Cardiff Should Follow London's Blueprint to Create Architectural Masterpieces; Some of London's Most Iconic Buildings May Never Have Been Built without the Legal Skills of Russell Harris QC, as Robert Llewellyn Jones Discovered

Article excerpt

Byline: Russell Harris ; Robert Llewellyn

Y OU would have to be dull of soul not to recognise the majesty of the Shard of Glass building currently being constructed at London Bridge.

When finished the Shard will be Europe's tallest building, standing 310 metres (1,017ft) tall, and is about to bring transformational change to the area, unimaginable a decade ago.

No single building will have had such a significant effect on a London neighbourhood since 1991, when 1 Canada Square was built in Docklands. But it may not have risen at all were it not for the legal acumen of Pontlottyn-born Russell Harris QC, who has appeared in almost all of the recent Tall Building inquiries and has developed a special expertise in presenting cases involving world-class architects and architecture.

He recalls that back in the mid-1980s there was a certain fear in the City of London about tall buildings, despite such structures appearing on the skylines of Frankfurt, Chicago and New York.

In London the concern was over skyscrapers' impact on St Paul's Cathedral and other important churches and buildings. But there soon came a realisation that the Square Mile was running out of space and developers looked east to Canary Wharf where there were fewer constraints on the development of tall buildings.

"The developers of Canary Wharf decided they would go big and tall," Mr Harris said.

"As soon as they did the large legal firms and big banks wanted to go to the tall buildings."

It meant, he explained, that the City had to reconsider its position and it was about this time, in the late 1990s, they started to support the development of a cluster of tall buildings on the north-east fringes of the City.

Here Mr Harris breaks off from his narrative to pay tribute to the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, whose wish it was that London be seen as a world city and saw the City of London as key to that.

"He was always on the side of the bankers, irrespective of his politics," he said.

It was against this background that the first building for many years above 40 storeys was built - the now iconic structure known as the Gherkin. Speaking as one involved in the construction's legal aspects, Mr Harris said: "It was thought for a long time that this would be a one-off, but shortly after that came the inquiry into Heron Tower, in which I was involved. After a long and protracted fight with English Heritage and an expensive public inquiry, consent was granted and it set the tone for those buildings that have followed.

"You now have the even taller Pinnacle building, known as the Helter Skelter, and further south 20 Fenchurch Street, which is the only building in Europe that gets noticeably fatter as it gets taller and leans out over the river.

"That set the scene for tall buildings becoming a more integral part of the London skyline and was driven by the City wanting to keep up with Canary Wharf."

And with the cachet that came with the tallest structures it was not long before other parts of London were clamouring for such developments. Mr Harris explained: "The more impoverished parts of London began to see what tall buildings like the Gherkin were doing to the areas around the City. It was noticeable that the areas around them regenerated themselves significantly. So the councils to the south began to look at tall buildings as a tool of regeneration, a beacon of investment and that's where the Shard of Glass was born."

The key feature, he believes, about the Shard of Glass is that the scheme involved one of Europe's best architects, Enzo Piano, who had been involved in the creation of the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

"He designed not only the Shard but the area around it, which includes London Bridge Station and the surrounding streets," he said.

"It will house 10,000 workers, a five-star hotel and 10 luxury apartments. …