Gerard Heumann

A proposal for a viable tall buildings and density policy

Britain’s leading think tank – “Policy Exchange” based in London, thinks new standards, legally binding, for guiding and controlling tall building developments are urgently needed. These are set out in their recent publication entitled “Tall Buildings: A Policy Framework for Responsible High-Rise & Better Density” authored by Architect Ike Ikeh.

The main points:
Location; relation to context – tall buildings should not be built in sensitive historic locations.
Beauty and Design: policy to ensure that the very highest standards of design quality and architectural skill are applied to high-rise proposals.

Heritage: demands the highest level of protection for historic assets, local, national and World Heritage Sites, ensuring that these assets suffer no harm from the realization of high-rise developments. The proposed requirement seeks to assure that welcome economic growth does not impact historic character.

Views: a system for protecting local and strategic views.

Public Consultation: all tall building proposals above 60 meters (about 20 stories) will require a public vote as an indicator of public opinion which can weigh heavily for or against any tall building proposal.

Alternative Viability: demands of developers of all tall buildings to explore mid-rise alternatives and prove that mid-rise alternatives do not deliver higher densities than their high-rise proposals.

While the population of London is that of all Israel and the English cultural and political climate very different from ours, the core problems of high-rise buildings as well as responsible solutions for achieving economic urban density are the very same.

The problems of tall buildings are innumerable, their chaotic unplanned proliferation – urban anarchy. Their impact on the vibrancy of the public realm. Anti- social within and without. Unsuited to families with young children. Too many of them eyesores, oblivious of their context. Architectural heritage seen as an annoyance, preservation guidelines often ignored. They destroy the character of their settings. High construction, operation and maintenance costs. Microclimate issues. There’s more…

Underlying Ikeh’s primary alternative solution is the model of Paris and Barcelona, beautiful cities intensively built with Mid-Rise, continuous building, stacked horizontally. Affordable, less costly to build and maintain. Social and of human scale. Maximizing public benefit. Sustainable. Proportional to the streetscape, enabling a far better relation to the urban context. He proves conclusively that tall buildings are not the solution to urban density.

Israel, its culture of conformity clearly reflected in the tsunami of poorly designed residential towers flooding all of our cities, is obviously in desperate need of new planning regulations. We cannot continue to allow real-estate markets without morals to govern our urban future. Architect Ikeh’s thoughtful, detailed and well-written proposals merit our most serious study and consideration.

About the Author
Gerard Heumann is an architect and town planner in Jerusalem.