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
The extraordinary views to be had from within this building’s Sky Garden make me forgive a little its
ungainly exterior and gargantuan scale. Among all these photos, the one of
St.Paul’s, surrounded by towering forests of green and red cranes, best describes London’s
uneasy efforts to preserve its unique architectural heritage while more and more generically-designed skyscrapers (behemoths which would seem equally at home in Singapore, or Manhattan)
Really nice photographs! You have given the building a good write-up! Glad you enjoyed the visit & look forward to the next exploration
Love this one, Anne. Great to see some familiar places and some new ones. Impressed with the amount of building that’s going on in London, too. How was the coffee?
Hope you’re all well.
Lots of love Aise
Regards Allison Alan-Brown B A Sound 031 303 4457 083 270 1726 Sales@basound.co.za
Sent from my iPad
Coffee very good! Thanks for your comments and continuing to follow my blogs!
I am pleased to see the interior because when I was in London last, it was just reaching the roof in construction. I must agree with another comment you got – it is not an attractive exterior – to say the least….Thanks.
I love architecture, and I adore London’s modern skyline, but I have to admit I loath the ‘Walkie Talkie’ with a passion. I think it’s a hideous design and a real eyesore. But Anne, you have made it look rather beautiful with your collection of photos here. What stunning views. I love the shot of Tower 42, the Leadenhall building and the Gherkin all in a row! The garden is superb and it certainly is wonderful that the public can access it … and for free! I also love your shots of all the other roof gardens out there. I had no idea they existed. Another great post Anne x
I agree with you that it is probably the most unaesthetic building on the skyline, but once inside it of course you can’t see it!!
Some wonderful views Ann. I wasn’t going to go after hearing negative comments, but will do now!
Ugly the building may be but it provides some wonderful views of London and Londons rooftop gardens. You have provided an interesting insight into London with a different perspective using lovely photographs and amazingly admission is free. I would happily spend an hour or three in the viewing area. You say the coffee is good but can you buy a tasty cake. Thanks Anne for this interesting insight into our capital city.
Yes indeed a large assortment of tasty cakes are on sale!
Fascinating. Great photos Anne. I must try and drag Him Indoors over there one day in the spring. Have a great weekend!
I really enjoyed seeing your photos. As I am also a gardener, I was thrilled to see so many rooftop gardens in the City! I lived in London for twenty odd years, and when I first went there, the Post Office Tower was the height of excitement (so to speak) and then Canary Wharf was built! I visit when I can but don’t do much ‘sightseeing’, it’s more to meet up with friends, so it is great to see so many amazing new buildings. Happy 2016 and I’ll look forward to all your projected posts.
Thank you for stopping to read my post and glad you enjoyed it! Do feel free to follow so you receive my posts in the future and thank you for commenting!
Absolutely wonderful, and i didn’t know it existed!
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