Spare the Rod

Foster + Partners’ tower-topping Tulip may be delayed over aviation concerns

Architecture International News
Rendering of The Tulip next to Central London's skyscrapers (DBOX/Foster + Partners)
Rendering of The Tulip next to Central London's skyscrapers (DBOX/Foster + Partners)

The internet was aflame last week after Foster + Partners and the development company J. Safra Group revealed plans for the tallest building in Central London, a skyline-busting observation tower with a suggestive shape that would overshadow the Gherkin. Although planning documents for the Tulip have already been submitted, the London City Airport has requested that construction not move ahead until an assessment of the tower’s impact on the airport’s radar systems was conducted.

The 1,000-foot-tall observation tower would resemble a sprouted version of the adjacent Gherkin, with a bulbous glass pod balanced atop a solid concrete core. At 984 feet up, visitors would be able to take in London (and much further beyond) in 360-degree views from a series of internal observation decks, as well as glass gondola pods that would rotate on an exterior track.

Thrill seekers can ride in glass pods around the building's exterior.

Thrill-seekers could ride in glass pods around the building’s exterior. (DBOX/Foster + Partners)

Those sky-high Ferris wheels are cause for concern, according to the London City Airport (LCY). In a letter submitted to the City of London yesterday, Jack Berends, technical operations coordinator for the airport asked that: “Construction shall not commence until an assessment has been carried out on the impact of this development on the radar coverage.”

Skyscrapers can impact radar results, either hiding real objects or creating the impressions of aircraft where there aren’t any. Modern radar systems are generally capable of differentiating buildings from actual moving objects, but the airport fears the moving gondolas will throw off the safeguards such systems have in place.

A fly-through of London’s Tulip from The Architect’s Newspaper on Vimeo.

“No part of the proposed development or associated construction activities shall commence until LCY is satisfied that there will be no reduction of the integrity of the current instrument landing system in use at London City Airport,” said Berend in the letter.

The airport maintained that it would be closely coordinating with the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority to resolve the issue. Construction of the Tulip was expected to begin in 2020, with a 2025 opening date.

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the J. Safra Group told AN that: “As part of the planning process, interested parties have the opportunity to respond to the proposals and raise any questions or seek clarification. We look forward to working collaboratively with London City Airport, and other stakeholders, to work through planning matters during the current consultation period.”

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