Ever wondered why there are so many skyscrapers in the Square Mile? Eighty years ago the Protected Vistas initiative was implemented to preserve views of important London buildings from public parks and spaces. As a result, planning permission for tall buildings has only been authorised where the sightline to St Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Palace is not impeded, ultimately shaping the urban fabric of the capital and causing a higher volume of skyscrapers in the city.
But with just 13 registered protected views, only four of which are from South London – Richmond, Greenwich, Blackheath, and City Hall – and the fact hundreds of buildings over 20 storeys have been sanctioned throughout London, the National Trust launched The Imminent Diorama. Wanting to ‘celebrate and preserve important view points within the city’, they’ve collaborated with Bompas & Parr and the Horniman Museum and Gardens, asking artists and architects through an open call to envision what London will look like in the future. Eight entries have now been chosen and will be presented in an immersive installation throughout November.
Designed by multi-sensory designers Bompas & Parr, the giant diorama will be situated in the Horniman’s Garden, which boasts one of the most stunning but unprotected views of London. Inside will be the eight winning designs printed onto sheets of acetate that will cover the current view of London when operated by visitors.
‘The Imminent Diorama will bring together contrasting artistic points of view in one engaging, thought-provoking and interactive installation, allowing members of the public to “leaf through” the final collection in front of the actual view from the Horniman’s Gardens,’ said Sam Bompas of Bompas & Parr.
Here, we profile the eight entries chosen by the National Trust and Bompas & Parr that you’ll be able to experience through the diorama.
Barcelona-born London-based illustrator, Agustin Coll envisages London being taken over by satirical architectural characters: ‘As towers keep shooting up in London, panoramic views are becoming increasingly rare and valuable for the local community. This illustration, called “Global Warming 2097”, plays around with architecture to satirise a dystopian future in which rising sea levels and temperatures will have turned London into a tropical beach resort. Only those living in private high-rise developments will have the exclusive enjoyment of something as basic as a sunset, to the detriment of the communities living further out of the city centre. Symbolised by St Paul’s cathedral, the centrepiece of London’s protected views, this illustration aims at highlighting the importance of an experience that is publicly enjoyed from buildings that are opened to everyone.’
Design Haus Liberty
The award-winning architecture and interiors practice Design Haus Liberty, founded by Harvard University graduate Dara Huang, has considered how we need to reimagine the use of space in London: ‘We’re running out of space in London. Therefore we must look to grow above and below ground. Through strategic location of skyscrapers and underground scrapers, traffic will be relocated to tunnels below the city and new opportunities for urban parks will arise. The present skyline cluster which is currently planned around converging lines and corridors that protect views of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and the Monument, will be spread to leave vertical pockets within the new city. These vertical pockets will emphasize the protected views even more, taking them into a 3rd dimension, acting as a spotlight on the monuments!’
Current MA Architecture student at Westminster University, Duncan Catterall portrays a London engulfed in a thick haze of yellow smog: ‘This vision imagines a future where climate change has caused a drastic increase in hurricane activity, the world’s equator has become more extreme and the subsequent storms cause a large volume of sand to be ejected into the atmosphere basking London in an orange hue. All the while London’s skyline pushes upwards as the city becomes ever more densely populated. St Paul’s is now the only historic building still visible from the Horniman’s Gardens.’
Lee Playle, Scamp Factory
Lee Playle is passionate about illustration and runs his own illustration and design business, Scamp Factory. Playle has envisioned London as a doomed metropolis of consumerism: ‘It’s 2097 and Dystopian London is under increasing threat from violent electrical storms and excessive rainfall. Consequently, a giant immersive umbrella has been developed not only to protect the hub of our vibrant capital but also to feed its thirst for consumerism.’
Studio Octopi pride themselves on creating architecture that’s committed to the social, cultural and historical context of its location. Established in 2003 by James Lowe and Chris Romer-Lee, Studio Octopi offer a bright and positive London skyline: ‘It’s 2098 – London has finally built itself out of the housing crisis; the centre has densified, outer boroughs have built up and key workers once again enjoy the city in which they live. London is a joyous city of sprawling leisure parks and integrated live-work spaces and now looks to the future. Planning policy focuses on enriching the lives of all of its citizens and celebrating modern achievements. Instead of protecting views of the icons of yesteryear this new London frames views to the Shard, the new debating tower at Westminster, the 2050 Tower of Culture and the world’s tallest co-living building.’
Collective Works LLP
Built on ‘transparency, collaboration and communication’, Homerton-based architecture and design studio Collective Works LLP predominantly deliver residential and community projects in London and Norway. For The Imminent Diorama they’ve proposed that you’ll have to pay to see certain views of London: ‘The views of St. Pauls were only given policy status in 1980 – well before the digital revolution, with this in mind we want to turn the assumption of them being blocked by actual physical buildings, on its head. In addition to the unrelenting development we are also faced with giant tech companies and the ownership of data, not dissimilar to “public” spaces evaporating silently into the hands of corporations. Ultimately the threat we believe these views are facing is two- fold. Are these views public or private? Playing with the notion of “protected” our idea is rooted in the concept of censorship via augmented reality which is partly dystopian, partly utopian. If it is perceived as an asset, it could be used to generate revenue thus creating a model where the views must be paid for. Even if everyone could afford the view – like a £0.99 app – is it really public?’
Carl Turner Architects
Another award-winning architectural studio, Carl Turner Architects create thought-provoking architectural projects and have imagined a watery future for the capital: ‘London 2097. It is a wonderful day in the English Archipelago – through the clean air one can easily see the ships passing through the sunk City of London and if we look carefully, we can even spot the tip of St Paul’s above the waves. It is a proud day for the Horniman Museum, awaiting the opening of its new open-water enclosure complementing its famous Aquarium. Who would have guessed things would turn out so well: Having fought long and hard to preserve its visual connection to London against encroaching high rises and housing estates, the sudden rise in sea levels offered a most welcome solution. Not only did the Horniman Museum gain an unobstructed view to the remaining Islands of London, its prominent position on the new shoreline has earned it the Royal Pier, and the first regular submarine connection to Notting Hill.’
The South London-based freelance illustrator David Bray has exhibited all over the world since graduating from Central St. Martins. Here, he anticipates that London’s skyline will have dramatically disappeared: ‘London in 80 years is choked by pollution, a thick black smog engulfs everything. Only the superrich can afford to live on the platforms that sit high above the city. There is everything there from apartments, leisure centres, to nature reserves. The nature reserve has a wooded plantation upon it to draw in fresh oxygen. There is a London Over Overground station for access from the Below for workers to serve the superrich. Architects have free rein to design and build anything they desire as there is no history visible, the skyline is a free for all.’
The Imminent Diorama: Visions of Future London is free to visit at the Horniman Museum and Gardens, 100 London Road, Forest Hill, London SE23 3PQ from Monday November 13 to Sunday November 26, 2017.