We’ve finished our series on modern icons (we’ll be looking at some more in another special series). But before we move on to our next series, here’s a quick recap. Which one is your favourite?
For the final in our series of modern icons of London, we’re looking at the tallest in London (and, at the time it was completed, the tallest in Europe) – the Shard.
Based in London Bridge, the 310 metre high skyscraper, was constructed between 2009 and mid-2012, and inaugurated by Qatar’s Prime Minister, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabor Al Thani, and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, in July, 2012 – an event marked by a light and laser show (late that year, Prince Andrew abseiled down the building in a fund-raising effort for charity).
The observation deck of the building – originally known as London Bridge Tower and often referred to as The Shard of Glass – was opened to the public on 1st February, 2013, in an event overseen by the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
Architect Renzo Piano’s lofty design for the building – first sketched out on the back of a napkin in a Berlin restaurant back in 2000 – was inspired by the London church spires and ship masts as seen in the work of 18th century Venetian painter Canaletto, to appear as a “spire-like sculpture emerging from the River Thames”.
It features eight sloping glass walls – the shards – with gaps or “fractures” between them to provide natural ventilation and a tapered structure to give the impression of lightness and transparency as it disappears into the clouds.
As well as office space, the building’s 72 habitable floors features shops, restaurants and bars, as well as a hotel – the Shangri-La, and apartments. News organisation Al Jazeera is also based in the building.
Located on floors 68, 69 and 72, the visitor attraction, The View from The Shard, offers panoramic views of up to 40 miles from an indoor viewing platform and the open air Skydeck (as well as the view, there are also virtual reality experiences available on the Skydeck for an additional cost).
The Shard – which attracted a million visitors in its first year alone – remained the tallest building in Europe until November, 2012, when it was surpassed by Moscow’s Mercury City Tower (it is still the tallest building in the European Union).
We’ll be kicking off a new special Wednesday series after Easter.
WHERE: The View from the Shard, Joiner Street (nearest Tube station is London Bridge); WHEN: Times vary, so check the website for details; COST: Pre-purchased timed and dated tickets range from £22.95 for adults/£16.95 for children aged four to 15 (check website for further details); WEBSITE: www.theviewfromtheshard.com.
Completed in early 2014 after a five year build with the public access areas opening the following year, the building contains 690,000 square feet of office space with the top three floors – reached by an express lift – housing a “sky garden” – described as the city’s “highest public garden” – with specially planted terraces as well as bars, restaurants and a public viewing deck.
Designed by New York City-based Uruguayan architect Rafael Vinoly, the 160 metre high building was controversial from the get-go, both for its impact on the skyline and surrounding streetscapes but also for the way its exterior cladding acted as a concave mirror and focused intense light on streets which lay to the south.
The heat was so intense that it damaged parked cars, leading some wags to dub it the ‘Walkie-Scorchie’ or ‘Fryscraper’, while a newspaper reporter famously fried an egg on the pavement below to demonstrate just how hot it was getting down there. Permanent sun shading was subsequently installed on the tower to deal with the issue.
The building was awarded the dreaded Carbuncle Cup in 2015, an annual award given to the ugliest building of the year, with one of the judges describing it as a “Bond villain tower” and another as a “gratuitous glass gargoyle”.
The building, which continues to draw strong opinions, was reportedly sold last year for a record £1.3 billion.
WHERE: 20 Fenchurch Street (nearest Tube station is Monument); WHEN: Visiting hours for the Sky Garden are 10am to 6pm weekdays and 11am to 9pm weekends (only a limited number of tickets available each day); COST: Free; WEBSITE: https://skygarden.london
PICTURES: Nigel Tadyanehondo/Unsplash
Formerly known as the National Westminster Tower (NatWest Tower for short), Tower 42 – sometimes referred to as London’s first “genuine” skyscraper – was once the tallest building in the London (but now comes in at number eight).
Designed by Richard Seifert & Partners (who had proposed a couple of different options), the 47 storey building at 25 Old Broad Street was built between 1971 and 1980 as the headquarters of the National Westminster Bank.
The length of the build – which ended up costing £72 million – was due to the fact that it was paused in the mid-1970s to allow for a redesign of the ground area after the City of London Club was heritage listed (and thus its planned demolition couldn’t proceed).
Some 42 of its stories are cantilevered off a concrete core which contains elevators and service rooms. It has been repeatedly said the building was designed so that in plan view it resembles the NatWest logo – three interlocking chevrons – but Seifert apparently said this was just a coincidence.
It was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 11th June, 1981, and, at 183 metres tall, was not only the tallest in London but in the entire UK until it was surpassed by One Canada Square in the Docklands in 1990. It remained the tallest building in the City of London until 2009 when Heron Tower took over that title.
Among its innovations were use of sky lobbies – located on levels 23 and 24, they are accessible by express elevators from the ground floor, and an automated external window washing system. Problematically, however, its interior layout proved somewhat inflexible which meant some of the bank’s operations remained outside of the building. Thanks to a need for large trading floors after deregulation in 1986, NatWest subsequently relocated its headquarters.
After the building was badly damaged by an IRA bomb in 1993, the entire tower, under the supervision of GMW Architects, was reclad and the interior refurbished. It was subsequently renamed the International Finance Centre and again renamed in 1998, this time as Tower 42 (a reference to the 42 cantilevered floors).
In 2011, it was purchased by South African businessman Nathan Kirsh for a reported £282.5 million. These days it contains office space, several restaurants, health clubs and other services as well as and a champagne bar with panoramic views, Vertigo 42.
An LED light display was installed in 2012 in time to display the Olympic rings for that year’s Games.
The building was refused listed status in 2014 owing to its now greatly altered nature.
Interestingly, part of the site was once occupied by Crosby Hall, built in 1466 for City alderman Sir John Crosby and one time residence of King Richard III. The hall was relocated to Chelsea in 1910.
Another project to celebrate the new Millennium, the O2 – originally known as the Millennium Dome – is the largest domed structure in the world.
Occupying a prominent site at the northern tip of the Greenwich Peninsula (on the south bank of the River Thames), the building is 365 metres in diameter, 50 metres high at its highest point and features 12 100 metre high masts which hold up the Teflon-coated glass fibre dome using some 45 miles of steel cable.
It was designed by Sir Richard Rogers and his firm with construction commencing in 1997 after the project, conceived by the Conservative Government, was endorsed (and expanded) by the new Blair Labour Government.
The Dome was officially opened on 31st December, 1999, at a ‘New Millennium Spectacular’ attended by, among others, members of the Royal Family and government.
Throughout the following year the venue hosted what was known as the ‘Millennium Experience’, a celebration of the beginning of the new millennium which attracted more than six million visitors (a big figure but apparently only half of what was projected initially).
A controversial project since its very inception due to its cost and speculation about its use after the year 2000, the facility was largely devoid of life for several years after the year 2000 (apart from a few major events) but the site, which was eventually sold to consortium Meridian Delta Ltd which turned to then consortium member the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) to oversee the transformation of the facility into a sports and entertainment complex.
The building, rebranded O2 following a deal with the telco company of the same name, reopened in 2007 (the first band to play there in a public show was Bon Jovi and more than 600 bands had played there as of last year) and has since been used for a range of events including music concerts and sports, the latter including some of the indoor sports played at the 2012 Olympic Games including gymnastics and basketball.
As well as a more than 20,000 seat sports arena, the O2 now features music venues, a cinema, bars, restaurants and shops as well as an exhibition space. There’s also a 90 minute climb over the top of the Dome for the adventurous.
More than 60 million people visited the O2 since it opened in 2007.
WHERE: O2, Greenwich Peninsula (nearest Tube station is North Greenwich); WHEN: 9am to 1am daily; COST: Various; WEBSITE: www.theo2.co.uk
The first building in London to exceed the height of St Paul’s Cathedral, the 118 metre (387 foot) high Millbank Tower opened in 1963.
Said to have been inspired by the works of Modernist German-American architect Mies van der , the 32 storey building, located on the river just south of Westminster, was designed by Ronald Ward and Partners.
It was originally built as the headquarters of the engineering firm, the Vickers Group (hence its original moniker of Vickers Tower) and the Legal and General Assurance Society.
The glass walled building, which features a 31 storey tower atop a two storey podium, only held the title of London’s tallest building briefly – in 1965 it was overtaken by the Post Office Tower.
Now Grade II-listed, it was famously the headquarters of the Labour Party between the mid-Nineties and early Noughties – it was from here that it ran its 1997 general election campaign which saw the election of Tony Blair to the office of Prime Minister.
The Conservative Party has also been a tenant (although in this case of the complex to which the building is attached) as has the United Nations and numerous government agencies. The bulding has also appeared in episodes of Dr Who.
The building was recently the subject of an application for it to be redeveloped into a hotel and luxury apartments.
Currently known as the Coca-Cola London Eye (it’s had several name and sponsorship changes over its life), this unmissable structure started operations in the year 2000.
Designed by Marks Barfield Architects and located at the south-western corner of Jubilee Gardens on South Bank, it stands 135 metres tall and, with a diameter of 120 metres, is the world’s biggest cantilevered observation wheel. It was also the tallest observation deck in London but lost that title to The Shard.
It features 32 sealed, ovoid-shaped capsules for passengers, each of which can hold up to 25 people, and rotates at the rate of about 0.6 mph, meaning a rotation takes around half an hour (a rate which allows most people to get on or off without stopping the wheel).
The Eye, which offers a birds-eye view of surrounding areas including the Houses of Parliament, was formally opened by then PM Tony Blair on 31st December, 1999, but didn’t open to the public until the following March (thanks to a clutch problem on one of the capsules).
It originally intended as a temporary structure built to mark the new millennium (after which it would be dismantled an moved to another location) but its popularity (and the resolution of a dispute over its lease in the mid-Noughties) has seen become a permanent fixture.
The capsules – there’s apparently no number 13 – were upgraded in 2009 and in 2013, one of them was named the Coronation Capsule in honour of the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Eye has been lit up on numerous occasions to mark special events – among them Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding in 2011.
WHERE: Coca Cola London Eye, Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road (nearest Tube stations are Waterloo, Embankment and Westminster); WHEN: 11am to 6pm daily (till 29th March); COST: See website for details; WEBSITE: www.londoneye.com.
The 50 storey skyscraper (there’s also three underground) was designed by Cesar Pelli and constructed between 1988 and 1991. Containing some 1.2 million square feet of office space making it the largest office building in the UK, it was officially opened on 26th August of the latter year by Prince Philip.
Often called the Canary Wharf tower, One Canada Tower was apparently the first skyscraper to be clad in stainless steel and was designed to reflect the sky. There’s an aircraft warning light on top which flashes some 57,600 times a day.
An office building with no public observation deck, current tenants include a range of financial institutions as well as other companies such as the Trinity Mirror Group, owner of several UK newspapers.
As with other newer skyscrapers in London, One Canada Tower has been seen in its share of movies including in 28 Weeks Later and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
Loved and loathed by Londoners over the years since its construction in the mid-Sixties, the column-like BT Tower, despite growing competition, remains a dominant feature of the city’s skyline.
The tallest building in Britain at the time of its official opening in 1965, the 189 metre tall structure (including a 12 metre tall mast) was commissioned by the General Post Office to support microwave aerials which carried communications from London to the rest of the UK.
Designed by a team led by architect GR Yeats under the direction of Eric Bedford, chief architect of the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, its narrow, tubular shape was engineering to reduce wind resistance and ensure stability.
Along with the aerials capable of handling up to 150,000 simultaneous telephone calls and 40 TV channels, the tower also housed 16 floors of technical and power equipment, as well as other floors with offices and even a revolving restaurant on the 34th floor (it made one revolution every 22 minutes).
PM Harold Wilson did the honours of officially declaring the tower open on 8th October, 1965. Queen Elizabeth II’s first visit would come on 17th May, 1966, just two days before then Postmaster General Tony Benn opened the tower’s public areas – an observation gallery and a 34th floor cocktail bar and restaurant, called Top of the Tower, which was managed by Butlins. More than 50,000 visited the observation gallery in the first three weeks after its opening.
A bomb exploded in the men’s toilets on the 31st floor – the location of the viewing gallery – in October, 1971, and took two years to repair. Despite this – no-one has apparently ever claimed responsibility for the bombing, public areas continued to remain open until the restaurant closed in 1980 and access to the observation gallery ceased in 1981 (although the restaurant is still used for corporate and charity events).
Originally known as the Post Office Tower, the tower has had many other official names since it was built including the Museum Tower, the London Telecom Tower and the BT Tower while staff suggestions at the time it was being constructed included the Pointer, Spindle, Liaiser and Telebeacon. Interestingly, the tower was apparently designated an official secret when built and didn’t appear on Ordnance Survey maps until after MP Kate Hoey, following on from other members who had “given examples of seemingly trivial information that remains officially secret”, told Parliament of its address – 60 Cleveland Street – in February, 1993.
The now Grade II-listed tower, which is located just off Tottenham Court Road in Fitzrovia, remained the tallest building in London until it was overtaken by the NatWest Tower in 1980. The last of its famous satellite dishes were removed in 2011.
Its wrap-around LED light display, officially called the Information Band, went live in 2009. It has since carried special messages on occasions like Remembrance Day and Valentine’s Day as well as an Olympic countdown and even the first ever tweet sent by the Queen (a message to mark the opening of the BT-sponsored ‘Information Age’ communications gallery at the Science Museum in 2014).
The tower has featured numerous times in literature and film, the latter including Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
This rocket-ship shaped glass skyscraper made its mark on the City of London skyline in the early Noughties after plans to build a much taller building on the site were shelved.
The award-winning building stands on the site of what was the late Victorian-era Baltic Exchange which was extensively damaged by an IRA bomb which went off in the neighbouring street, St Mary Axe (for more on the origins of the street name, see our earlier post here), in 1992.
It was initially proposed that a 92 storey building, to be known as Millennium Tower, be built on the site – it would have been the tallest building in Europe. But the plan was shelved after both Heathrow and London City Airports objected to the interference it would have on flight paths while others pointed to the rather dramatic impact it would have on the City skyline.
The site was subsequently sold to reinsurance giant Swiss Re who then commissioned Sir Norman Foster (Foster + Partners) to design a building for its UK headquarters. The resulting 41 storey, 180 metre (591 foot) tall skyscraper – which features some 24,000 square metres of glass and was said to be the first environmentally sustainable skyscraper in London – was eventually completed in late 2003 and opened in 2004.
The glass dome which sits at the top of the building offers panoramic, 360 degree views of the surrounds and is said to be a reference to the glass dome that once sat over part of the ground floor of the Baltic Exchange.
Interestingly, the nickname for the building, The Gherkin, is actually an abbreviated form of a name first coined by some design critics who described the building as an “erotic gherkin”, according to The Guardian. Some wags have also used the nickname ‘Towering Innuendo’ for the property.
PICTURES: Top – Samuel Zeller/Unsplash; Right – David Adams.
Designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership (now Roger Stirk Harbour + Partners) in conjunction with structural engineers Arup, this 12 storey building – which features galleries adjoining a series of towers located around a central, glass-topped atrium – was completed in 1986 after eight years of construction. The £75 million building was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II.
The building, which was granted grade I-listed status in 2011 (making it the youngest building to receive the honour), used more than 33,000 cubic metres of concrete, 30,000 square metres of stainless steel cladding and 12,000 square metres of glass in its creation.
Among its most famous innovations is the location of services – including lifts, toilets and tubes containing wiring and plumbing – on the exterior of the building in an effort to maximise space inside (inviting comparisons with the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which Rogers was involved in the design of, along with Renzo Piano, prior to working on this building).
The building incorporates – in Leadenhall Street – part of the facade of the previous Lloyd’s building which had occupied the site since 1928 (the corporation had been founded in 1688 in Tower Street by Edward Lloyd and endured several moves before coming to its current home).
The 11th floor Committee Room incorporates the Adam Great Room, an adaptation of the original dining room from Bowood House in Wiltshire which was designed by Robert Adam for the 1st Earl of Shelbourne. It was purchased from Bowood in 1956 and incorporated into Lloyd’s former Heysham building before being moved into the current building.
Also present in the building, hanging from the Rostrum on the ground floor, is the famous Lutine Bell. It was recovered from the wreck of HMS Lutine – lost at sea with all hands and cargo in 1799 and, as a result, the subject of a claim against Lloyd’s which was paid in full – in 1859 and has since graced Lloyd’s underwriting rooms. While it was formerly rung to announce when news of an overdue ship arrived – once for a loss, twice for its safe return – these days it is only used on ceremonial occasions.
The building’s futuristic and iconic look meant it’s served as a location in numerous films including 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Mamma Mia (2008) and The Ghost Writer (2010). It has also, in recent years, attracted climbers, leading Lloyd’s to seek an injunction to prevent such actions.