Living in Tall Buildings: lessons for London


A recent Insight Study from New London Architecture into tall buildings in London has revealed that there are over 230 tall towers in the pipeline and the vast majority will be for residential use. This study has received substantial media attention perhaps because this new wave of towers feels like an alien invasion. Before people have decided whether towers are a friendly alien or not, they've already taken over. Unlike cities in Asia and Latin America, high density living has not featured prominently in the UK and perceptions remain tarnished by the memories of previous waves of high rise development, like the social housing schemes of the 1960s and Canary Wharf in the 1990s. And the situation isn't helped by the fact that the planning system is currently ill-prepared to deal with this largely foreign typology.

Taking place as a collaboration between Social Life, NLA and Cisco we are inviting city leaders, academics, planners and designers from cities across the globe to explore what makes tall towers livable. Using Cisco's video conferencing technology, a live roundtable discussion will be held with representatives from Copenhagen, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore and Seoul. This event is part of the Social Life of Cities collaboration, a partnership between Cisco and Social Life that is bringing together a network of cities to explore different ways in which the lived experience of residents can become central to the future of urban development.

A lot is already known about building tall towers, planning for high density living and even sustainable vertical urbanism. But what is currently missing from these debates is an understanding of what makes towers work as places where people want to live and where neighbourhoods can thrive.

As high-rise living becomes more commonplace in London, it is important to learn from the successes and failures of places across the globe with much more experience in this area. In the book High Rise Living in Asian Cities (2010) it is stressed that residential satisfaction is a multi-dimensional, complex concept, influenced by the buildings attributes, the communal spaces and most importantly, socio-cultural perceptions. For this reason, "psychological influences can sometimes be more important than the physical and functional place factors". And when thinking about social dynamics, how will these towers build on the existing neighbourhoods they are embedded into? How will residents be able to adapt their homes and communal areas and facilities over time to accommodate changing needs, lifestyles and family structures? How will communities be built within the towers to ensure people feel a sense of security and belonging? Before we start building, a real dialogue around these issues is needed.

The event 'Living in Tall Buildings: what can London learn from the rest of the world?' will take place on 10th April 2014. This event is not public however the findings will be available at a later date. For more information contact

A video of the roundtable event can be seen here and a write of from NLA here.