London’s Celebrity Buildings

 A new look for London

London’s new skyscrapers are ‘celebrity buildings’. Celebrity buildings don’t blend in. They don’t meld into the ancient streetscapes. They have funny names and quirky stories and like other ‘celebrities’ will always stand out from the crowd.

Tours to see these architectural newcomers can take up to a day if all the outlying areas such as the repurposed Olympic buildings and the developments in Southwark are included. With only an hour to spare, though, I contacted Insider’s London  ( who assigned a young architecture buff named Tobias to give me a quick tour. We met near Leicester underground station and were off on a mile-long hike that took in six of the City of London’s most spectacular new structures.

1)The Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate…a 46 story building by Kohn, Pedersen Fox, was completed in 2011. Controversial because of its perceived proximity to St. Paul’s Cathedral when viewed from Waterloo Bridge, a public inquiry was held which ruled in favour of the developer. Peek into the reception hall to see the largest private aquarium in the UK, holding 1,200 fish, 60 species. Two full- time attendants are charged with piscine health and safety while a team of part-time divers clean the rockwork and glass regularly. On Bishopsgate, there’s a dedicated entrance to the Heron Building with scenic lifts to a restaurant and sky bar on floors 38-40.

2)Tower 42 or the Nat West Tower, Old Bond Street. Richard Seifert designed its vertical steel fins and black glass facade. It was opened in 1980 by Queen Elizabeth. The first skyscraper in the City, it attracted considerable opposition. Severely damaged by an IRA bomb in 1993 the building was refurbished and sold by Nat West. Renamed Tower 42 it is now a general purpose office building.  The tower features in the early sequences of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and was used in the BBC TV drama series, Sherlock. A bird study group tracks the migration of bird species over London from the tower’s roof.

3)The Gherkin, 30 St Mary Axe. The Swiss Re building was first called ‘the Gherkin’ to mock its pickle shape. The nickname stuck as affection grew for this most celebrated of London’s new-look buildings. Completed in 2004, the 41 story structure by Norman Foster rears up unabashedly behind a sedate 10th century church. The building is made up of flat glass panels.. only the ‘lens’ at the top is curved. The base of the structure is slightly indented, catching rainwater and channeling it inward. Entrances are reached over small bridges.  Lights in this trough illuminate the building from below. There’s a private club and restaurant for tenants at the top.

4)The Cheese Grater, aka the Leadenhall Building. Every architect in London must reckon with the policy of the City of London Corporation known as the “St Paul’s Heights” which has, since1938, protected local views of the Cathedral. Leadenhall’s wedge shape was architect Richard Rodger’s solution for preserving the view of St. Paul’s Cathedral from Fleet Street. The Chief Planning Officer of the City of London famously remarked that it looked like something you could use to grate parmesan cheese with- and its name was born. To be completed in 2014, the building will feature a 30m high atrium, open to the public.

5)Lloyds of London,1 Lime Street, is the Cheese Grater’s neighbour.  Lloyds, the three centuries old insurance company, gave Richard Rodgers the brief for its new headquarters  in 1980. The’ Inside-Out’ building was the result; all its services.. staircases, lifts, water pipes etc- are located outside, giving tenants uncluttered interior space.  The historic Lutine Bell, recovered from a ship wreck in 1858, hangs in the Rostrum Traditionally it was rung once for the loss of a ship, twice for an overdue ship returning. Since 1989 it has tolled only for the death of a member of the Royal Family, to commemorate disasters but always on Armistice Day. Twenty-five years after its completion in 1986, the Lloyd’s building became the youngest ever to achieve Grade 1 Listed status.

6)Walkie-Talkie Tower, 20 Fenchurch Street by Rafael Viñoly.The building’s nick name derives from its fancied resemblance to an old style walkie talkie.However, in 2103 some called it the ‘Wallkie Scorchie and others ‘the Fryscraper’ as its concave south-facing facade focussed the sun’s rays down on the street causing a parked Jaguar to melt and setting fire to the paintwork of neighbouring buildings. The problem was blamed on the ‘current elevation of the sun’. To be completed in 2014, the building’s top three stories will include a large viewing deck and sky garden, cafe and restaurant open to the public.

Tobias, whose sure knowledge of the streets reminded me of a city cat, led on past ‘the plastic building’ (aka Walbrook building) and into a narrow passageway that tunnels along the river. (Before we entered we had a distant view of the ‘Electric razor’,the residential Strata Tower that incorporates three wind generators on the roof and has been called the ‘ugliest building in London.)  The passageway led out to a small terrace on the Thames with a splendid view of the 95-story Shard. Designed by Renzo Piano, it’s the tallest building in Europe. It’s ‘extra white glass’ cladding is so reflective the building sometimes seems to disappear.


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