London’s skyline is one of the most recognizable in the world. It’s the backdrop for countless movies, royal weddings and iconic moments of history. People pay a good penny to reach the highest points in the city for an overarching view of the Capital. But how much do they like what we see?
In a study published by YouGov, over 1000 London adults were asked their opinions on the city’s most iconic buildings, deciding if it had changed London’s skyline for the better or worse? Here we take a detailed look at each building, a bit of its history, and what the locals of London have to say.
Officially called 30 St Mary Axe, this iconic structure is more popularly known as the Gherkin, and it’s not difficult to see why. The distinctive cigar-shape makes it easily recognisable in the London skyline, towering 180m in the heart of the city’s primary financial district.
The glass-fronted steel structure was designed by legendary British architect Sir Norman Foster. Taking two years to complete, it officially opened in April 2004. As a private office building, it isn’t open to the public except for its restaurant and bar, and special events such as Open House London.
In 2005, the Gherkin was voted the most admired new building. But what do London residents think of the Gherkin now?
The majority, 52%, agree that their beloved Gherkin has changed the London skyline for the better. 29% say that it hasn’t made much difference, while only 11% think it’s changed the skyline for the worse. It seems Londoners have kept their cravings for a massive gherkin in the centre of their beloved city.
The Walkie Talkie
Another one of the City of London’s most recognisable pieces of architecture, 20 Fenchurch Street got its nickname ‘Walkie Talkie’ due to its distinctive top-heavy shape. Rafael Viñoly’s London skyscraper sits in the historic City of London financial district, standing 38-stories high. Today it is the fifth tallest completed building in the City of London.
34 of those floors are dedicated to office space, while the 35th, 36th and 37th floors are for visitors to enjoy bars, restaurants and a large viewing deck. A must-do for anyone looking for fun things to do in London is a visit to the Sky Garden. Spanning three stories, the landscaped gardens and open-air terrace offer 360-degree views of London’s skyline.
Ever since its proposal, the high-rise has been a contentious issue. It’s been blamed for powerful downdraught on the streets of London, its concave design channelling gusts of wind strong enough to knock people over. It’s also been responsible for a glaring beam of light so hot it melted the paintwork off cars, being rebranded by critics as the ‘Walkie Scorchie.’
And then there’s the fact that people think it sticks out like a sore thumb. In 2015 it was awarded the Carbuncle Cup for the worst new building in the UK of the year. And it seems that feelings haven’t changed much.
According to YouGov, a majority of 36% think the Walkie Talkie has changed the skyline for the worse. 25% think it’s changed the skyline for the better, while another 25% think it hasn’t made much difference.
No discussion of London’s skyline is complete without a mention of the 95-storey skyscraper “The Shard of Glass.” The unique building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano forms part of the Shard Quarter development in Southwark. Covered entirely in glass, the 309.6m high pyramidal structure is currently the tallest building in the UK and the tallest building in the European Union.
With that kind of height, it’s inevitable that you’ll get breathtaking vistas from this institutional building. Opening to the public in 2013, the tower has a privately operated observation deck, the View from The Shard. It’s also home to a number of Shard restaurants and bars where guests can enjoy sensational dining with the unforgettable backdrop of London’s skyline. Whether it’s champagne afternoon tea or a romantic dinner for two, the Shard has become the ultimate destination for dining at dizzying heights.
A resounding 57% of London adults believe their beloved Shard has changed the skyline for the better. Only 15% think it’s changed the skyline for the worse, while 21% believe it hasn’t made much difference.
The Gherkin and now the Cheesegrater? Are we talking about London’s skyline or are we making a salad? Officially named 122 Leadenhall Street, the building stands 225 metres tall, making it one of the tallest skyscrapers in the Square Mile. The tapered design of the building was done to preserve views of St Paul’s Cathedral giving it the appearance of yup, you guessed it, a cheesegrater.
And what do residents have to say about this 50-storey tower akin to a kitchen utensil? It seems they’re sitting on the fence. Equally, 19% of interviewees thought it’s changed the skyline for the better and for the worse. 33% believe it hasn’t made much difference, while 29% have no clue.
St Paul’s Cathedral
Until now we’ve been discussing skyscrapers that have been built in the past two decades. But one historic building has been defining London’s skyline for over 300 years – St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Completed in 1708, the Anglican cathedral is a world-renowned structure with a vast dome reaching a height of 111 meters. It sits within the central City of London, atop Ludgate Hill and northeast of Blackfriars. After enduring the Great Fire of 1666, it was rebuilt by Christopher Wren who combined Neoclassical, Gothic, and Baroque elements.
The cathedral has been the site of many historic state occasions, including the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana and Sir Winston Churchill’s state funeral. It’s also the resting place of several famous people; the Duke of Wellington, Admiral Nelson and Christopher Wren himself are entombed in the cathedral’s crypt.
It seems that Londoners are in agreement with St Paul’s Cathedral’s impact on their city’s skyline – 70% think St Paul’s Cathedral has changed London’s skyline for the better. 17% think it hasn’t made much difference while a mere 1% think it’s changed the skyline for the worse.
Haven’t heard of the Tulip? I don’t blame you. Technically it hasn’t even been built yet. In fact, it likely never will.
The 1,000 ft skyscraper, called “a lift shaft with a bulge on top” by Historic England, would have been the second tallest in western Europe. The Tulip was designed by famed British architect Norman Foster. Considered as one of the most prolific British architects of his generation, Foster has already had his fair share of editing the London skyline; he’s responsible for designing City Hall, Willis Building and 30 St Mary aka the Gherkin.
London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, rejected plans for the glass building in July this year, arguing that “the design is of insufficient quality for such a prominent location.” But before the Mayor’s decision had even been made, London’s residents shared their opinions on what the proposed building would do to their precious skyline.
Surprisingly, the majority disagreed with Mr Khan. Based on a picture of the proposed building, 37% of adults believed the Tulip would change the skyline for the better, compared to 32% who think it would make it worse.
As a leading financial centre with a growing population, London’s skyline is always susceptible to change. Last year the number of skyscrapers in the capital hit an all-time high of 541. This year, a record 76 skyscrapers were to be finished, more high-rise buildings than any other year.
If developments continue at this rate, what will the city’s skyline look like 5 years from now? Will more tall buildings contribute to affordable housing, or will higher maintenance and costs mean more taxes for residents? Only time will tell.