Interview with Lee Polisano, President of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF)

‘RE-INVIGORATING CITIES FOR THE FUTURE’

By Paul Strohm, UK Editor in Chief of Europe Real Estate

Twenty years ago the idea that a single new tall building could be developed in the UK’s financial capital, the City of London, seemed a fairly remote possibility. Over the years one or two buildings had slipped through the planning net, such as the NatWest Tower and the Lloyd’s of London building. The idea that a group of such buildings would be forthcoming would at that time have been regarded as fantasy. Today’s reality is that the demand for office space is forcing the city to a cluster of new high-rise buildings. KPF (Kohn Pedersen Fox), one of the leading architects firms in the world is working on two of those high-rise buildings, namely Bishopsgate Tower an investment by Union Investment Real Estate AG (former DIFA) and Heron Tower. An interview with Lee Polisano, President of KPF. Print this story (PDF)

Lee Polisano, President of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF)

KPF was founded in New York in 1976 and has three offices. The New York office has 300 people and the Shanghai office will grow from 10 to 30 people. The firm’s London office was established in Covent Garden in 1990, by Lee Polisano and David Leventhal with a staff of 235 people and has been active throughout Europe. “We see our combined staff as a pool of professionals working together and exchanging ideas on all our projects,” states Lee Polisano. Click herefor a Lee Polisano biography. A series of high-profile projects has brought the firm considerable attention, but few more so in recent times than its two City of London towers. Heron Tower, which is the nucleus of the wider Heron Plaza
project, will provide 69,576 m2 in a 43-story, 183- meter-high building in London. The original planning consent was granted in 2002, when the size and height of the building, whose construction commences in 2007, was increased to the present figure.

Bishopsgate Tower

The Bishopsgate Tower was given planning consent in May 2006 and will become the tallest and largest building in the City at 60 stories and 300 m tall. The development, by the German capital investment company Union Investment Real Estate AG (former DIFA), is in the EC2 district and fronts Bishopsgate. The building will have large, flexible floor plates of up to 2,360 m2 on the lower floors, reducing slightly as the building tapers upwards.
Bishopsgate Tower will provide approximately 88,000 m2 of office accommodation on its 56 floors. There will be three levels of retail in the basement and 2,026 m2 of retail and restaurant use is proposed for the ground, first and second floors.
“Environmentally, Bishopsgate Tower will be an exemplary building with investment in energy efficient measures designed to minimize the carbon footprint of the building,” Lee Polisano explains.

Marilyn Monroe’s skirt, the designers nickname for Bishopsgate Tower’s street level.

Heron Tower

Heron Tower synthesises urban concerns with innovative technology and environmental responsibility. Responding to the technical and social demands of the modern workplace, the building is organized around a series of office ‘villages’ each with a triple height atrium. Establishing a new standard of accommodation in the City of London, Heron Tower will be the first bespoke multi-tenant high-rise, providing a powerful magnet for foreign tenants. The public will benefit from the quality of the enhanced civic realm with its new retail and restaurant facilities at the base and top of the building.

Historically sensitive area

Heron Tower will provide 69,576 m2 in a 43-story, 183- meter-high building in London.

“Although often quite well received in many quarters, there was sufficient resistance to ensure that, in general, the difficulties of fitting such a building into a historically sensitive area and managing not to obstruct views of St Paul’s Cathedral made the long path through the planning approval process too arduous for many to contemplate,” said Lee Polisano.
“Two decades on and attitudes have changed, aided and encouraged by the creation of an extra layer of planning control in the form of the Greater London Authority and with it a new post of Mayor of London. Keen to maintain London’s status as a world-class city, new planning guidance on tall buildings was provided by the mayor’s office in 2001, and just a few years down the line there is now a cluster of tall buildings in prospect. It won’t be Manhattan, but it will provide a group of high-profile, possibly iconic, buildings that will help identify London in the 21st century while providing top-notch office accommodation, as well as associated uses of the type that international companies have come to expect.”

Thames Court in London. An awarded National Urban Workplace that changes the City of London office model.

Demand for design

In a country with relatively little record of actually taking tall buildings beyond the hypothetical, moving ideas off the drawing board and into the realms of real concrete, steel and cladding, it is unsurprising that architects with hands-on experience of tall buildings have been in demand. Rafael Viñoly and Cesar Pelli are two of the names associated with new tower developments in the City. Renzo Piano has also designed the Shard at London Bridge – south of the Thames in Southwark (thus not part of the City). And Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) is working on Union Investment Real Estate AG’s Bishopsgate Tower and Heron International’s Heron Tower.

Sustainable construction

World Trade Center, Amsterdam.

Attitudes to tower buildings are changing. In the past the reason for developing the tower form was primarily to maximize the value of an expensive city center site while providing prestige accommodation that made a statement about its occupiers. In the current era of growing concern for the environment and the conservation of scarce resources, the emphasis has changed and tower buildings are being seen as a way of catering for a growing population by developing more densely. Polisano says that in this way, tall buildings have the potential to play a significant role in reinvigorating and sustaining our cities of the future, including London.
Polisano points out that within the next 25 years, 80% of the world’s population will live in our cities and our urban centers and consequently he believes that the way in which we occupy the earth will need to change in order to sustainour escalating population growth. Taller buildings will, he says, give cities the capacity to increase density and maintain a high quality of life for large numbers of people.

“London is one of a handful of truly global cities and in order for it to retain this position, it is important to recognize that policy, and the way future growth and development are planned and administered must be different from the rest of the country,” Polisano says. He also says that in many ways, London is perfectly placed for tall buildings and adds that with increased investment in the existing infrastructure, it has the capacity to handle massive amounts of people – something which is critical to the success of taller buildings.

Advanced design technology

Gannett/USA Today Headquarters in Virginia: two identities within a single corporate complex.

“The City is the engine for the London economy. It is progrowth and is the only part of London that has a cohesive tall buildings policy,” says Polisano. “When we first started working on tall buildings here in London, we developed a three-dimensional model of the city to assist us with understanding its unique urban landscape and the policies that governed it. What has come out of this has been a CAD technologies research lab, which has informed our approach to highrise design. Advances in computer programs have given rise to an exploration of form that was previously impossible,” he adds. Polisano says that both the Heron and the Bishopsgate Towers were designed around the principle of creating multifaceted sculptural objects, seen ‘in the round’, that change and vary in profile when viewed from different points in London. He compares this to viewing the human figure. Heron Tower sits on the perimeter of the City’s proposed cluster of tall buildings but in contrast, the Bishopsgate Tower will be at the center of the cluster and because of that it has to stand out from the crowd.

Meeting demands from all sides

Although the debate about the height of proposed new buildings in the City of London has at times been heated, Polisano says that what is interesting about both the Bishopsgate Tower and Heron Tower is that they are not really very tall when a global comparison is made. “If you look at their height in comparison with their width, they are also remarkably slender,” he adds. By way of explanation Polisano says that these characteristics are products of the unique site conditions and the fact that both buildings are being developed on small land areas. “As an architect, one needs to decide what the core values of your product are and adhere to them through the design process. These buildings will become the legacy of our generation. Striving for beauty and elegance in our designs goes without saying. However, creating buildings that are sustainable economically, socially and environmentally is of the utmost importance,” explains Polisano. Polisano adds that Heron Tower challenged the high-rise conventions in order to respond to both the technical and social demands of the modern workplace. Thus the building is organized around a series of office ‘villages’ at whose heart is a triple-height atrium. The building is also substantially ‘greener’ than other tower designs. “We were eager to set a benchmark for environmental performance and the building seeks to minimize energy consumption, reduce harmful emissions and create an excellent working environment for its occupants.”

Another benefit of building upwards is that space for a
network of new public spaces is created as the ground is freed up. “With Heron, we link the series of surrounding public spaces together with the new space that we are creating.”
Designs for Bishopsgate Tower required a streetscape that accommodated the variety of site conditions created by the unique characteristics of the site – “there were many unused public spaces surrounding the tower that required unification and activation”.

The large glazed atrium provides an environmental buffer for the office floors of the Danube House in Prague.

Rothermere American Institute, Oxford.

Other key projects

London is not the only European city in which KPF has designed tall buildings although the constraints are often different elsewhere. The award-winning CBX Tower, for example, was built in La Défense, an area of Paris more accustomed to the high-rise solution. Tishman Speyer was selected by EPAD, the La Défense Development Agency, to develop a landmark tower in 1999 and KPF was appointed to design the 44,000-m2 building. The CBX Tower was completed in September 2005 and the following December Dexia Crédit Local, the French-Belgian banking group, bought the 34- story building to serve as its regional headquarters.
Although clearly one of Europe’s leading exponents of high-rise architecture, KPF is not unassailably bonded to tower building designs. In London, Thames Court, located close to Southwark Bridge in the City and completed in 1998, was a response to the height restrictions which then dominated development in the Square Mile.
Thames Court may not have had the status of a tall building but was nevertheless innovative, not least because of an energyconserving energyconserving natural ventilation system that utilized cool air drawn from the surface of the adjacent Thames river. Innovative large roof structures have figured in a number of KPF projects such as the 80,000-m2 headquarters building for Spanish company ENDESA located on the edge of Madrid, River City in Prague and the World Trade Center extension in Amsterdam. This project, built between 2000 and 2004, incorporates a distinctive 30,000-m2 ‘wave’ roof which sweeps across the site, embracing the office slabs and creating a covered public domain containing shops, bars, restaurants and conference spaces. But the WTC redevelopment also includes a 27-story, 45,000-m2 office tower with a pavilion designed by KPF.

Polisano says that tall buildings are the product of a collaborative team effort and require the participation and dedication of all parties involved. “A successful tall building depends on the architect coordinating a series of independent and often opposing factors,” says Polisano. Communication is also a key skill, particularly since controversy never lurks too far away when a tower building is under consideration in central London. Negotiating the intricacies of the planning process is, in many ways, a project in itself.

Photo below: The Endesa Headquarters building in Madrid is an innovative and adaptable design for a global company.

Lee Polisano – Biography

Lee Polisano is President of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates and founder of KPF’s London studio. Under his direction, the firm’s work focuses on a number of primary issues, namely a response to context, an awareness of the civic obligation of buildings, respect for the environment, and the importance of technology.
Mr. Polisano’s work is widely recognized for the emphasis it places on the civic and ecological responsibility of the built environment. Projects such as the innovative World Trade Center in Amsterdam and the largescale urban regeneration master plan for Glasgow have been widely recognized for achieving these goals. His UK headquarters for Rabobank, Thames Court in the City of London, has been widely credited with trans- forming commercial archi-tecture in London’s Square Mile while the Endesa Headquarters in Madrid has been cited as being among “the best of new contemporary American archi-tecture”. Recent highprofile projects include Heron Tower, London’s first bespoke multi-tenant office building and the Bishopsgate Tower, which will be the tallest building in the City of London. Current projects include major new mixed-use precincts for both the city of Milan and for Saint-Denis, north of Paris.
Polisano was elected to The College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects for his “notable contributions to the advancement of the profession of architecture.” He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from LaSalle College in Philadelphia and a Master of Architecture degree from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and is a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Architektenkammer Berlin.

DZ Bank, in Frankfurt.

CBX Tower, Paris.

Merrill Lynch Japan, Tokyo.

Benrather Karrée in Düsseldorf with a luminous facade of onyx.

Baruch College, New York.

Shanghai World Financial Center: a new icon for Shanghai.

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