I really enjoy looking up as well as around when I visit London. The array of buildings which jostle for space in the centre, tracing the capital’s dynamic history, intrigue me. Thinking about it, I realise this fascination has been with me all my life – perhaps because my father was an architect.
I just about remember the arrival of the GPO Tower (now the BT tower) in the 1960s, reminiscent of something in a Thunderbirds episode, and the face of modern London. In the ‘70s Tower 42 (originally the Nat West Tower), sleek and ground-breaking in its design, dominated the City. The ‘80s saw the massive developments in Docklands, transforming the face of this mainly derelict part of East London. The centrepiece was and is no 1 Canada Square, more popularly known as Canary Wharf. I love the quirky Gherkin, at 30 St Mary Axe, which I watched being built from my office, and which graced the City skyline early in the new millennium. And of course, since 2012 The Shard’s elegant finger has pointed to the sky from London Bridge station. I’ve enjoyed watching London’s skyline evolve through my lifetime, contributing to our city’s hundreds of years of growth and development.
However, in my opinion, London has got a bit carried away with the Big Building thing just recently. I am disturbed and perturbed by the way in which steel and glass are being shipped in at a rate of knots and slung up into the sky in weird, and not always very wonderful ways. Even The Gherkin is overwhelmed by the new builds – an assortment of oddly shaped lumps which dwarf the existing buildings. The Walkie Talkie redeems itself a little with the Sky Garden (free to visit, but book, at skygarden.london), but I personally think it is too big and lumpy for our tiny, Medieval street pattern.
Any city on earth can build big, new shiny stuff. But London’s historic buildings are unique. Its wealth of buildings and churches designed by Sir Christopher Wren are, for me, the jewel in the crown of London’s architecture. I expect I’ll be blogging about them soon.
In the meantime that adage from the old children’s programme Finders Keepers rings true – ‘Look high, look low, look everywhere!’ London’s buildings are so rich and varied, and looking above the modern shop fronts reveals a rich and varied assortment of facades and detail. Our wonderful city’s history can be seen everywhere, and I for one never tire of wandering, looking and thinking about it all. If you can get out and about a bit in London this summer, I hope you enjoy it too!
No 1 Canada Square, at the heart of Canary Wharf
The Shard, scraping the sky!