In Rotterdam we like to say that the 42-meter tall Witte Huis (1898) was the tallest office building of Europe at the time. The reason why we need to include the ‘office’ is because of a taller one in London; the Queen Anne’s Mansions near St. James’s Park (map). Originally standing at 34 meters in 1873, its extension reached 49 meters in 1890 . It’s safe to conclude it was the tallest building in Europe at the time, which brings us right at the first fun fact:
1. Queen Anne’s Mansion was once the tallest residential building in the world
I actually don’t know if this is true, but the history of the tall residential building before 1925 is so poorly documented I challenge anyone to come up with research that proves otherwise. Most problematic areas are the documentation of heights, the fact that floors were added all the time, and that the difference of usage between serviced apartments and hotels can be blurry. The latter would be another category.
2. If you want to build something extraordinary, don’t ask for permission
The building was the brainchild of a merchant and City broker named Henry Hankey. In those days whenever you wanted to do something that went over 100 feet (30.5 meters), you had to run it by the Metropolitan Board of Works so they could double check for safety. But Hankey was a “build first ask permission later” kinda guy. Retrospective applications were rejected regularly but that didn’t stop Hankey from going up. Instead of fighting the case, the authorities decided to set the building as an example to create new laws specifically written with building height and its implications on the surroundings in mind. In the process, by setting a maximum height of 90 feet (27.5 meters) it also created exclusive value for Queen Anne’s Mansions as no other building would be allowed to surpass it’s height for many years to come.
3. Queen Anne’s Mansions was the first skyscraper to piss off British royalty.
To say that Charles, Prince of Wales is not a fan of skyscrapers is an understatement. When asked to address a crowd of skyscraper professionals in 2001, his opening line was:
I must confess that it is something of a mystery as to why I have been asked to join you for this most important debate about how, where, or, dare I say, whether – a new generation of tall building should be built in our towns and cities.
His dislike of skyscrapers may be inherited though, as Queen Victoria was one of many objecting to the height of the Mansions as she could no longer view the Houses of Parliament from Buckingham Palace. I don’t know the source of this bit of info, but Queen Anne’s Mansions were indeed positioned right in between the two icons of London.
4. Rents were the same for all floors
In today’s world, you pay more for the same apartment as you go up. This makes sense, but apparently in the late 19th century that bit of marketing insight hadn’t been developed yet. Keep in mind though this is an age where rents were going down as you would go up, as higher floors meant more stair walking. Keeping all rents the same is a bump up from this scheme.
5. If you’re going to demolish something interesting, please document it properly before you do.
Queen Anne’s Mansions were demolished in 1973 to be replaced by 50 Queen Anne’s Gate, a 56-meter tall concrete office building. Because of its oversized presence, Queen Anne’s Mansions never were anyone’s favorite, but at least it was interesting because of its history. I understand there is something of an economic life span, but tearing it down without one proper last look is more of a crime than replacing it by some loveless, brutalist building. It’s quite difficult to find anything on the Mansions, this enjoyable paper (pdf) is the best I could find. In the wake of absence of documentation, interestingly it mentions that “no photographs of the view seem to have survived in public archives.”
Starting december 12, you can vote on Queen Anne’s Mansions in a tournament that lines up all resiscrapers that were once the world’s tallest.share this!