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Monday, June 10, 2019, 13:31
Tiptoe Through the Tulip
By China Daily Lifestyle Premium
Monday, June 10, 2019, 13:31 By China Daily Lifestyle Premium

Foster + Partners’ controversial new London tower gets planning approval

Aerial mock-up of The Tulip as it towers over London

We always thought tulips were from Amsterdam, though let’s not forget that the Dutch tulip mania of the 17th century was the original market bubble that precipitated a huge crash. But now, in a place little related to the flower, an architectural tulip has just been granted planning approval by the City of London Corporation. The structure will rise higher than any of the current crop of slender supermodels in the capital and will sit adjacent Foster + Partners’ Stirling Prize-winning skyscraper at 30 St Mary Axe, also known as The Gherkin. That’s both ironic and fortuitous; Foster is also building The Tulip and both properties have the same developer, J Safra Group. 

“The Tulip is in the spirit of London as a progressive, forward-thinking city. It offers significant benefits to Londoners and visitors as a cultural and social landmark, with unmatched educational resources for future generations”

—Norman Foster

This icon-to-be of the increasingly crowded capital cityscape, a 305.3-metre-tall concrete shaft topped by glass viewing platforms, will provide panoramic views of London, with restaurants, conference centres and exhibition spaces. It will become a “symbol in its own right”, according to renowned Foster + Partners founder Norman Foster, and not unlike its neighbour in some respects. “Like The Gherkin nearly 20 years ago, it is inevitably controversial,” he says. “But like The Gherkin, it has the possibility of being a symbol beyond its host city.”

Since the turn of the millennium, London’s immense skyline has grown to incorporate high-rise towers reflective of its global financial weight. The City of London Corporation has been driving proposals to enliven the Square Mile by creating a Culture Mile with world-class tourist facilities; up to now, however, the area has always been somewhat dour and unimaginative. 

Certainly, the viewing galleries will offer visitors an engaging and novel experience. Sky bridges, internal glass slides and gondola pod rides on the building’s facade will no doubt be a huge draw. Complementing that will be the obligatory restaurants and sky bar, offering 21st-century metropolitans a vista beyond compare. 

But it’s not all touristic, as Foster’s playing a large philanthropic hand, too. The big sell is the “classroom in the sky” educational facility, which would include 20,000 free places for London’s state-school children each year. This educational resource, provided by the J Safra Group, will deliver national curriculum topics using innovative tools to bring the city’s history and dynamism to life, inspiring the creative minds of tomorrow. 

And, of course, today’s bottom-line considerations. Consulting firm Deloitte estimates the project would yield economic benefits to London amounting to nearly £1 billion in monetised value by 2045, along with 600 additional permanent full-time jobs over 20 years of operations. 

But the floral-inspired structure has also met with fierce criticism. Detractors have highlighted the tower’s unorthodox shape and soaring height, which risks encroaching on numerous other iconic views, such as the Tower of London, just a ten-minute stroll away. Historic Royal Palaces claims “The Tulip’s design would make it the most visually intrusive element” in London’s Culture Mile district and that “its effect would be both major and adverse”. 

What is clear is that for such a statement-maker, The Tulip’s soft bud-like form and minimal building footprint reflects its reduced resource use, with high-performance glass and optimised building systems reducing its energy consumption. Heating and cooling is provided by zero-combustion technology, while integrated photovoltaic cells generate energy on-site. 

Get ready to ride the ultimate gondola

In a poll conducted by online forecaster ComRes, 65% of Londoners said The Tulip would be an attractive addition to London’s skyline, while 69% thought it would have a positive impact on “the city’s attractiveness as a visitor and cultural destination”. Foster + Partners anticipates construction to begin in 2020 and for the project to finish in 2025. 

“The Tulip is in the spirit of London as a progressive, forward-thinking city,” says Foster. “It offers significant benefits to Londoners and visitors as a cultural and social landmark, with unmatched educational resources for future generations.” How far the English rose has travelled, indeed.

Looking down from the atrium

The “classroom in the sky” is set to offer 20,000 free places for London’s state-school children each year

Images: © DBOX for Foster + Partners

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