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Commercial Buildings Need to Be Practical - But Aesthetics Matter Too

Commercial buildings are not just boxes and, to many tenants, aesthetics are just as important as practicality. The High Court made that point in ordering a landlord to carry out multi-million-pound repairs to an iconic glass tower block.

One of the 47-storey building's striking features was a façade which formed a sleek and uninterrupted wall of glass panels with no visually intrusive connections between them. Following its completion, however, a problem developed with a large number of units, known as shadow boxes, which enabled occupants to see out but which gave an opaque, mirror-like appearance to passers-by.

The risk that the shadow boxes might blow off posed a grave hazard to pedestrians and others and the landlord's response was to arrange the installation of temporary stitch plates and a protective hoarding at ground level. The tenant of the building's 23 bottom floors, a hotel operator, was deeply unhappy with the aesthetic effect of the temporary fix and launched proceedings against the landlord.

Following a trial, the High Court ordered the landlord to put into effect a permanent remedial scheme which involved removal of the stitch plates and the replacement of the shadow boxes. The landlord was also required to make good any damage to the façade. The objective was to restore the building to substantially the same external appearance that it had when the tenant signed the lease.

The landlord subsequently sought a variation of the order, authorising it to undertake an alternative, less expensive remedial scheme that would enable retention of the existing shadow boxes which would be held in place by aluminium plates to which cosmetic cover caps would be applied.

Rejecting the application, however, the Court noted that the order had been sealed and the landlord had not appealed against it. Although the ordered remedial scheme might be extremely challenging, it was reasonably practicable if carried out by a competent contractor. The landlord had received a quote of around £6 million to complete the works and that expense was not self-evidently disproportionate.

The Court accepted that the works proposed by the landlord would be an obvious and significant improvement on the stitch plates. However, the result would also be obviously and significantly less attractive than the building's original design. The tenant was entitled to insist on an outcome that would be no less aesthetically pleasing or visually impressive than the building's designed appearance.

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