By Christopher Ashton

Summertime in the city, the temperature is rising and the crowds are flocking to the nearest outdoors spaces – parks, landscaped squares and external terraces – the latter most likely to be over capacity when the mercury is high. Increasingly, there is an appetite in London to eat and drink outside after spending much of the day in an office and the choice of venue is often based on whether there is an outdoor provision. Street-level terraces and gardens are lovely but so many of these are overlooked and shaded by neighbouring properties. In an ever-growing, ever-developing city such as London those seeking sunshine, entertainment and rejuvenation have started to look “up”.

Elevating gardens to the rooftops metaphorically lifts the space above the bustling capital and takes the guests away from the hectic city streets. This serenity, when reflected in the architecture and interior design, can transform an offering from an amenity to a destination. The opportunity has not been overlooked in London with many rooftop bars opening including Roofnic, above the Marriott Hotel in Park Lane, where exposed wood and a light tensile-fabric covering offer a rural contrast to the packed streets below. Taking things higher, Radio Rooftop Bar is located on the 10th Floor of the ME hotel in Aldwych, where sleek modernism and low plush couches create an oasis away from the traffic-filled roads that surround the building. While in the City, the hugely successful Sushisamba on the 38th and 39th floors of the Heron Tower, celebrates its status as offering the highest outdoor terraces in Europe with breath taking views. What sets these locations apart is a combination of both and escape from, and a view of, the historic city of London and its constantly evolving skyline.

Creating a rooftop destination food and beverage offering in a capital city with a constantly rising roofscape is not as simple as providing access and a few tables. The first hurdle is to find the right location: a rooftop that is clear, or can be cleared, of engineering plant, that has the structural capacity to support the additional load and is free from overbearing neighbouring properties, including future developments. One example of an ideal location is the rooftop terrace at One New Change next to St Paul’s Cathedral. Due to the height restrictions imposed in the local area, the rooftop has future-protected panoramic views despite only being six storeys tall.

Having found the perfect location there are two further “England Specific” obstacles to overcome, one being the temperamental British weather and the other, stringent London planning. It is often said that in England you can see all four seasons in just one day, and an exposed rooftop terrace must be designed to handle these abrupt changes. Carefully considered architecture will provide protection from high winds, sudden rain and direct sunlight without negatively distracting from the view. This should be aesthetically designed to complement the interiors and the landscaping strategy, striking the right balance of internal to external and appearing accessible yet separate from the covered area. A well thought-out detailed design concept is essential to the success of the space.

A city as steeped in history as London requires careful planning to ensure the right balance of progression and history is maintained. Since much of the capital now falls within conservation areas and a large proportion of the buildings are listed to some degree, there must be compromise with the local planning authorities to achieve new rooftop destinations. Be this in size or style, the design must bear an appropriate relationship with the heritage of the building and the local area. Happily, London planners are in favour of green areas – as evidenced in the Garden Bridge proposal - and actively promote the addition of green roofs to improve the biodiversity in the city. So, if the proposal represents an increase in green landscaping, it is likely to receive a positive response.

Commercially, the benefit is a direct result of utilising otherwise wasted space in a city where the cost of land is extremely high. To offer an external area at ground level is to lose the equivalent square metres on every floor above. By contrast, relocating this area to the roof utilises the space on every level below. Historically, roofs have been left as a ‘dumping ground’ for the required engineering plant leaving unsightly roofscapes over much of the city. Rationalising this plant is bound to reveal large expanses of unused space on the roof, while replacing it entirely with newer, smaller units would release even more space. In a city where every square inch is valuable and the cost of land is continuously rising, this could become a commercial imperative for the building.

It is undeniably human nature to seek the outdoors when possible and, noticeably so in Britain, people will brave some less than desirable weather to relax in an external environment. With the exception of the protected parklands such as Hyde Park, these areas are few and far between in London. The rising trend of rooftop offerings addresses this shortage and with each rooftop comes a new and often revelatory view of this amazing city. A well-considered external terrace has the power to transform an ordinary restaurant to an extraordinary destination, drawing guests not just from the hotel beneath but from all of London and even further afield.

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