Stumped: The End of Wacky Skyscraper Office Buildings in London?
With revised, more modest plans for the Pinnacle soon to be presented, have we seen the end of the “wacky” era for office buildings in London?
That’s the opinion of the City of London’s Chief Planner, Peter Rees, who spoke to The Guardian last week:
“The Pinnacle, or Helter-Skelter as I prefer to call it, was one of the last of the era of wacky buildings… People looked at the Gherkin and assumed if you build a wacky shape that would help you let it. That was not true because you can’t design something to become an icon. What they are doing now is reviewing the project in the light of current circumstances and fashion. It will produce a totally different building that is more practical in terms of its floor plates.”
Work on the original £1billion design faltered in January 2012, after the building failed to achieve sufficient pre-lettings to guarantee a return on investment. It has since become known by the far less flattering nickname of the Stump.
After the triumphs of other office buildings in London including the Gherkin and the Shard, the Pinnacle, rather than being the high point in boundary-pushing skyscraper design, was beginning to look like an anti-climax.
As Rees points out, iconic building design does not necessarily make for appealing office space – even if you can create an icon. First and foremost, even the most design-conscious business leaders need office buildings in London that are practical. And while skyscraper design has been getting ever more ambitious, businesses, faced with a climate of uncertainty and austerity, have been becoming increasingly conservative. Many are reluctant to commit to expensive pre-lets on buildings which are another five years in construction, while others are shying away from overly ostentatious displays of wealth.
There is, however, hope for the Pinnacle yet. Last week, Ken Shuttleworth, one half of the team which designed the Gherkin, revealed that he is working on designs for a simpler and more flexible building, making use of the Pinnacle’s original foundations. Other names which have been linked to the project include Sir Stuart Lipton, Fred Pilbrow, and most recently Daniel Libeskind, the architect behind the New York Freedom Tower and the Imperial War Museum North.
With such high profile interest in reviving the Pinnacle it seems unlikely that we have seen the end of “wacky” designs on office buildings in London, or on this particular site at least. However, the architects will have to contend with the additional challenge of working to a more modest budget and with a keener sense of practicality.
As for the rest of London, the Pinnacle is likely to loom large (albeit probably not as large as originally intended) as a lesson in championing bold architectural statements over more practical considerations. Whether the response will be more restrained designs for office buildings in London or more prudent planning remains to be seen.
Have we seen the last of “wacky” skyscraper office buildings in London? Should city planners continue to grant planning permission to buildings like the Pinnacle? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.