St Mary Axe, 30 (Gherkin)

Above: Looking west from Mile End Road towards the City in April 2018. The Gherkin (just over a mile away) appears in front of the taller Leadenhall Building (Cheesegrater). Just to the right is 22 Bishopsgate under construction.

The building that stands at 30 St Mary Axe has been known to the general public as the ‘Gherkin’ even while it was being constructed. Its unusual shape – rounded and looking similar to a gherkin – was something that seems to appeal to people’s imagination and many postcards of the City’s skyline don’t seem complete without it.

Formerly known as the Swiss Re Building, it is a commercial office block in the City. It was completed in December 2003 and opened in April 2004, designed by Foster and Partners with Shuttleworth who then worked for Foster. It was built for Swiss Re, for them to use as their head-offices in London and provide office space for other companies as well. With 41 floors, it is 180 metres (591 feet) in height. It was built on the site of the Baltic Exchange and Chamber of Shipping, which was extensively damaged in 1992 by a bomb placed in St Mary Axe by the Provisional IRA. The Baltic Exchange building was so badly damaged that the building was reduced to a heap of rubble and the exchange then moved into already existing premises further north.

Above: View looking west from the top floor of the Gherkin in September 2004. On the left is the Thames and part of Victoria Embankment. St Paul’s Cathedral is framed by the inverted ‘V’ of the Gherkin’s structure. The large dark building towards the right is Tower 42 (formerly called Nat West Tower).

Although the Gherkin looks like a curved building, the shape is actually made up of many triangular sheets of flat glass skilfully constructed as one continuous exterior surface. Due to the overall shape of the building, the largest floor plate is about half-way up. The top floor is a restaurant and, as you might expect, remarkable views can be seen of the City and beyond. No doubt, with the increasing number of high-rise buildings continually being erected around the Gherkin, the once panoramic views are gradually diminishing with time.

When the Gherkin opened in 2004 it was seen as a landmark in the City. Just over a decade later, the Gherkin is being dwarfed by the likes of the Leadenhall Building and of 22 Bishopsgate which is a new office block under construction at the time of writing. Its all reminiscent of the saying about ‘small fish being eaten by bigger fish’.


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