The City of London may be steeped in history, but that doesn’t mean to say that it’s set in aspic. The city’s Financial District is leaving its stuffy image behind and charging into the 21st century without, it seems, pausing for breath.
Nearly all the financial institutions (The Bank of England being a notable exception) have moved into more modern premises in either Canary Wharf or here in the Square Mile.
Many of these new offices are in skyscrapers, which even though they may not rank amongst the world’s tallest, have captured the public’s imagination with their design. Not all of them are iconic, but below is a selection of some of the buildings that have made their mark already, but as each year passes, so it seems that yet more major landmarks pierce the skies over the City of London.
Formerly known as the NatWest Tower, Tower 42 was the first skyscraper to be built in the City of London. It was completed in 1980, and at 600ft high was the UK’s tallest building until the arrival of One Canada Square in Canary Wharf a decade later.
From above, the top of the tower is in the shape of the National Westminster Bank’s logo who moved here from Threadneedle St. It was badly damaged in the IRA’s Bishopsgate bombing of April 1993, but after refurbishment the bank decided to vacate the premises and subsequently sold it.
At the same time as the NatWest Tower was being built there was another significant building taking shape in Lime St – the Lloyds Building. Lloyds in this instance refers to the insurance business and not the bank and is the same Lloyds that started out in the coffee shops that I referred to in the Origins of London’s Financial District.
It was completed in 1986 and is known for its inside-out appearance, known as Bowellism. To maximise the usable inside space all the service features such as lifts, water pipes, electricity cable ducts etc were installed on the outside of the building.
The first building that I saw like this was the Pompidou Centre in Paris which was designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, and so it was no surprise to learn that Richard Rogers was also the architect of the Lloyds Building as well. In 2011 it was granted Grade I listed status, the youngest building ever to do so.
Another well-known feature connected with the building is the Lutine Bell. This bell is part of the maritime insurance history on which Lloyds was founded. It’s not a company in the true sense of the word as there are many different underwriters including both corporations and individuals (known as ‘Names’).
The story of the Lutine Bell is worth recounting. The Lutine was a French frigate that fell into British hands, and in 1799 was used to transport a huge sum of gold and silver to Hamburg in order to prevent a stock market crash. It was also rumoured that the cargo included Dutch crown jewels that had been sent to London for repairs. The whole lot was underwritten by Lloyds, but on 9th October the ship encountered a fierce gale and was wrecked off the Dutch coast. Of the 240 passengers and crew there was only one survivor.
Although it was a catastrophe for those onboard, it was also a heavy burden for Lloyds to bear, but they honoured their commitment completely within two weeks of the disaster. The reputation of the company was enhanced and the name of Lloyds of London has been associated with insuring ships and its cargo ever since. In 1858 the ship’s bell was recovered and hung in the Lloyds underwriting room. A tradition began that it was rung when there was news that a ship had been lost at sea, but nowadays the bell is only rung on special occasions. Unfortunately, it’s not normally available for the general public to see.
Opposite Lloyds is another skyscraper of note – the Willis Building. It may not be the most iconic of the city’s landmarks, but I think its stepped design by Norman Foster is worthy of a mention, and at a height of 410ft is considerably taller than its insurance counterpart across the road.
If we’re looking for iconic buildings then a short walk form Lime St is The Gherkin in St Mary Axe. Completed in 2003, it rises to a height of 590 ft and not difficult to see where it gets its name from. It was a popular addition to the City skyline when it was built, and still is today. This was another design by architect Norman Foster and replaced the Baltic Exchange which was blown up by the IRA in 1992. When it was sold for £630 million in 2007 it became the UK’s most expensive office building. It was sold again in 2014 for £700 million.
The accolade for the tallest building in The City goes to Heron Tower, which at 755ft also makes it the third tallest building in the UK (after The Shard in Southwark and One Canada Square in Canary Wharf). Apart from its height, the other feature worth checking out if you have the opportunity is the enormous fish tank in the reception area. It’s so big that it even employs divers to keep it clean.
2014 saw the completion of The Cheesegrater, a building that immediately captured people’s imagination, and at 733ft is not far behind Heron Tower in height. This is another Richard Rogers design and is located virtually opposite his Lloyds Building.
There’s one more building I want to mention and that’s the one that is called the Walkie Talkie. Most of these new buildings have official names but it’s never long before somebody finds a nickname for them. Officially called 20 Fenchurch St, this is one building that allows public access. A lift will whisk you up 500 ft to the Sky Garden without charge, where there’s a bar, restaurant, and viewing platform. As you can probably guess, this is a popular venue, and as a consequence it’s necessary to book in advance as numbers are limited.
Modern buildings aren’t to everyone’s taste, and the Walkie Talkie even won the ‘Carbuncle Cup’ in 2015 for being the UK’s worst new building of 2014, but love them or loathe them, skyscrapers are here to say – in the foreseeable future at least. Thankfully, I’m someone who finds all these new buildings with all their different designs exciting, and I can’t wait for the next one to arrive, which is likely to be – wait for it – The Scalpel. Watch this space!