Sunday 21 October, 10.30am until 12.00pm, Fountain Room
While tall buildings have always been the subject of some grumbling, London’s Shard, the tallest building in the European Union, has been particularly singled out internationally. For its critics, it embodies the ‘obscene wealth’ of the ‘arrogant’ City of London across the Thames. In a similar vein, one architecture critic described futuristic Canary Wharf as ‘the evil twin’ of the older financial sector, while the title of John Lanchester’s novel on the excesses of bankers, Capital, pointed to how the city itself acts as a microcosm of society’s perceived ills. For some, the Shard is itself a monument to ‘Londonism’: the idea of the capital as an elite city-state more interested in serving itself than the rest of the country. For others, suggestions that some London boroughs were planning to rehouse their poorest residents hundreds of miles away, while money poured into Olympic redevelopments such as Stratford City, perfectly highlighted the ‘social cleansing’ of the capital.
Nevertheless, it could be objected that the City has become a scapegoat for the lack of dynamism in the economy as a whole, and that, by acting as an international hub for global finance, developments like the Shard are more than contributing their fair share both to the nation as a whole and to local employment. The skyscraper cluster that is Canary Wharf might not be to everyone’s taste, but before its arrival, Docklands was so run down it was used to stand in for war-torn Vietnam in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Even now, a glance at the evolving skyline of rivals such as Dubai or Shanghai suggests the capital is far from the rich person’s plaything and planning free-for-all it is claimed to be.
Should the City of London be dethroned in favour of more even development throughout metropolitan London and in the towns and cities beyond, or is the City the guarantor of development in the regions? Are critics simply guilty of populist banker-bashing, or does London risk becoming better known as a sterile business hang-out rather than a living and breathing cosmopolitan city? Does it matter if tall buildings symbolise disparities of wealth, or does the development of cities, no matter how uneven, benefit all of us?
Listen to session audio:
co-editor Future of Community: reports of a death greatly exaggerated; chair, IoI Social Policy Forum
director, British Future; former general secretary, Fabian Society
CEO, Clerkswell; author, The UK After The Recession
writer and journalist; author, Ground Control: fear and happiness in the twenty-first century city
associate director, Future Cities Project; architecture programme manager, British Council
On the eve of the Olympics, Justin McGuirk ponders the social and political consequences of London's white-hot real estate market and asks: what ever happened to the city that pioneered the modern ideal of social housing?Justin McGuirk, domus, 30 July 2012
Waning for decades, England’s big cities are growing fast againEconomist, 21 July 2012
Expensive, off-limits and owned by foreign investors – the Shard extends the ways in which London is becoming more unequalAditya Chakrabortty, Guardian, 25 June 2012
From London’s Shard to the Shanghai Tower, skyscrapers are shooting up – with apartments on their highest floorsEdwin Heathcote, Financial Times, 9 June 2012
There are few places so utterly implicated in our discontents as this symbol of the ludicrousness of 'trickle-down' economicsOwen Hatherley, Guardian, 15 May 2012
London’s separateness from the rest of Britain becomes more pronounced every yearNeil O'Brien, Spectator, 14 April 2012
Cambridge has very low levels of inequality, but this may be a sign of poor planning policy not economic successPaul Swinney, Guardian, 8 March 2012
Britain's streets have been transformed by the construction of new property - but it's owned by private corporations, designed for profit and watched over by CCTV. Have these gleaming business districts, mega malls and gated developments led to 'regeneration', or have they intensified social divisions and made us more fearful of each other?
Anna Minton, Penguin, 26 January 2012
London's new skyscraper is a monument to wealth and power run way out of control, a flashing warning sign of diseaseJonathan Jones, Guardian Comment is free, 19 August 2011
Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest manmade structure in history, stands in glorious contrast to the pessimism of the West.Karl Sharro, spiked, 8 January 2011
The Battle against the Fates
"There's a real sense of intellectual delight that so much can be discussed in just sixty minutes - and so thoughtfully - both by the speakers and especially by the audience. A rich feast of ideas."
Christopher Kelly, reader in Ancient History and Fellow and Director of Studies in Classics at Corpus Christi College