Love them or loathe them, London’s skyscrapers have created an iconic but ever-changing view of the city over the last few decades – and plans for several more tall buildings could transform it once again.
Plans lodged by ever ambitious developers in recent years include three towering builds over 900ft in the City of London – with one just 17 feet shorter than the Shard, Europe’s tallest building.
And Canary Wharf is seeing innovative new designs, including a ‘Spire’ that would be Britain’s tallest residential structure, and an apartment building which boasts a sprawling indoor garden on its 27th floor.
But most of these projects, despite some having 2021 completion dates, are yet to lift off the ground following the impact and uncertainty of the pandemic, Brexit, and even the after effects of the financial crash.
The coronavirus pandemic had caused a significant slowdown in the construction of new buildings and the shift away from offices towards working from home created fears that demand for office space would never return.
According to Deloitte, 50 per cent of new construction starts and 50 per cent of completions were delayed last year in the middle of the pandemic lockdown.
There was also last month the surprise rejection of The Tulip, a ‘phallic-shaped’ observation tower that would have soared over the City of London.
With effective Covid vaccines helping restrictions be lifted across the world, the finance firm has predicted a sustained period of activity as ‘investor appetite will build with pent-up demand’ in 2022.
There are an incredible 587 ‘tall buildings’ in the pipeline in London – with 310 granted full planning permission and 127 under consideration, according to New London Architecture’s annual review.
There were also 10.8 per cent more planning permissions for tall buildings granted in 2020 than in 2019 – the third consecutive year that permissions for tall buildings rose.
Peter Murray of New London Architecture, who conduct an annual skyscraper review, said of the figures: ‘The outlook for new office buildings in the City of London is remarkably positive at the moment despite the likely increase in home working.
‘This optimism is buoyed by a long-term shortage of supply as well as a “flight to quality” by occupiers who wish to encourage staff to return to work in the office.’
Here, the Mail details what could become the iconic sights of London’s skyline in the next few years, and what challenges they face to top out.
Views of London’s skyline are expected to change dramatically over the next decade with a series of new skyscrapers set to transform the city of London, Canary Wharf and other areas of the capital. Pictured: A graphic design shows how the skyline will look with 1 Undershaft, nicknamed ‘Trellis’ and 100 Leadenhall, nicknamed the ‘Diamond’, that are currently planned. The bulb-shaped Tulip building has however been rejected by the Housing Secretary following an appeal
The City of London Corporation recently released a series of visuals showcasing the construction projects which have been approved in the Square Mile. The Tulip-shaped tower is a notable absence as it is still awaiting a planning decision by the government
PLANNED: The Trellis building at 1 Undershaft, also in the City of London’s Square Mile, would be the third tallest building in the city at 290m. Demolition has already taken place on the site but it could be years before the building is completed, despite having planning permission
Dubbed The Trellis after its distinctive crossbrace facades, the 90,000-square-metre tower Will be raise 10 m off the ground to create a public space underneath
The Trellis, 1 Undershaft – 951ft (290m): PLANNED
‘The Trellis’ by numbers
Architect: Eric Parry Architects
Location: 1 Undershaft (next to the ‘Cheesegrater’)
Planning application: January 2016
Construction start: Undecided
Proposed height: 951ft (290m)
Total floor space: 970,000sq/ft (90,000sq/m)
With central London buildings kept under a height restriction of just over 1,000ft, architects are keen to push close to the limits with their designs, and this planned project at 1 Undershaft is not far off.
The Trellis, at 951ft (290m) tall will be just 66 feet shorter than the capital’s tallest building, The Shard, across the river.
At 73 storeys high, it will become the new ‘peak’ of the rising Square Mile giants and dwarf the likes of prime office space rivals The Gherkin and The Cheesegrater.
The project’s position in amongst the ‘cluster’ of several tall city buildings is to avoid getting in the way of protected sight lines for St Paul’s Cathedral and Monument – but with so many developers looking to create central London office space this has created a whole new ecosystem of shiny glass-fronted skyscrapers.
It was given the green light after a three-year planning fight by Singaporean developers Aroland Holdings. The City of London Corporation has granted permission to knock down the existing Aviva Tower and replace it with The Trellis.
Dubbed The Trellis after the distinctive crossbrace facades on its four sides, the 970,000sq/ft tower will be raised 33 feet off the ground to create an open public space underneath.
There are also plans for a ‘generous’ space at the top of the building for a free public viewing gallery, education centre, exhibition space and London’s highest public restaurant.
The company behind the building says it will provide office space for 1,200 workers, but how much of this will be snapped up is yet to be seen.
With companies having been forced into changing working practices over the last 18 months from coronavirus, many are giving up or downsizing their offices as they change their work structure.
And there are now fears that huge developments still under construction, like the Trellis, could remain on hold with developers concerned about opening empty.
Consultants at Deloitte said some large construction schemes are likely to pause as people continue to work from home – with many yet to restart in 2021.
Last year Deloitte’s London crane survey estimated construction delays of up to six months and a knock-on effect on completions of space. However, some projects have since pulled through and are thriving…
AWAITING APPROVAL: The Tulip building planned for the City of London would – if approved – become the second tallest in the UK after The Shard. Its application was rejected by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, but could now be given approval by Housing Secretary Michael Gove
Mocked for its slightly phallic shape, The Tulip Will not have any of the space but is intended as a tourist attraction in the City of London with high viewing platforms and restaurant
The Tulip, 20 Bury Street – 1000ft (305m): APPEAL REJECTED
Nicknamed ‘the sperm’ and described as ‘a lift shaft with a bulge on top’, The Tulip is certainly one of the most ambitious and controversial large-scale projects to be proposed in London.
And standing at 1000ft, the proposed City of London attraction would have become the second tallest in Western Europe after the Shard.
Bus in something of a surprise move by Housing Secretary Michael Gove, the project was rejected after its backers launched an appeal against a decision by Sadiq Khan to stop the development.
The building has been designed by Foster + Partners and is set to include a viewing platform with rotating pods, restaurant and sky bar, cycle parking, shower facilities and a publicly accessible rooftop terrace.
Why does London have so few super-tall buildings?
Even if the Norman Foster-designed Tulip building in London’s Square Mile had not been rejected by Michael Gove, it would have become only the second in the United Kingdom to reach the lofty heights of 1,000 feet.
But while the capital has dozens of buildings over 20 storeys high, one of the definitions of a ‘skyscraper’, London’s skyline pales in comparison to the likes of New York, Dubai or Shanghai.
This is down to a series of restrictions imposed on architects and designers by everyone from the Mayor’s Office to aviation bodies.
The most important rule involves airports, namely Heathrow and the more recent London City, with its runway just 3 miles from Canary Wharf.
In a ‘Safeguarding of Aerodromes’ document, the Civil Aviation Authority imposes a de facto ban on buildings taller than 1016 feet (309.67m), almost precisely the height of the Shard.
The guideline – whereby the CAA with support Heathrow or London City in objecting to any planning application above this height – stretches across London from Chelsea Bridge to Tower Bridge. So don’t expect any developer to be successful in outdoing The Shard.
There are also rules the explicitly protect views of historical monuments. In the centre of London, this means new towers must bow to older landmarks, namely St Pauls and The Monument.
For instance, the 734-foot-high Leadenhall Building, nicknamed ‘the Cheesegrater’, had to have its profile tapered to keep a sight line of St Paul’s Cathedral from the historic Cheshire Cheese pub in Fleet Street.
This sightline guidance helps explain why London, unlike New York or Chicago, does not have lots of rectangular high-rise buildings, and why skyscrapers are kept in clusters rather than spread out.
The sightline rule has existed since the 1930s, with architects and designers now wary of putting forward ambitious plans
However, the backers of The Tulip will be reminded that The City of London approved 99 per cent of planning applications in 2017-18, so the odds of success would appear quite good.
London’s boroughs and the Mayor’s office also have powers to approve or reject buildings, and they can be for a much wider range of reasons.
London’s local planning committees look at everything from to impact on public services and transport, to how much the building would block light for people living nearby.
The mayor’s office provides extra city-wide guidelines. Among these, it says high-rise buildings should only be considered in areas ‘whose character would not be affected adversely by the scale, mass or bulk’.
They should also ‘relate well’ to the character of nearby buildings, contribute to local regeneration, provide public access to upper floors and offer ground-floor activities.
Historic England and Historic Royal Palaces objected to the plans for ‘reducing the visual dominance of the Tower of London’ just a month after they were submitted in November 2018, but they were rubber-stamped by the City of London Corporation soon after.
However, because of London’s planning system, Mayor Sadiq Khan was able to overrule and reject the application for the tower, saying it would do ‘harm’ to London’s skyline.
A spokesman for Mr Khan said: ‘The Mayor has a number of serious concerns with this application and having studied it in detail has refused permission for a scheme that he believes would result in very limited public benefit.
‘The proposals would also result in an unwelcoming, poorly-designed public space at street level.’
Mr Khan’s decision was not final however, as he can in turn be overruled by the Housing Secretary, Michael Gove.
Mr Gove’s predecessor, Robert Jenrick, had been poised to make a decision on the building’s fate in September before he was booted out of the cabinet.
According to briefings to the Telegraph Whitehall officials were said to have sided with the City of London. But in their decision, revealed on November 11, the proposal was rejected.
A 210-page report from the government’s planning inspectorate found it to be ‘poor and unsympathetic to the historical context’ of the capital, as well as being ‘poorly designed’ and of ‘very limited public benefit’.
The project’s developers said in a statement: ‘We are disappointed by the UK Government’s decision to refuse planning permission for The Tulip. In our opinion, this project represented a unique opportunity to reaffirm London’s world-leading reputation in architecture, culture, education, and tourism.’
Plans submitted in the original proposal claimed the building will weigh the same as ’80 fully loaded Airbus A380s on a footprint half the size of a single plane’.
They also boasted it would include glazed observation levels supported by a huge concrete shaft which will give tourists a birds-eye-view of London.
Three spinning gondola pods will also be attached to the summit, and the application claimed it could boost the local economy by £1billion and create 600 full-time jobs.
According to a survey by the architects, two-thirds of Londoners said that the striking building would be a welcome addition to the City.
TwentyTwo, 22 Bishopsgate – 912ft (278m): COMPLETED
After topping out at a huge 912ft shortly before the start of the pandemic, 22 Bishopsgate – the Square Mile’s biggest office building – faced a very uncertain future as workers stopped coming into the office.
‘TwentyTwo’ was originally given planning permission in 2015 when demand for prime office space was still high, and developers could expect to fill much of the 1.3 million sq/ft without a struggle.
At peak lockdown however, it was reported that 60 per cent of the UK workforce were working from home, with many businesses struggling to cover expensive office overheads and rental negotiations stalling.
But since its quiet completion in December 2020, while the city remained empty, Bishopgate’s 51 available floors have slowly but surely been filled.
The building’s website says that Nasdaq, Hiscox and AXA Investment Managers are among the companies that have taken up residence on 33 floors. The latter is a part of the group of companies that helped fund the scheme.
Built by Lipton Rogers Developments LLP, the higher levels also contain a restaurant, club, sky bar and viewing gallery.
It has been described by contractor Multiplex as ‘Europe’s first vertical village‘ for targeting the International WELL Building Standard to create an ‘inspiring, healthy and energising workplace’.
This includes London’s largest cycle park with around 1,700 bike spaces, a gym with climbing window 125m above ground, and its own fresh food market for employees.
The project used twice the amount of steel on the Eiffel Tower to create its frame, and was reported to be worth £1.5 billion.
COMPLETED: 22 Bishopsgate (pictured centre) replaced an earlier project known as The Pinnacle to form a ‘peak’ for the cluster of glass skyscrapers that now dominates the City of London. It was the last major skyscraper completed before the pandemic
The project used twice the amount of steel taken to construct the Eiffel Tower to create its frame, and was reported to be worth £1.5 billion. So far 33 of its 51 available office floors have been filled
100 Leadenhall – 860ft (263m): PLANNED
Despite its attractive nickname ‘The Diamond’, it is unclear how much the office-space project planned for 100 Leadenhall St will be allowed to glisten under planning rules to prevent reflected glare.
The 56-storey tower The Diamond (centre) is among the skyscrapers set to change the London skyline in the coming years, and it will be the City of London’s third tallest building at 814ft
The 56-storey tower set for Leadenhall St will join the growing cluster of Square Mile skyscrapers and will be the financial district’s third-tallest building when completed.
Due to its significant tapering the building has been described as the ‘big brother’ of the nearby Cheesegrater at 122 Leadenhall St.
Its backers Lai Sun Development of Hong Kong want to increase office space in the city by more than 1.15 million sq/ft – saying their building will help to ‘maintain London’s standing as a global financial centre’.
The ambitious project is good hands, having been designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the architects behind One World Trade Center in New York and the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
Despite objections raised by St Paul’s Cathedral over sight line, the City’s planning and transportation committee voted 22-2 in favour of the new build back in 2018.
However, work cannot begin on the project because the site is currently occupied by three retail and office buildings.
The existing tenancies will expire in 2023 and it is anticipated that construction will take approximately four years.
Kent Jackson, design partner at SOM said: ‘The City of London is a unique combination of heritage assets with some of the most internationally recognised buildings of the 21st century. SOM is proud to be a part of this architectural legacy.
‘Our approach is sympathetic to this rich historic context whilst designing a building that combines our architecture, sustainability and structural engineering sensibilities into a landmark design.’
The 56-storey tower set for 100 Leadenhall St will join the growing cluster of Square Mile skyscrapers and will be the financial district’s third-tallest building when completed
The Diamond building at 100 Leadenhall St (highlighted in blue) will help create the ‘mountain peak’ formation of skyscrapers in the City of London’s cluster
An image released by the City of London Corporation shows how the City skyline could look by 2026 when current construction projects such as 1 Undershaft and the Diamond are completed
ON HOLD: Riverside South towers or a proposed skyscraper development on the edge of Canary Wharf. Investment bank JP Morgan bought a 999-year lease on the site, which has been completed to ground level but is currently on hold
The site (pictured) for now remains boarded off with covers over the towers’ basements. It is unclear when or whether JP Morgan intend to return to construction
Riverside South, Canary Wharf 778ft (237m): ON HOLD
Despite work being done to complete basement level elements on Riverside South, the JP Morgan-backed project is yet to get off the ground following a turbulent decade including the financial crash and Brexit.
The site, one of only a few suitable for a skyscraper project left on the Docklands area has had a chequered history.
Proposals for the site, which looks out over the River Thames westwards, date back to 2004 when an original plan for two buildings – a north and a south tower – of 702 ft and 620 ft were approved.
Then before the financial crash in April 2007, a new application was put in to increase the buildings’ height to 773ft and 702ft and significantly increase floorspace. The changes would make the project the tallest building on Canary Wharf – eclipsing One Canada Square by around a metre – and would be among the largest offices in Europe.
Designs for the site have been produced by the Richard Rogers Partnership, whose previous work includes landmarks like the Millennium Dome, Lloyd’s building and the Cheesegrater.
JP Morgan & Co, keen on expansion at the time, purchased a 999-year lease on the site from Canary Wharf Group in November 2008 for £237 million.
In 2009, concrete was poured in for the construction of the basement levels which elements reaching ground level by 2010.
But as the global financial crisis squeezed the bank, JP Morgan were forced to abandon their plans and headed for an office on 25 Bank Street, the former European headquarters of collapsed Lehman Brothers.
The site now remains boarded off with covers over the towers’ basements. It is unclear when or whether JP Morgan intend to return to construction.
Pictured: The Isle of dogs in the early 1990s (left), with the first parts of One Canada Square visible in between the quays, and right, as the capital’s financial district is seen today
PLANNED: The 771-foot-tall Spire on the Isle of Dogs’ West India Quay was approved in 2016 to become the tallest residential tower in Europe. However the project has not moved forward beyond hoardings sealing off the construction area
However, work on The Spire has ground to a halt after it was revealed residents on the upper floors of the skyscraper would only have access to one escape stairwell
The Spire, West India Quay 771ft (235m): ON HOLD
It is one of London’s most ambitious projects, and if ever completed The Spire would be crowned the tallest residential building in Europe – one of the few titles not held by the capital.
The planned Canary Wharf skyscraper will stand at a jaw-dropping 771ft tall according to its latest designs and is rumoured to be costing around £800 million to construct.
Once built the block will contain 861 opulent apartments offering panoramic views across the whole of London.
However, work on The Spire has ground to a halt after it was revealed residents on the upper floors of the skyscraper would only have access to one escape stairwell.
Safety experts have warned that the building will need at least two staircases for the hulking structure in order to make it safe for future residents.
The revelations about its lack of safety provisions have raised questions over what the completed project will look like.
Russ Timpson, secretary of the Tall Building Fire Safety Network, said: ‘I am reminded of the Titanic and the fact there were not enough lifeboats for the passengers. “Don’t worry,” they said. “It will never sink”.’
Current regulations mean that tall commercial buildings are required to provide two or more exit stairwells in case of a fire or emergency.
But residential properties are not subject to the same stringent conditions and are only required to provide one exit route.
‘If you’re building an office block in this country over 36ft, you need two stairwells, but you can build a residential tower to infinity with one stairwell,’ another fire safty consultant told the Sunday Times.
The project has been pretty much on standstill since 2018, with the site now cleared of obstacles just collecting muddy water.
Along with the Riverside Towers, Canary Wharf has had an unlucky run of form with recent ambitious skyscraper projects.
The Chinese developer behind the scheme, Greenland Group, said this week they would be launching a review of the design in order to determine ‘the most up-to-date design specification’.
The developer was also said to be reviewing the economics behind the project because of recent turbulence in the London property market.
A spokesperson for Greenland said: ‘Demolition of the existing building and the first phase of ground engineering works for the development have been completed, in readiness for further phases of construction.
‘Construction is currently paused while we identify our forward programme.
‘It is our full intention to take the development forward ourselves as we continue to build our presence in the UK property market – reflecting our long-standing expertise in planning, designing and delivering similar developments around the world.’
The Landmark Pinnacle on the edge of Canary Wharf is attracting high levels of demand for its brand new 752 apartments and state-of-the-art penthouses starting from £597,000. The building is set for completion at the end of this year
An indoor garden at Landmark Pinnacle will contain sofas and benches set around trees, shrubs and plants, as well as a children’s play area and a space with table tennis
The views from the top include the River Thames as well as iconic buildings such as The Shard, St Paul’s and Tower Bridge
Landmark Pinnacle, Canary Wharf 764ft (233m)
While The Spire tower remains the stuff of dreams, just a short walk down the road builders are putting the finishing touches the Landmark Pinnacle – the newest title holder for a residential building.
Despite apparent moves by city dwellers to escape to the country with the working from home revolution, the Pinnacle tower has seen strong demand – despite not even being finished.
The 75-storey development will contain 752 apartments, with a one-bedroom home starting from £597,000 and the majority already snapped up before it is completed.
Then there are the penthouses that run into millions, but the exact prices for these have not yet been disclosed.
Rami Atallah, of Chalegrove Properties, the developer responsible for the tower, said: ‘The building provides the kind of 360 degree aspects you would only usually be treated to when flying into the city.’
The views from the top include the River Thames as well as iconic buildings such as The Shard, St Paul’s and Tower Bridge.
Buyers will have access to a variety of other residents’ facilities on-site, which only they can access, including roof gardens, a cinema and gym, a golf simulator and virtual putting green, and two private dining areas.
The purely residential tower also faces up the main drawback of inner-city living – with an entire level dedicated to an indoor garden square.
The green space aims to mirror a typical – and desirable – London garden square and extends across a substantial 8,700 square feet, which is more than three times the size of a tennis court.
The indoor garden at Landmark Pinnacle will contain sofas and benches set around trees, shrubs and plants, as well as a children’s play area and a space with table tennis.
Mr Atallah added: ‘The indoor garden floor is like nothing else in London. This is the first of its kind in the capital that extends across such a large indoor space and allows residents to enjoy it whatever the weather outside.’
One of the most popular modern attractions in London is the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street – otherwise known as the walkie-talkie building.
It is free, but requires booking and is not part of a residential block. It also does not compare in size to the Landmark garden, which will be private.
A spokesperson for Chalegrove Properties’ said: ‘Construction for Landmark Pinnacle, the tallest residential scheme in the UK, is now drawing to a close and will be fully complete in the new year.
‘Residents have already started moving in, and demand remains strong for the few remaining apartments owing to spectacular views and the enduring appeal of Canary Wharf.’
There are an incredible 587 ‘tall buildings’ in the pipeline in London – with 310 granted full planning permission and 127 under consideration, according to New London Architecture’s annual review
How a city changes: London’s Square Mile in around 2015 (left) and with a series of planned construction projects including the Trellis and Diamond buildings (right)
The 60-storey Newfoundland tower block on the edge of Canary Wharf is one of the city’s most towers to reach completion. It was opened for rent in May 2021 and stands at 720 ft (220m) tall, just below the Cheesegrater
What are the tallest buildings in London?
One Canada Square
Residential (tallest in Europe)