Allowing greenfield development would
"wreck" London – Richard Rogers


Richard Rogers, photo by Andrew Zuckermann

News: relaxing planning restrictions on the green belt would destroy London's vitality "even more surely than it would despoil the countryside," architect Richard Rogers has warned.

"I do not say this as a rural nimby, though I treasure England’s natural landscape, but as a defender of cities," writes Rogers in the London's Evening Standard newspaper, arguing that the city's mix of jobs, shops, restaurants, parks and nightlife acts as "a magnet to people from across the globe."

"Letting the city sprawl would undermine this mix and intensity, reversing the rebirth of city-centre living," he warns, saying suburban sprawl not only leads to "social atomisation" but becomes "environmentally disastrous" as car journeys displace public transport.

To solve the UK's housing crisis, architects, planners and developers "need to show ingenuity" by redeveloping thousands of hectares of brownfield land as well as empty offices and houses across the country – but simply converting buildings is not enough, he argues.

"It will not create homes or communities unless intelligent urban design and planning also create the schools, shops and public transport hubs civilised life demands.

"And why should we rush to convert office blocks when we already have three-quarters of a million homes in England lying empty, and sites with planning permission for 400,000 more?"

According to homeless charity Shelter, the government's plan to build 150,000 "affordable" homes – priced below market rates – over four years will provide less than a third of what is needed, with over 1.7 million households currently on local authority housing waiting lists.

UK planning minister Nick Boles recently called for an area of countryside twice the size of Greater London to be built on in order to solve the growing housing crisis.

In the US, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg last year announced plans for "micro-unit" apartments to help solve the shortage of small homes in Manhattan, while San Francisco city chiefs have voted to allow the development of apartments as small as 20 square metres.

Rogers' firm recently completed a set of six-sided apartment blocks beside the Tate Modern art gallery in central London – see all projects by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners.

Photograph by Andrew Zuckerman.

  • beatrice

    I agree with him. But I would also like to add that the Pompidou Centre is one of the ugliest buildings in the world stuffed into what was a very beautiful location, wrecking it forever.

    I felt so sorry for the Parisians who had to bear the sight of filthy exposed pipes that should be contained within walls. It wrecked what was once a protected area just like the green belt. It has aged horribly, and is never cleaned because it cannot be.

    This surely is a NIMBY, as stated.

    • Beatroot

      Do you know how the building revitalised this location that used to be on a major decline, full of prostitutes?

      Do you know that in the 27 years in which the building has been open, it has become the most visited building in Europe and continues to attract some seven million visitors a year, more than the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower combined?

      Do you know that half of the total available site was set aside as a public square?

      You may feel sorry for Parisians. I on the other hand, feel sorry for your ignorance.

      • beatrice

        Nope. I know about all this and on paper it’s all good, but the reality is that it’s a very ugly and dirty building. It’s possible that you have never thought about this.

        There are other ways to clean up an area of prostitution/drug dealing without building something ugly. Kings Cross in London was just the same before the Eurostar arrived. They cleaned it up. The old buildings are still there. No great monster building arrived to magically transform the area.

        Have you visited the Pompidou? Have you seen how dirty it is? Look up. Look at the pipes. It is not possible to clean them. Look at the disgraceful toilets on the (public) ground floor. They are open to the world, openly (still) used for drug dealing and cottaging. Go in there. Smell it.

        If you think that the only solution to cleaning an area of a city is by invading it with a massive massive ugly unsympathetic eyesore then you, my friend, are the ignorant one. It’s never been fashionable to say the Pompidou is ugly, but I’d say that anyone today who likes it is just romanticising it blindly. Do you like big dirty pipes Aesthetically? Honestly? Do you really really really like the look of big dirty (once) colourful pipes that are too complicated/expensive to clean? Exactly, no. If this was your house, you would say “my god, how the hell am I ever going to clean it?” Be honest.

        Have you travelled up the escalators? Have you looked out of the plastic covering them? No. Because you can’t, because it’s so run down that the plastic is scuffed and yellowed with time. It’s not the luscious curved art nouveau glass found in the cafes round the corner, it’s cheap plastic that served it’s function for a brief moment in time and now should be stripped out. If you can’t admit that, then either you have not been there, or you are ignoring the fact that the building is so run down and tatty looking. It hasn’t aged well. It’s a dump. It was never built to look good for centuries, It’s a whim that lasted a short moment only, but now the local community is expected to endure it forever.

        I love contemporary architecture and if the Pompidou was built in Dubai I’d probably still visit it (possibly the Arabs would treat the toilets better than the chain smoking French public). But the fact is, it was injected into a place that looked beautiful. And now it looks awful. I’m sorry that you are blinded by the endless drivelling marketing of the building that was used to justify it’s existence. Tear it down and get something better looking up please. As I say, not a fashionable idea.

        A millennium project of the Italians (bless them) was not to build new buildings like the lovely O2 centre (the dome), but to mount massive cleaning operations of many ancient public buildings in many cities. This sort of thing doesn’t make front page Dezeen news.

  • John

    Look to Melbourne as an example of the problems that can arise from continually expanding an urban growth boundary. We now face a scenario where $10 billion is required to supply basic transportation and amenities to support housing estates on the rural fringe.