Rich People v. Rich, Arty People (Tate Modern viewing gallery)

The rich people have been told that rich, arty people are allowed to let poor people gawp at them from the rich, arty people’s viewing platform.

Decision here:

Basically seems to boil down to the pragmatic point that if you choose to buy a flat built and designed expressly to let you look out through massive great windows, people can also look back at you unless you take steps to make it so your windows aren’t see-through.

High Court decision, so will probably be appealed.


Naturally, this got me thinking about zoning laws & building codes (I’m not familiar with the British ones), but this bit of the article seems relevant in this respect:

In his ruling the judge also said visitors can see into areas of the flats known as “winter gardens”, which were conceived by developers as “sort of indoor balconies” and not part of the living accommodation.
Residents use the area as living accommodation and so had created their own additional sensitivity to internal gaze.

To me, this reads like technically you can’t look into the flats as such (the actual, private, living accommodations), but in areas where “people can look in from the outside” is to be expected.
Using the “balconies/winter gardens” as full time living accommodations might even violate the terms of the building permit.
Like I said, I’m not familiar with British zoning laws/building codes.
But I am familiar with real estate developers - designing buildings in a way that lets you exploit or create a loophole in the regulations in order to obtain a building permit is not totally unheard of.


The judgment goes into a lot more detail about the planning process.

Basically, ‘overlooking’ appears to have been overlooked, if you’ll pardon the pun.

As is often the case, both the flats and the Tate extension went through various design changes during the planning approval process.

The Tate extension didn’t originally have the viewing gallery which is causing the problems. It did have a walkway and viewing areas but not all the way round the building.

The viewing gallery in question got added at some point and no one on the planning committee or from the developers of the flats appears to have noted what effect it would have on the flats.

The ‘winter gardens’ were indeed originally intended to be much more ‘outsidey’. They were single glazed, the flooring was different to the ‘interior’ and they were not classed as part of the residential area of the flats.

Over the course of the development, they became double-glazed, got the same flooring as the interior, got underfloor heating and were counted as part of the ‘residential area’.

There is apparently some debate as to whether that classes them as ‘habitable accommodation’ but the judge doesn’t go into that.

In this case both the developer and Tate Modern appear to have been eagerly consenting to each other’s applications. Presumably an element of quid pro quo there as in “I have supported your application so you’re not going to object to mine are you?”

You can actually see into (many of) the flats themselves though.

(d) The view from the viewing gallery into the living accommodation of the two flats at the same level (1801 and 1901) is clear. One can indeed see all sorts of aspects of the daily living of the occupants of those flats, both in the winter gardens and in the kitchen/dining/sitting area of the flat itself. That is almost as true of flat 2101, but not so true of flat 1301. So far as the latter flat is concerned, one has a view into large parts of the kitchen area, the winter garden, and a limited part of the rest of the living area, but not to the extent of the other three flats.

(e) The angle of the view changes as one walks along the southern part of the viewing gallery. At its western end one looks into the winter gardens and then through the glass dividing doors into much of the living accommodation (dining, sitting and kitchen areas). As one walks along the gallery the angle of view changes so that one sees less of the living accommodation through the winter gardens and more of it directly through the living accommodation’s windows. Through one or other of those views, for the subject flats (and obviously the others on that side of Block C) there is a very clear view into most of the living accommodation from one point or other on the southern walkway (subject to what I have said about flat 1301).


These flats were largely made and marketed directly to rich Chinese and Russian buyers who’re getting their embezzled money out of their countries and making it impossible for people who need mortgages to buy in London in the process.

Fuck 'em.

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Possibly. That’s certainly true for most of such flats in London.

I’ll just quote these bits from the judgment:

He lives in the flat part of the time, having a home elsewhere as well. His son Alexander lived in the building for some period when working in London.
His wife finds the situation so intolerable she seldom stays in the flat.

[Alexander] lived in flat 1901 for some 9 months from September 2016.

She decided that her young children should not visit there any more, and so she herself hardly ever goes there. The older children are advised to keep the blinds down when the gallery is open. She is so upset by the attention that she has only been in the flat 5 or 6 times since the gallery opened, but friends of hers had the same experience when they stayed there.

Of the five claimants, three do not live there and spend hardly any time there.

If you’re wondering what you can actually see from the viewing gallery, there’s a view on google maps. The flats in question are the ones with the red edging.


Very helpful. Thanks.

Although I’d say from my recollection that you can see rather better than that photo indicates.

Where I’m from, both the viewing gallery and the ‘winter gardens’, if a deviation from the original building permit, would have required to submit a supplement to the original application. Which would have been checked more or less as thorough as the original application, leading to a revised building permit. Or not.

Yes, I think that’s pretty much how it works here.

Except that of course both applications are being considered separately, different changes are being made at different times and considered by different people or possibly the same people but two weeks later when they’ve looked at 225 other applications in the meantime and so…

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