The “Towers vs Mid-Rise” debate continues in London

Michael Mortensen, MA MCIP, RPP – a Vancouver Developer & Planner abroad |

“We are concerned about the immediate social and environmental impacts of very dense developments and their long-term sustainability. We also observe that this new superdensity – which we’ve dubbed hyperdensity when it’s over 350 homes or dwellings per hectare – derives, not from London’s distinctive and popular urban forms, but from global development patterns. We may well ask, is London becoming a victim of its own success, meeting demand by sacrificing the very distinctiveness which makes people want to live and work here?”

Superdensity The Sequel

I found this publication and thought it would be of interest to the current debates in Vancouver.

I think urban designers, citizens and city builders – like good artists – need a full range of colours on their palettes, and it is great to get perspectives from other places. London holds many good examples of high-density mid-rise buildings that we can take as inspiration for areas of Vancouver that can accommodate more housing, shops and amenities, but perhaps are not suitable for tower forms.

London also has cautionary examples of poor mid-rise design – what NOT to do – and I am thinking here of that city’s brutalist post-war super-blocks, and even some modern mid-rise buildings that do not really work well at the street level. I’ll perhaps do a little photo essay on that later.

Personally, I am not binary on the issue of high or mid-rise density. Londoners do not share our interests in ocean and mountain views, and they are quite comfortable squeezing buildings close together on narrow streets here in the UK – closer than we would in Vancouver. I also think Vancouver designers do high-rise development very well and I know from personal experience that you can create very happy communities in vertical living arrangements. London can learn a lot from Vancouver on how we tamed high rise buildings – ironically borrowing Georgian Townhouse typologies to create the lovely bases for our now famous “point tower on podium” form.

I know some of the principal architects at PTEA, HTA, and Levitt Bernstein here in London and I really like their work and that of PRP. Their joint publication below highlights some of the best in current Mid-Rise design in London from each their practices. Hope you enjoy perusing its pages.