Industry eye

The following article has been written by Kristina Smith, former Editor of Construction Manager.

Emperor’s new clothes?

A team of designers have spent nine months working out how they can halve the cost of iconic skyscrapers in London. This is what they came up with: rectangular floor plates rather than curvy profiles and standardised facades. Why didn’t they just ask a contractor?

Central London, it seems, is the most expensive place to build high rise buildings in the world. The cost of shell and core there outstrips those in Melbourne, New York, the Middle East, the Far East and even Canary Wharf.

So Sir Stewart Lipton – the veteran developer who created central London’s Broadgate – challenged the designers to halve the cost from £250/ft2 to £125/ft2, whilst making buildings more sustainable, more efficient and longer-lasting.

They didn’t quite do it, getting the costs down to between £136/ft2 and £154/ft2. Here’s what they reckon to have saved on: regular floor plates 15%; standardised facades around 10%. It’s not really clear where the other 15% came from - surely not all from reduced design fees?

How are they going to convince top city tenants to ditch the shiny, shapely facades in favour of these bland boxes? By telling them that ‘functional is the new iconic’ apparently: in tough times, with Corporate Social Responsibility high on the agenda, it’s just not clever to base yourself in a flashy office building.

Ken Shuttleworth of Make, the creator of the curvaceous and definitely iconic Gherkin, was one of the first architects to herald the start of this new functional era: buildings designed from the inside out rather than from the outside in.

One of Shuttleworth’s latest designs is 5 Broadgate, a huge new home for Swiss bank UBS in central London. It is certainly big and blocky; one architectural critic described it as an ‘aloof fortress’.

In order to build this monster, developers British Land and Blackstone must first demolish two offices that were built only 20 years ago. That doesn’t sound very sustainable to me. The good news is that developing the new building will bring 5,000 construction jobs over five years.

So perhaps, after all, we should be grateful to these developers and designers for their ‘Emperors new clothes’-type discoveries. Because what they lead to, at the end of the day, is more new buildings.