Planning Inquiry Opens for The Tulip

John Hill
3. November 2020
Rendering of The Tulip when it was unveiled in November 2018 (Image: Foster + Partners)

November 3 is the beginning of a public inquiry for The Tulip, the 305-meter-tall "visitor attraction" designed by Foster + Partners for a site in the City of London directly next to Foster's earlier 30 St. Mary Axe.

The Tulip was unveiled in November 2018 as a "nature-inspired form" and "new public cultural attraction" with an educational facility, viewing galleries, and even gondola pod rides on the building's facade. Six months later it gained planning approval, but that celebration was short-lived, since London mayor Sadiq Khan rejected the tower in July 2019. While the approval cited the tower's potential role in boosting the economy and creating a 24/7 city, the mayor was concerned with the tower's appearance on the skyline, its impact on views of the nearby Tower of London, and the creation of "an unwelcoming, poorly-designed public space at street level."

An appeal by J. Safra Group, the tower's developer, and Norman Foster's namesake architecture firm followed in January of this year. Originally scheduled for June but delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the public inquiry is being held remotely, per the City of London, but is otherwise being run "in the normal way"... minus one noticeable change: Under government regulations, "the Appeal was to have been decided by a Planning Inspector," but given that "the Appeal relates to a proposal for a development of major importance, having more than local significance," it will be decided by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. 

Officially, the proposal for The Tulip, to be located on "land adjacent to 20 Bury Street London," consists of the "demolition of existing building and structures and construction of a building to a height of 305.3m AOD for a mixed-use visitor attraction," including viewing areas, an education/community facility, and restaurant/bar; a retail unit at ground floor; a new two-story pavilion building comprising the principal visitor attraction entrance with retail at ground floor level and a public roof garden; ancillary cycle parking, servicing, and plant, and alterations to the public realm.

This last piece, the public realm alterations, are highlighted in one of the more than 350 documents submitted as part of the planning application. As the below images pulled from one of the submitted documents indicates, the site is extraordinarily tight, with The Tulip tower and the new two-story pavilion taking over two corners of the irregular square plot. These illustrations also show that, while The Tulip has grabbed attention for the form of its top and the functions inside and upon it, the design of the pedestrian realm will have as much say in if the mayor's rejection is upheld or overturned.

Tulip: Public Open Space Comparisons, April 2019 (Source: City of London/PDF)
Tulip: Public Open Space Comparisons, April 2019 (Source: City of London/PDF)
Tulip: Public Open Space Comparisons, January 2019 (Source: City of London/PDF)
Tulip: Public Open Space Comparisons, January 2019 (Source: City of London/PDF)
Tulip: Public Open Space Comparisons, January 2019 (Source: City of London/PDF)
Tulip: Public Open Space Comparisons, January 2019 (Source: City of London/PDF)

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