London embraces skyline living

London, with its cobbled lanes and leafy Victorian avenues, has long resisted the lure of a futuristic skyline - until now.

October 19, 2015

Densely populated cities – from New York to Dubai and Hong Kong – depend on high rise living. But London, with its cobbled lanes and leafy Victorian avenues, has long resisted the lure of a futuristic skyline.

Building legislation kept the capital relatively low-rise for much of the 20th century and, even after the rules were relaxed in the 1960s and 1980s, few skyscrapers were built until the turn of the millennium.

When iconic buildings like The Gherkin, The Shard and Heron Tower came along, they were destined for offices and high-end restaurants –not housing. But that’s set to change. There are at least 39 residential towers of 40 or more storeys due for completion in the next 10 years.

Why is London’s skyline rising so quickly?

London competes with cities like New York, Tokyo and Hong Kong for investment dollars and workforce talent. Adam Challis, Head of Residential Research at JLL, thinks London’s upward trajectory is partly fueled by keeping up with the competition. “Globalization is a big factor. The fabric of London is historic, but we see what’s happening in countries like Singapore and the new cities in China and we want to compete.” 

Secondly, demand for housing far outstrips supply, especially across Greater London. The Mayor’s office estimates London’s population is rising by 42,000 households every year. Many of the new towers in the pipeline are being constructed on ‘brownfield’ sites including surplus public land in an effort to inject more housing into a slow market.

“London desperately needs more housing,” says Andrew Frost, Head of Residential at JLL UK. “But crucially it needs the right type of housing in the right locations. Utilising brownfield land in urban areas almost guarantees the housing delivered will be in the right kinds of locations. So building towers for the right people, at the right prices and in the right places will certainly help to deliver more homes for London.”

Challis adds: “Certainly in outer London, there’s a need for more housing. Building up can deliver more units when land is restricted, so it makes sense.” These skyscrapers aren’t a quick fix, either. They’re intended to stand for a century or more. “Developers think carefully about how these towers will look in 100 years’ time, both on the interior and exterior,” he explains.

Living in a high-rise apartment may be glamorous, but for some, it has its setbacks; small, cramped rooms, proximity to neighbors and a lack of outdoor space. Developers are countering those concerns with exclusive perks for their residents. The high-end towers in the center of London often include luxuries such as a concierge, a private bar, pool, gym and spa.

For developments further away from the center, unit price becomes much more important; residents on the outer edges of London are likely to be tempted by extras such as a pool or gym, but they’re less inclined to pay high charges for services they don’t want or need, such as a concierge.

The view from the top

Although high-rise living is still less common in Europe than in Asian cities, it’s accepted as a necessity of life in London’s busy urban jungle. As house prices continue to rise, ordinary Londoners are forced to move to the outer regions – lengthening their commutes considerably. Tower living gives them an alternative.

Challis explains: “People in London want to be as close to their workplace as they can, so an affordable one-bed flat in a tower meets their needs. As residential towers become the norm, we can expect even more to be built in future.”