On a cold and decidedly windy grey November afternoon, we made our way to the City to meet up with a fellow blogger and her husband to visit the new “Sky Garden” at the top of one of London’s latest sky scraping office blocks.
The northern elevation of my target as seen from Bishopsgate
The old and the new…
20 Fenchurch Street is the real name of the office block but as is usual with London skyscrapers it has a nickname…in this case the “walkie-talkie building”… which describes it unusual shape.
With its uppermost floors bulging out, like a filing cabinet with the top drawers slightly open, it is an odd sight when looking up at them from below. This top heavy design was in part intended to maximise floor space on the upper levels where rental costs are higher and views are better than lower down.
Designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Vinoly, the building is 160 metres or 525 feet high, and currently is the fifth tallest building in the city of London, after Heron Tower, The Cheesegrater, Tower 42 and the Gherkin.
Opening in Spring 2015, the building soon had its nickname revised to the “walkie-scorchie” when it was found that reflective beams of light from its facade had begun to melt cars parked in nearby streets! Vertical fins were swiftly affixed to the building to rectify this issue.
20 Fenchurch Street continues to attract controversy culminating in the award of the Carbuncle Cup for 2015! This tongue in cheek alternative to the Stirling Prize is awarded annually by Building Design magazine to the ugliest building in the UK completed in the last year.
Close up of the facade
The entrance to the sky garden is on Philpot Lane and a huge green wall lines the access steps.
The Guild church of St Margaret Pattens close by 20 Fenchurch Street looks tiny compared to its new neighbour!
This is yet another City church destroyed in the Great Fire and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren and is notable for its 200 foot spire often referred to as Wren’s only true spire, designed in a medieval style. The Church ceased to be a parish church in the 1950’s and became one of the City’s Guild Churches, its name referring to the livery company the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers. Pattens were wooden soled overshoes later soled with raised iron rings that enabled people to walk around London without muddying their feet!
On to the Sky Garden…remarkably public access is free and timed tickets must be booked in advance online a few weeks before your intended visit.
Once inside you can stay as long as you like, and there is a coffee shop and cocktail bar and comfy sofas with pink blankets…it just gets better!
I had our tickets at the ready and we went through all the usual airport style searches before entering the lift and pressing the button for floor 35. The lift was very smooth, silent and speedy, but my ears popped at about floor 25!
On exiting the lift and turning right across the concourse I was drawn towards the viewing platform and unusually for me, I was lost for words! Whilst I knew that the views would be good, nothing had quite prepared me for the 360 degree views out over the city. The outside deck was cantilevered out and you could seen directly below into the Lilliputian world of the Great Wen!
The first thing that drew my eye was the Shard…visible in most parts of London and standing at 309.6 metres or 1,016 feet high that isn’t really surprising! Currently the 87th tallest building in the world, at the time of its completion it was the tallest habitable building in the European Union.
Renzo Piano’s neo-futurist glass Shard
My eye was then drawn to try to pick out key landmarks…
The diminutive HMS Belfast wouldn’t be out of place in a bath tub!
The Tower of London like a child’s fort!
Canary Wharf in the distance and the curve of the river
Wren’s Monument overshadowed by a red crane.
Having visited the Monument… the views from the sky garden are much better and you don’t have to climb a narrow winding staircase of 311 steps and back down! However you don’t get a certificate!
Looking west…St Pauls and the Old Bailey with One New Change in the foreground
Looking east along the outdoor viewing deck and a tiny Tower Bridge
Looking down onto roof tops and into familiar streets
The BT or Post Office Tower in the distance. London’s tallest building at 177 metres high when it was completed in 1964
Tate Modern the former Bankside Power Station designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and five river bridges
We climbed the stairs to view the garden.
The Sky Garden is marketed as the “Capital’s highest public garden”and was designed by the landscapers Gillespies. My blogging friend, also a keen gardener, and I discussed the planting which given the fact that it was completed only in January was already quite established.
The stairs rise up alongside themed planting borders reminiscent of a mountain slope. The plants seemed to be mainly mediterranean species with lavenders and rosemary edging the steps. Some Echiums native of the Canary Islands will be quite spectacular when they produce flower heads several feet high and the Strelizia plants or bird of paradise were already in flower.
Higher up the stairs the planting took on a more South African theme with Agapanthus and Kniphofia and higher still the planting was predominantly fig trees, tree ferns and cycads.
Little seating areas surrounded by greenery created welcome private enclaves within this huge public space
Jurassic park…perhaps the highest tree ferns in London
Looking west we noticed some of the city’s other roof gardens…
The Coq d’Argent restaurant and garden on the top of N0 1 Poultry, with its distinctive pink and yellow limestone clad building
The elegant parterres on the roof of Rothschild’s HQ
The roof garden atop Cannon Street Railway Building
Now on the final top floor the views from the windows looked northwards.
Tower 42, The Cheesegrater and the Gherkin all in a row looking at this new neighbour.
My regular readers will know that I am very fond of Spitalfields and it was remarkable to be able to see Hawksmoor’s Christ Church on the corner of Fournier Street and Commercial Street in the distance!
Ten past three by the Christ Church clock…and the Town House Gallery with its lights shining on a grey afternoon…a bit late for tea according to Rupert Brooke so we settled for a cup of coffee instead!
Coming back down the stairs on the eastern side to the coffee shop with the best view in London!
Dusk approaches across the city