City of London architecture

Our firm recently moved office from the West End to the City of London and I visited the new offices for the first time a couple of weeks ago. Our office is architecturally nothing too exciting but it sits amongst a few buildings that are far more noteworthy.

Just down the road from our office is the place that got all the headlines back in the 70’s while it was being built (opened in 1980) and the project that started the modern era of tall buildings in the City, the NatWest Tower, or as it is now known, Tower 42.

This stands 183 metres tall and was built for the National Westminster Bank (NatWest) who were subsequently swallowed in 2000 by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) who are currently in a lot of trouble! It is the 5th tallest building in London. Historically, of course, it is St Paul’s Cathedral that really got things started at 111 metres in the year 1710. In my lifetime the first tall building I remember, and still the 4th tallest, is the BT Tower or “Post Office Tower” as it was first known, which stands at 191 metres tall.

Just down the street from Tower 42 is perhaps now the best known and most liked tall structure in the City, 30 St Mary Axe, or if you prefer – The Gherkin (Ogórek).

For such a dominant structure on the skyline it is surprisingly delicate and narrow at the base.

The Gherkin is the 6th tallest building in London at 180 metres tall, just 3 metres lower than Tower 42. It opened in 2004 as has been used as the London HQ for Swiss Re, a global reinsurance company.

Also a short walk away is the Lloyds Building, opened in 1986. This building does not impress with height but with the “inside out” design.

Like the Pompidou Centre in Paris the main feature of the architecture is the placing of all the main services – lifts, water and electricity risers, staircases, etc – on the outside of the building rather than in service cores within the building. This leaves the main space within the building clutter-free to create good open spaces. It also leaves the building looking from the outside like a huge piece of space-junk just fell to earth and landed on Leadenhall Street!

One feature of much modern architecture is the need, or desire, to retain something of the past history of the site. In the case of the Lloyds Building, the entrance facade of the original 1928 Lloyds building has been retained and stands like a rather awkward monument in front of the huge bulk of space-junk behind.

These buildings are amongst the most interesting in the City, in terms of large-scale recently modern architecture at least, and they were designed by arguably the three most influential British architects of recent times:

Tower 42 – Richard Seifert
The Gherkin – Norman Foster
Lloyds Building – Richard Rogers

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