The high-rise skyline of London has (amongst the homogenous mass) a number of interesting and unique skyscrapers that set themselves out from the rest. The development of the urban landscape in London tells a tale of the poverty and prosperity of the city at different times during the course of its history. It also shows some of the artistry and innovation of its architects, and the visionary nature of its planners, in creating a striking impression.
From the brand new Shard to the BT Tower, a number of unusual structures have taken their place in the London skyline and the international consciousness as quintessentially London and thoroughly British.
The most recent addition to the London skyline, the Shard has caused something of a stir amongst the architectural community and in the public at large. The tallest building in London, and one of the tallest in Europe, the skyscraper tops out at 306 metres and reaches higher than even some helicopters get on their trips around the city.
Renzo Piano, the architect of the magnificent building, coined its name from his description of the design as being “like a shard of glass through the heart of historic London.” True to its name, the Shard has a huge amount of glass in its construction and as Piano intended, reflects light back down onto the city below and changes the appearance of the tower depending on the weather and the sky above it.
The building has a viewing platform at the top that gives panoramic views of the city that can only be beaten by taking to the air. From the air, however, you can also get a unique perspective on the tower that dwarfs all buildings around it by a vast margin.
30 St Mary Axe, as the City of London’s Gherkin is formally known, is the most eye-catching skyscraper in the city’s financial district. Informally named the Gherkin for its unusual elliptical shape, the tower was built on the site of a terrorist explosion that caused significant damage to the building that previously stood in its place.
The Gherkin has become a landmark of the city skyline and has featured in many films. From Harry Potter to Woody Allen, the tower has played a supporting role with some of the most well-known characters of recent cinema history.
The BT Tower
Formerly known as the Post Office Tower, this was the first structure to eclipse St Paul’s Cathedral for height in London’s cityscape. For a while, it stood as the tallest building in both London and the UK, titles it held until 1980 when the building boom saw the NatWest Tower become the first of many to overtake it in terms of stature.
An unusual, top heavy structure, the BT Tower is very much of its time. When it was constructed in the 1960s it was intended very much as a communications hub for the south of England. Although the tower had a public opening, and its restaurant was owned and run by one of the country’s most popular leisure companies of its era, the existence of the tower was officially a secret. In fact its location wasn’t included on Ordinance Survey Maps until the confirmation of its location in Parliament in the mid-1990s.
The development of the London city skyline has had an interesting and varied heritage. From terrorist bombs and official secrets to the tallest tower in the European Union, London’s cityscape has been shaped by the tall buildings that have emerged to dominate its vistas.