A map, tucked away on the GLA’s London Plan website, reveals graphically the legally “protected vistas” in London – generally views from certain parks in London of St Paul’s Cathedral or the Houses of Parliament. Planning laws disallow tall buildings that would impede on such views – either directly blocking the view, or significantly changing the landscape of the iconic building’s backdrop.
It is the principal reason behind the clustering of skyscrapers in only certain parts of the Square Mile, aka the City of London. Generally, buildings nearer the cathedral are lower (otherwise you end up with something like this.) One skyscraper, currently under construction, is the Leadenhall Building, also known as the Cheesegrater. It “leans back” from the road, as it increases in height, in order to minimise its impact on the background of the view of St Paul’s Cathedral from Fleet Street – not apparently defined as a protected view, but nonetheless a classic one.
There is also a map showing a number of other central London views, mainly across the River Thames, that are part of the View Protection Framework. It’s not just old buildings that have views to them protected – the view across the river from the Embankment to the 1950’s South Bank buildings is also included.
One of my favourite London views, although not protected as it doesn’t include St Paul’s Cathedral or the Houses of Parliament, is the one from the hill in the middle of Brockwell Park, just south of Brixton. I wonder also if, in time, the “iconic” skyscrapers of the City of London, such as the Gherkin, will themselves become protected?
Further details, of the considerations of views when designing tall buildings in London, are given on pages 257-264 of the London Plan. There are also some newer documents, with more details of the exact views being protected, with various maps and photographs, available on the GLA planning website.