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The politics of design: architecture, tall buildings and the skyline of central London

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After 2000 a handful of very tall buildings were approved in central London, a circumstance that challenged well-established planning practices in that part of the city. Their promotion by Ken Livingstone, the mayor, but opposition to them by conservation groups, seemed to signal a fierce campaign ahead; in fact, it was all over in an instant. This article examines how this debate was framed to dismiss the arguments and concerns of those who oppose tall buildings. To make tall buildings acceptable, London's mayor drew on the merits associated with iconic architecture and high-profile architects. Under Livingstone's incumbency tall buildings were affirmed by the expertise and clout of global architects who provided legitimacy for mayoral ambitions to reach for the sky. Stressing the significance of high-quality design and iconic architecture helped to wear down deep-rooted antagonism and to channel the debate to improving the aesthetic qualities of London, a goal that enjoys wide consensus.

Keywords: London; global architects; iconic architecture; skyline; tall buildings; urban design

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Haifa, Mount Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel, Email:

Publication date: June 1, 2007

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