Cranleigh Arts Centre
West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
Changing Skyline Past, Present and Future
Report of the lecture given by Anthea Streeter MEd on 27th May 2009
kept our attention from the outset in this lecture. Roman 'Londinium' was an
important trading port and was surrounded by tall city walls. By the 5th
century the Anglo Saxons had arrived and renamed it 'Lundunvic' and founded St
Paul's. Then we moved forward to Edward the Confessor who built a monastery
dedicated to St Peter alongside Westminster Palace and the seat of government.
By 1077, William the Conqueror had built the Tower of London, using French
stone. London's skyline was developing fast.
By the 12th century London Bridge was built to replace the
Roman wooden one and permission was granted to erect buildings on it, including
the splendid Nonsuch House, in order to fund it. This was operated by The
Bridge House Estate, an institution still going today!
Then in 1666
London burnt like rotten sticks! It was a clean slate for Christopher Wren.
His original plan for wide boulevards with St Paul's at the centre was turned
down by the city planners. The height of buildings was limited to four storeys
as this was as high as was practical for a fire engine. There was also a ban on
timber! The wonderful classical buildings of this period were followed by the
medievalism of Barry and Pugin. Their St Stephen's Tower housing the bell Big
Ben and Victoria Tower at Westminster looked like early skyscrapers. Tower
Bridge was their design too.
By the beginning of the 20th
century architects were finding ways around the height limit by embellishing
rooflines with monumental structures to trick the eye. The 1920s - 30s saw
buildings like The Savoy Hotel built and Shellmex House with its slightly
Egyptian style Art Deco façade. It was in 1934 that Faraday House caused
such controversy at the loss of one of the six key sightlines of St Paul's which
had been in force since the building of the cathedral. However by the end of
World War 2 an aerial view of London portrayed utter desolation
another chance for a new and exciting skyline arose. Post war architects
progressed with angularity to concrete, steel and glass. Laws on height limits
were repealed. Richard Seifert used brilliant technology to overcome planning
constraints with Centre Point. He used pre-cast mouldings, boltable together on
site dispensing with the need for scaffolding. Then came green windows only to
be followed by the 'corporate cool' of dark brown.
By the 80s
architects started to avoid flat roofs, opt for cantilevers and reintroduce
curves. The Gherkin is a wonderful example of Sir Norman Foster's achievement
for open internal spaces encompassing all the needs of the modern computer age.
As to the future - there are The Pinnacle building by Koh Pendersen Fox (to be
finished in 2012), The Cheese Grater and The Walkie-Talkie building to name but
a few! All intended, however, to benefit rather than intrude on the skyline.
Anthea Streeter, in blue, in discussion after her lecture,
while bookings are carefully checked for future outings.