London is renowned for its mix of historic and modern architecture to create a skyline that is dynamic and awe-inspiring. Head up to the top of the Shard and you can feel on top of the city with clear views across the capital. You can enjoy Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral alongside Norman Foster’s ultra-modern Gherkin building. This juxtaposition of architecture makes the big smoke a wonderful city to explore. However, this doesn’t mean that London’s skyline isn’t constantly evolving.

History of London Architecture

London, itself, is borne out of a series of small villages that morphed to create a large metropolis of a capital city. This means there is no single architectural style that defines the city. Westminster Abbey sits neatly alongside the Tate Modern, and the Shard juxtaposes comfortably next to the Houses of Parliament.

As the skyline evolves, taller buildings are being welcomed to the London skyline. Skyscrapers are already the norm in cities like Tokyo, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur and New York. Now, London seems to be falling for the seductive techniques of the skyscraper as the population increases and ground space is at a minimum.

How Is London Changing?

Many of London’s premium buildings are relatively low rise, from the galleries and museums to the luxury hotels and office blocks in the city. Many of the more historic buildings are protected with covenants and the heritage of the city remains paramount to local authorities and residents alike. Some areas actually have restrictions on skyscrapers being built to protect the integrity of the current skyline so people can continue to view the dome of St Paul’s in all its splendour.

The range of architectural styles is vast, from the sixteenth century Shakespearean Globe Theatre to the urban aesthetic of the Barbican Centre. Skyscrapers have been welcomed into the financial districts of the city. The Heron Tower, Leadenhall Building and Tower 42 make up an integral part of the city centre. At over 300 metres, the Shard has become an iconic building in the centre of London and it is the UK’s tallest building. The spires of local London churches inspired the Shard’s shape and structure. It houses restaurants, viewing points and offices to make it accessible and a viable way of transforming London into a more vertical city. It even has a ground-level connection to London Bridge Station.

Future Buildings

To qualify to be a skyscraper, a building needs to be over 14 floors. London still only has a double-figure tally when it comes to high-rises. Many people deem this as a hindrance to London, making it inferior to other cities in the world, like Los Angeles and Shanghai. Others see it as an asset, as London has chosen to retain its unique heritage and stunning skyline rather than succumb to the allure of the skyscraper.

236 high-rise buildings were approved in 2014 meaning that the skyline of London will be changing in the coming years. At up to seventy-five storeys high, these buildings will be visible for miles around. Tower Hamlets is the borough with the most skyscrapers approved at 93. The Landmark Pinnacle at seventy-five floors will become the tallest residential building in Europe.


By 2050, more than 11 million people are expected to reside in the capital. This means more residential and commercial buildings will be needed. For many, the only way is up. With limited square footage on the ground, skyscraper style architecture will need to be utilised. In the past, social housing, poverty, and high crime rates have been associated with high rise residential dwellings. They are now being revolutionised for the twenty-first century.

Architects are choosing to turn the tower block on its head to create something more attractive and aspirational for London residents. Boris Johnson approved the building of South Quay Plaza in 2015 – a magnificent 68 storey tower block to become a premium residential building. With iconic high rise housing, London is leading the way with its changing skyline to suit its developing demographic.

Are Skyscrapers Good For London?

Only 24 skyscrapers were built in London between 2000 and 2014. However, there is now expected to be a surge in skyscraper approvals and building in the coming years. Property and construction industries are seeing an increase of interest when it comes to taking on projects that involve high rise buildings.

Many people deem the emergence of skyscrapers as a blight on the skyline. They feel like too many will cause the aesthetic of London’s skyline to be lost. The architectural heritage of the capital is a vital part of London’s identity and residents and visitors alike don’t want this to be thrown aside just to generate a property boom.

Authorities are trying to combat this by protecting the skyline of the city and planning protected viewing corridors. This means that from these places, the dynamism and eclectic nature of London’s skyline will remain. People will still be able to see the historic buildings alongside the mid-century architecture and the postmodern experiments. Regulating the building of these skyscrapers is crucial and authorities are applying stringent criteria to ensure all buildings meet legislative requirements.

Placing a large high rise in front of Big Ben simply isn’t going to happen. The juxtaposition of London’s skyline will remain as will its awe and wonder. To solve a population problem, London needs to go higher, but this can be done without damaging the historic integrity of the skyline of the capital. Built sympathetically, these new skyscrapers will actually add to the cultural heritage of London’s skyline views.

Find “Architects Near Me”

Image: Two of James Burns’ images taken from the same angle in 2009 and 2019 show the city’s transformation in the last decade with The Gherkin now completely. Credit: Bav Media. See more at

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