London's "Interesting" Skyline
London provides a good test of this idea. After the great fire of 1666 destroyed most of central London, Christopher Wren designed a new St. Paul's Cathedral and fifty-one parish churches, giving London one of the world's great traditional skylines. During the mid-twentieth century, this skyline was marred by boxy high-rise office buildings. Toward the end of the twentieth century, London deliberately decided to make its skyline more "interesting" by building distinctive high-rises taller than these boxy high-rises.
These new high-rises generally have nick-names based on their distinctive shapes: one that has already been built is called "the gherkin," and other that are coming are called "the cheese-grater" and "the walkie-talkie."
How well does this "interesting" skyline work?
Here is a picture of London by Canelleto, done in the eighteenth century, when Wren's skyline was still intact. The skyline is dominated by St. Paul's and is punctuated by church spires that rise above the mid-rise fabric buildings.
Here is large detail from a rendering by Will Fox of London as it will look in 2012, after the high-rises that have already been approved are complete.
And here is a picture that shows that the gherkin does not work at all as part of a nearby skyline: it looms above the other buildings.
Finally, here is a picture that shows that St. Paul's works as you approach it. All those people sitting on the steps prove that this building provides a good place for people to be.
It is a sad commentary on the intellectual climate of our time that Norman Foster has become a famous architect by designing this sort of sterile, dehumanized environment.
The rendering of London in 2012 by Will Fox is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License. In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of the file under the conditions that you appropriately attribute it, and that you distribute it only under a license identical to this one. For the complete image and more details about the license, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:London_skyline_2012_panorama.jpg.