London Skyscrapers and their Amazing Histories

London Skyscrapers and their Amazing Histories

London Skyscrapers and their Amazing Histories

From iconic monuments and beautifully intricate masonry, to desirable self-contained village neighbourhoods, the capital’s diverse architecture reflects its varied past and equally varied culture. Representative of the city’s contemporary financial prowess, London skyscrapers have come to define the capital’s skyline. Awe-inspiring and ubiquitous, these impressive structures are familiar to many – but their inception and creation less so. Before embarking on a luxurious stay in one of our London serviced apartments, expand your knowledge of the city as we explore the amazing histories of these vertiginous landmarks.

The Shard

The Shard The Thames sunset
The Shard dominates structures once considered imposing, such as Tower Bridge

The tallest building in the UK, the Shard is a 72-storey London skyscraper with a distinctive pyramidal design. Clad in highly reflective glass, the building indeed resembles a ‘shard’ of glass – but the name was originally unintentionally coined by English Heritage who, upon seeing the designs, said the building would be like "a shard of glass through the heart of historic London". However, the architect, Renzo Piano, was actually influenced by more traditional London structures, such as church steeples and the masts of large sailing ships. Indeed, Piano disliked ‘conventional’ skyscrapers and sought to deliberately create a structure less incongruous with London's cityscape.

When the Shard’s development plans were opposed by multiple heritage bodies including the Royal Parks Foundation and English Heritage, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott ordered a planning enquiry. Stating that the plans proposed a level of ‘exceptional design’, planning consent was awarded to the project. Following the demolition of Southwark Towers – the building that originally stood in the Shard’s place – construction finally began in 2009 and was finalised in 2012.

Fascinating fact: The Shard is 1,016 feet tall, making it the seventh tallest building in Europe.

One Blackfriars

one blackfriars london skyscrapers
The One Blackfriars skyscraper's distinctive shape is instantly recognisable from Blackfriars Bridge

Something that quickly becomes clear when studying London skyscrapers is the prominence of unusual and distinctive shapes amongst their designs. The reason for this relates to a formal agreement that limits the height of London’s buildings to avoid blocking the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. Working within this remit, architects have had to be creative to ensure their buildings are easily distinguishable and efficient in their utilisation of space.

One Blackfriars is no different, with informal nicknames including ‘The Vase’, ‘The Boomerang’ and ‘The Tummy’. ‘The Vase’, however, is perhaps the most accurate name, as architect Ian Simpson cited Timo Sarpaneva’s Lansetti glass vase as direct inspiration for the building’s shape. As with the Shard, the One Blackfriars proposed design received a considerable number of objections, despite the plans having been reduced in height by 57 metres from the original.

Fascinating fact: The building was completed in 2018 at an estimated construction cost of £600 million.

20 Fenchurch Street

20 Fenchurch Street London skyscraper
With a characteristic curve in its design, 20 Fenchurch Street has an almost playful appearance

The commercial skyscraper simply named 20 Fenchurch Street after its address – but more widely known as ‘The Walkie-Talkie’ – is a top-heavy structure with a bulbous aesthetic. One of the more divisive buildings on our list, 20 Fenchurch Street was originally proposed to be 656 feet tall, but this height was reduced to 525 feet after concerns it would have a detrimental visual impact on nearby St Paul’s Cathedral.

Designed by Rafael Viñoly, 20 Fenchurch Street was awarded the Carbuncle Cup for worst new building in the UK in 2015. Furthermore, it was discovered that when sunlight shines on it directly for two hours a day the glass covered building acts as a concave mirror. This results in intense beams of sunlight being projected onto the streets below and has been known to cause damage to vehicles. Similarly, the building was criticised for its wind tunnel effect at street-level. Despite its reputation as the least popular of all London skyscrapers, the commercial spaces of 20 Fenchurch Street are fully let and the building draws many visitors to its Sky garden.

Fascinating fact: The increased street-level temperatures caused by 20 Fenchurch Street’s concave mirror effect have been recorded at 91 and 117 degrees Celsius.

Strata SE1

Strata SE1 London skyscraper
With three wind turbines at its curved top, Strata SE1 is nothing if not striking

At 486 feet tall, Strata SE1 is one of the tallest residential buildings in London. Its unusual design has earned it nicknames including ‘The Razor’ and ‘The Lipstick’, but it was still generally better received than other controversial skyscrapers on our list. Although the building features wind turbines proposed to generate electricity for the building’s common areas, these are said to be rarely functional.

However, Strata SE1 is somewhat revolutionary in its sustainability form, featuring a combined heat and power system as well as a provision for rainwater re-use. This, in theory, means energy costs within the building’s apartments are up to 40% less than a typical British household.

Fascinating fact: Strata SE1 didn’t completely escape criticism, appearing in the Daily Telegraph’s list of the world’s ugliest buildings in 2012.

30 St Mary Axe

30 St Mary Axe London blur sky
30 St Mary Axe is as distinctive for its shape as it is for its unique glass panel patterning

No exploration of London skyscrapers would be complete without a mention of the building that arguably started the new wave of London skyscrapers - 30 St Mary Axe. Often referred to as ‘The Gherkin’ in reference to its curved oblong shape, the skyscraper completed construction in 2003 and quickly earned an iconic reputation. 30 St Mary Axe presented London, and indeed Britain, with a radical new approach to city buildings and generally earned more praise than criticism.

The architectural style of the building can be traced to architect Norman Foster whose modernist designs often adopt energy-efficient construction techniques. Other projects he has worked on include City Hall and Wembley Stadium, in which similar aesthetics can be observed.

Fascinating fact: 30 St Mary Axe is covered with 7,429 panes of glass – which if laid out would cover five football pitches.

Feeling architecturally inspired? Continue your London exploration and read about the most instagrammed places the city has to offer, or better yet, treat yourself to a luxurious stay in one of our most architecturally interesting London serviced apartments.


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