

Riverside South
Canary Whaf, no set completion date

The Pinnacle
Bishopsgate Tower, completing 2013

The Shard
London Bridge Tower, completing May 2012