Stunners in the sky

Stunners in the sky

An essay in how tall buildings can be successfully knitted into London’s streets and provide a decent civic space at ground level, the Economist Plaza is the work of arch-Brutalists Alison and Peter Smithson, architects of the doomed Robin Hood Gardens estate in east London. While that faces the wrecking ball, the Economist complex is regarded as their masterpiece, “one of the most successful examples of urban design to be seen anywhere,” according to American architectural historian Vincent Scully, who said it was “among the most important buildings of the decade.” Framed by carefully proportioned elevations, the central square is described by English Heritage as “one of London’s most memorable modern spaces, offering subtle intimations of the Greek agora, the Italian piazza and the alleys and courts of Georgian London.”

Dressed in sleek silvery pin-stripes, the Natwest Tower (now Tower 42) stands with an air of suave simplicity compared to some of the more recent arrivals to the City. After a 10-year saga of construction, costing the equivalent of £230m to build in today’s money, it was the tallest building in the country for a decade after completion, and the tallest building in the City for more than 30 years, until it was overtaken by the Heron Tower in 2009. Designed to resemble the Natwest logo from above, it is formed from three interlocking chevrons, extruded into a staggered cluster, with the shallow office floor-plates cantilevered out from a central concrete core. A high-tech wonder, it featured the UK’s first double-decker lifts, as well as a “mail train” for distributing documents around the building.

As London faces a barrage of bulky towers, with 230 tall buildings planned to shoot up across the city over the coming months, here are 10 of the capital’s best examples of aiming high. They prove that big doesn’t necessarily mean bad, and that not every tower has to be an icon, topped with a jaunty profile or dressed in a jazzy outfit to succeed. After calling out 10 of the worst offenders last week, here’s our run-down of the top 10 model performers, in the hope that some lessons might be learned from their success.

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