London’s skyline gets the Manhattan treatment
The Great Fire of London blazed through the city 350 years ago, and images from that fateful year of 1666 show just how much the metropolis has changed over time. However, just as striking are pictures of the city skyline taken just a couple of decades ago. For it’s only in the past few years that, flush with foreign investment and a new sense of swagger, London has abandoned its English reserve and followed the likes of Manhattan and Hong Kong in learning to love the skyscraper.
In his 2015 book, Context and the Genius of Place, Eric Parry described how “an orgy of tall buildings will transform and arguably overwhelm London.” And undoubtedly, the city skyline has changed dramatically over the past few years, with modern-day celebrity architects (or “starchitects”) joining Sir Christopher Wren in making their mark on the capital. However, while Sir Christopher’s buildings were designed to glorify God, the modern day marvels sanctify the god of Mammon, with almost all of them found in the City, London’s financial heartland. It was 30 St Mary Axe, otherwise known as the Gherkin that really ushered in this new era of skyscrapers. Designed by Norman Foster, it towers 180 metres above the City streets. Unlike the bland buildings of the past, where simply being tall was deemed good enough, it’s the shape of the Gherkin that really stands out, curving outwards and then closing in again to a peak, just like a giant bullet.
This race to beat Manhattan at its own game shows no sign of drawing to an end anytime soon. Standing on the other side of the Thames to the City, the Shard is, a menacing angular skyscraper designed by Renzo Piano. At 309 metres, it’s Britain’s tallest building, though it too continues to divide opinion.
Dozens more giants are due to rise up over the next few years, among them Parry’s own addition to the London skyline. At 295 metres, 1 Undecroft will be the tallest tower in the Square Mile. But it will be so much more than this. Parry’s designs will see the lobby located 12 metres above ground, freeing up the pavement and creating a new public space, effectively reimagining the financial district.
Will this latest wave of new buildings sate London’s lust for the skyscraper, or will the orgy of construction continue? As New Yorkers realized long ago, “they aren’t building any more land”, so it looks like it will be a case of onwards and upwards for London’s iconic skyline.