Tower descision causes context row

Wednesday 04 Jul 2007

Opponents see red as tower gets green light

One of London’s most contentious projects, the Vauxhall Tower, has been granted planning consent amid a furor of opposition.

John Prescott, UK’s former deputy Prime Minister has given planning permission for the project, designed by Broadway Malyan Architects even though his advisors suggested that he should refuse it as the 600ft tower of flats would be damaging to views of the Palace of Westminster World Heritage Site. His advisors also complained that it could cause harm to surrounding conservation sites and its provision of affordable housing would not be adequate.

Only Mayor Ken Livingstone, the government's Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) supported the proposal. It is now highly unlikely that the decision could now be reversed.

Richard Coleman, one of the key consultants involved in drawing up London’s Strategic View Management Framework feels strongly about the project, “The Vauxhall Tower decision is a disaster. CABE fouled up, the Mayor did his usual ‘higher is always better’, the inspector refused it [but for the wrong reasons] and Prescott blundered in to override his own direct advice. In my view, tall buildings should never be that close to the river’s edge, and tall buildings should excel in design which this doesn’t. Unlike the inspector, I do not believe it does harm to the setting of the World Heritage Site, though it does intrude into views out of the space between the WHS elements, a space that is in fact, outside the boundary of the WHS. This intrusion is not harmful and is much smaller than the intrusion made by the listed, modern Millbank Tower, about which nobody has ever publicly complained and which was there when the site was first inscribed by ICOMOS.”

Context aside, the Vauxhall Tower has a number of environmental features which the architects claim have never been brought together on this scale before. Energy reduction is achieved by three main methods. Firstly the façade is triple glazed, to minimize the impact that outside temperature will have on the building. Secondly each apartment contains a winter garden with no internal heating or cooling and thirdly a number of practical initiatives such as lower energy lighting and recycling programmes will also be implemented.

Much of the reduced energy that is required is obtained from wind and water sources. At the top of the Vauxhall Tower a corkscrew wind turbine will generate enough energy to power lighting in all the common parts of the building. Water will be drawn from London’s aquifer deep underground and passed through heat exchange technology. In the winter, heat is extracted from the water and used to heat the apartments. In the summer, heat is pumped into the water so cooling the apartments. As a result of these initiative, Vauxhall Tower will required only one third of the gas or electricity that an equivalent all electric building will generate, or half that of an equivalent conventional gas/electric building.

Importantly, all the lessons learned from this technology and its use in Vauxhall Tower will be shared with the construction and development industry, so that future projects can benefit from this approach.

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United Kingdom

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