Scale and Massing
Central London is under enormous pressure for redevelopment, and we spend most of our time advising on or fighting large scale redevelopments.
We are principally concerned by developers trying to increase height and volume to an unreasonable extent. We understand that developers see increasing height as an easy way to make a greater profit in Central London. However the harm that such changes cause to our conservation areas cannot be overstated.
Our priority in assessing redevelopments is to ensure that the scale and massing of any proposed buildings are appropriate to the immediate neighbours and historic context.
The areas which we look after have been here for many centuries. We have to consider carefully how our actions today will affect the area many centuries hence, and this means that the height of a building increasing by only a few metres every decade can accumulate to vast increases in size over time, totally inappropriate for the appearance and character of the area. Although we accept that there is pressure for developers to increase height in Central London as a way to make greater profit within a given area, the public benefit of increased height is small and transient, whilst in the long run increased height can only harm the special character of our conservation areas.
It is unfortunate that during the post-war redevelopment of London, many inappropriately large buildings were built which harmed and continue to harm the setting of our conservation areas. Examples include the redevelopment of St Giles, or developments along Euston Road. These areas often lie just outside our conservation areas exactly because they were deemed to contribute negatively to the surrounding area.
These buildings, lying just outside our conservation areas, are usually the ones which we see with proposals for increased height. We do not believe that because a mistake has already been made, further mistakes should be permitted. We are generally likely to take a dim view of any proposals that increase height, and even if a proposal is otherwise positive, we will still raise an objection on grounds of increased height at the decision stage.
It is unfortunate that we are still growing out of a phase of architectural theory which held that new developments should be incongruous with their surroundings and should scorn public opinion. Neither of these things accord with the guiding principles of any CAAC, and architects should seek to draw inspiration from local buildings and architecture to ensure that their buildings are preserving, and hopefully enhancing the special character of the conservation area.
In our view, good design seeks to harmonise with the immediate and historic context, drawing on the materials, vertical hierarchy, solid-to-void ratio, and other things found in the surrounding architectural vocabulary.
Our conservation areas are composed mainly of classical buildings with some more rare occurrences of Gothic or even Arts and Crafts. We would particularly welcome buildings that are composed in these styles if the architect is trained in them, whichever being most appropriate to the local area. However we accept that these traditions are not always suited to large scale building and that architects are not often trained in these disciplines.
However it is not necessary for a building to be composed in a certain ‘style’ for it to enhance our conservation areas, even if there is a predominant style in the area. We welcome good, respectful, and contextual modern design over patchwork pastiche compositions.
We first and foremost expect new developments to use local materials. The architecture of our conservation areas is typically spoken in brick, which changes colour depending upon the era, along with stone which is predominantly Portland. Buildings are often faced in ‘stucco’ which we would nowadays call render. Windows are framed in wood, and roofs are typically slated. Iron, both cast and wrought, is often used, and generally painted in black. Glass is typically in small panes separated by horizontal and vertical muntin bars, with slight ripples due to historic methods of manufacturing glass.
Any development should make use of the materials used in the local area, and we would oppose any developments which seek to use totally inappropriate materials, such as PVC for windows and doors or steel for facing. Using local materials ensures that the special appearance of the local area is preserved. We would also expect things such as the proportion of solid to void in a façade to be consistent with buildings in the area. This means that in particular excessive glazing is inappropriate.
We are working on a much more comprehensive assessment of development proposals for our website currently.