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Reaching for the sky

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Reaching for the skyFri 01 Mar 2013 –  Once one of the tallest buildings in the City, Lloyd’s is being dwarfed by some of its newer neighbours.

First it was just the Gherkin and then Norman Foster’s Willis Building followed by the Heron Tower, which at 110 Bishopsgate is currently the City’s tallest building (reaching 230 metres with its antenna spire).

Now construction is underway on a new generation of City towers – with many having insurance companies as their major tenants.

These include the Pinnacle, informally called the Helter-Skelter, Richard Rogers’ 122 Leadenhall, nicknamed the Cheese Grater, and 20 Fenchurch Street, better known as the Walkie Talkie. Last year, plans were announced for a 25-storey scalpel-shaped skyscraper to house US insurer WR Berkley at 52-54 Lime Street.

While Lloyd’s, with its gleaming metallic ducts and iconic Richard Rogers’ design, retains its place at the heart of the City of London’s financial district, its view is ever changing.

Sympathetic skyscrapers

Despite ever-taller skyscrapers going up, the architecture is for the most part sympathetic to its environment with a respect for some of the City’s historic buildings.

122 Leadenhall’s slanting wedge-shape was designed specifically to accommodate a viewing corridor to St Paul’s Cathedral. It is understood the shape of the proposed “Scalpel” building across the road from the Cheese Grater is also tapered to allow for the St Paul’s sightline.

“It’s like hands opening up to keep the St Paul’s corridor free, ” says Simon Harper, commercial manager of Lloyd’s Property Services, who highlights the sensitivities shown in the construction of the skyscrapers of EC1.

“The glass of the Willis building, which is by Sir Norman Foster, is concave, ” he continues. “So when you look at it you can see Lloyd’s reflected in it, and that can’t be a coincidence, I think all the buildings are being done sympathetically. The City doesn’t want some monster standing out.”

One of the requirements for tall City buildings is that they create new public spaces and thoroughfares at their base. As Harper points out, most of the public’s interaction with buildings is done at a ground level and hence, they must not obscure too much light (which is why most modern skyscrapers get narrower as they go upwards) or restrict the movement of people around the City.

One example is New Court, the London headquarters for Rothschild Bank, which was short-listed for the RIBA Stirling award. The Rothschild family has occupied the site on narrow St Swithin’s lane since 1809 with a succession of buildings all but obliterating Christopher Wren’s 17th century St Stephen Walbrook church from view… until now.

The new building is lifted from the ground thanks to its structural steel design. The tall street-level forecourt provides uninterrupted views through to the church and churchyard in what is one of the most densely built parts of the City.

Courting controversy

The ‘Walkie Talkie’ shaped skyscraper at 20 Fenchurch Street is undoubtedly the most controversial of the new tall building designs. It flares outwards so that its biggest floor spaces are on the top levels, where they can fetch the highest rents. To compensate for its intrusion on the City skyline the building will boast a three-level “skygarden” upon completion, which will be free to the public.

Expected for 2014, the 688, 000 square foot office building will be occupied by major insurers including Kiln, Markel International, and Ascot Underwriting.

The innovative design of Lloyd’s One Lime Street building – with its services on the outside of the building – fetched plenty of derision when it was built in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Simon Harper thinks the building, with its barrel-vaulted glass roof, has retained its character and today stands out against some of its newer contemporaries.

“People have got used to us now, ” he says. “Visually outside when you see the building it’s still metal and lots of concrete and not many others are – they’re mostly glass – so it has a different look  and feel to it and it’s also stepped back so you see different views of the building with the lifts going up and the lights at night.”

Building for the future

But it is the inside of a building that is the true test of its success. As Harper points out, the Lloyd’s building was one designed for change.

“The light fittings are all squares and the partitioning can be built against that grid, ” explains Harper. “Twenty-five years ago there were over a hundred tenants, 280 square feet was the smallest domain, now we’ve got 20 tenants with the largest taking up 40, 000 square feet.”

“There were literally 40 tenants on the floor I’m sitting on at the moment and now there’s the Corporation in 28, 000 square feet all sitting in open plan, ” he continues. “So the flexibility of this building, which was the core principle it was built upon, is incredible for the use over time.”

“We’re a packed building and that creates a buzz here because we’ve got the market and we’ve got people coming through here, up to 2, 500 brokers a day, so we become part of the hub of the City, ” he concludes. “People might be based in the skyscraper opposite, but they come here to create the buzz in this building.”

(source: Lloyd’s of London)


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