Above: View of the City on 9 June 2019 from near Greenwich Pier (Click on image to enlarge to 1024×640).
Some of us, with longer memories than others, can remember walking along the riverfront at Greenwich and looking towards the City of London when the only buildings that were tall enough to be seen were the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral and Tower 42 (completed in 1977 when it was then called the Nat West Tower).
That all seems a very long time ago. Today, you really cannot fail to notice the City of London – even from as far away as Greenwich – because its buildings are so tall that they stand out on the skyline like a line of tall slim giants. From some viewpoints in London, the enormous tower blocks appear to be bunched together in some undignified ‘huddle of glass and steel’. The view of the City from near Greenwich Pier does have some buildings ‘bunched’ together but – purely by chance – others are ‘separated’ by the sky as you look at them. That last sentence probably should read ‘separated by sky NOW’ because who knows what will happen in the coming years.
For several decades, the tall office blocks rose no higher than Tower 42, which held the title of ‘Tallest building the City’ for a considerable time. It is at the time of writing the fifth tallest building in the City. Over the last few years – probably since about 2015 – there has been a noticeable ‘step change’ in the height of offices in the City. The increase in the height seems to have been led by the Shard of Glass (completed in 2012). The Shard stands beside London Bridge Station which is in Southwark, just south of London Bridge and not in the City of London at all. Since that time, ‘giants’ rising well above the height of Tower 42 are starting to emerge, with others in the pipeline.
It is causing unease among many commentators on London, including eminent writers and even some architects. For those who believe that such large buildings could be stopped in their tracks if only the City planning committee would say ‘No’, it is not as easy as that. Members of that committee have been interviewed on television about the decisions and here are a few observations. When a new building goes for approval, it has to conform with many regulations – like the correct number of fire escape stairs, the number of toilets and all the other petty regulations. By the time the plans are submitted, the architects have sorted all that out. Then the committee may talk about sight-lines and whether the building conforms to those regulations. That, too, will also have been sorted out by the developers.
In the end, the committee will rule on whether the height is appropriate for the location and whether the new building overshadows a historic site. The developers may be asked to reduce the height and resubmit the plans. At the next committee meeting, those sitting around the table have little to complain about. They cannot reject the building just because they think it is ‘ugly’ or because ‘they just don’t like it’. So, in the end, the building is passed because the committee has run out of things to which to object. That is how we find the City looking like it does today. Many people find it a very sad situation.
Returning to the view at the top, some of the buildings will be described – working from left to right. On the extreme left (in pale green) is a 22-storey block of flats which were sold to a developer shortly after the year 2000. A few more stories were added on top and the building was refurbished as luxury accommodation. It was originally one of three such towers on the Pepys Estate, in Deptford.
Further left is a cluster of buildings. (1) 22 Bishopsgate, the tallest of them all and under construction when the picture was taken in June 2019. (2) ‘The Cheesegrater’, actually called Leadenhall Building, 122 Leadenhall Street, with the diagonal struts on its side. (3) ‘The Scalpel’, actually called 52-54 Lime Street, which is to the left of the cluster. (4) Tower 42, with an irregular-height top, is only partly seen as a dark shape on the right of 22 Bishopsgate. (5) Aviva Building, an insurance company whose 118 m ‘chunky’ tower appears quite low in comparison to the newer buildings. It is to the right of the cluster.
Further left, standing alone, is the unmistakable shape of the Gherkin, whose actual name is 30 St Mary Axe.
Further left, also standing alone is the rectangular building called 100 Bishopsgate. It was completed in 2019.
Further left, the Heron Tower, a tall slim office block with an irregular-shaped top. Most people still call it the ‘Heron Tower’ but, due to naming dispute in 2014, it is now called ‘Salesforce Tower’. The City of London has made it clear that their preference would be for it to adopt the name of its actual address of 110 Bishopsgate. Much lower and to its left is the ‘Can of Ham’ which stands out clearly from this viewpoint. It actually has the boring name of 60 St Mary Axe.
Finally, the furthest to the right is a new office block under construction. It is not yet known what that one is called.
On the Thames, in the foreground is Masthouse Pier, which is near Masthouse Terrace and Burrell’s Wharf – on the SW of the Isle of Dogs.
Comment – A Christmas Break
We have spent much of the autumn term studying part of the City of London – this year around Bishopsgate and Cornhill. If you would like a complete list to date of titles around Bishopsgate, then make sure you are on the Website. To do that just click on the BLUE heading in any email. Once on the Website, click on the Category called ‘/City-Bishopsgate’ (listed on the right-hand side of the Webpage) and the list will appear – from where you can browse any of the articles. Similarly for titles around Cornhill, just click on ‘/City-Cornhill’ and the current list for that area of study will appear.
We shall be taking a break during December and January. As usual, a ‘mixed bag’ of blogs is planned, including a few seasonal blogs in the week leading up to Christmas. There is always plenty going on in London and there is never any shortage of topics related to other places in Inner London.