City of London
The City of London is an area of about 3 square kilometers in the Center of London between Westminster (Parliament) and Tower Bridge & Tower of London. It is widely referred to simply as the City, or the Square Mile, which has tremendous historic value as this is the oldest area in London.
The Roman legions established a settlement known as “Londinium” right in the area around AD 43, and this is basically the first settlement of the city. A lot has changed and been built, including The Tower of London, which was constructed during the Medieval era. For a hundred years, the district’s skyline was dominated by the giant dome of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, an important religious site as the seat of the Bishop of London. Moreover, the Tower Bridge is also located in the area, connecting the North and South banks of the River Thames.
On top of these well-known landmarks, there are so many important places and markets here, making an exciting district to explore: from Royal Exchange, Mansion House, Old Bailey, and Smithfield Market; to London Bridge terminus station, Shakespeare’s Globe, Borough Market, and Tate Modern on the South Bank. There are so many shops and restaurants filling the streets too – You will probably need more than a day to check out all these attractions.
However, here I want to talk about something else about these places. I want to talk a little about London’s skyline, which has transformed dramatically in the last decade. Yes, skyscrapers are popping up like bamboo here and now the old and new are mixed with new buildings scattered among the oldest area in the city. For so much new “modern architecture” that we see here, I have to say I really really really think the Skyline of the City of London along the River Thames is getting stranger and stranger… I appreciate the beauty of modern architecture and I like to go high.
To me, I always think unique and special skyscrapers should stand on their own instead of next to each other. Here, we see a cluster of oddly shaped buildings, one next to another, standing oh so proudly on the riverside, giving London a new scenery that goes beyond your imagination. I have chosen and explored a few most well-known buildings which are located within the City of London and Southwark. Why are they shaped in weird ways and which one looks the oddest to you? Let’s find out.
Tower of London and Tower Bridge
Before we dive into the skyscrapers, I want to talk a little bit about two important London landmarks: The Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. The Tower of London may look “nothing special” from the outside. It is officially Her Majesty’s Rpyal Palance and Fortress of the Tower of London, and it was a castle that lies within the Borough of Tower Hamlets (the edge of the City of London), on the north bank of the River Thames.
The historic building was founded by the Norman Conquest in 1066, and the White Tower was constructed by William the conqueror in 1078 and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite.
For a long period of time, the Tower is served as a prison until 1952 for the Kray twins, although it was not the primary purpose of this Tower – it was originally served as a royal residence. Expanson and reinforcement of the Tower were made under kings Richard I, Henry III, and Edward I between the 12th and 13th centries. What we see today is mainly the work that was completed in the late 13th centuries, and therefore the heritage has as age of over seven hundred years.
It was been a symbol of power in London and it played an important role throughout the country’s past. Controlling the Tower means controlling the country. In the late 15th century, the Princes in the Tower were housed at the castle when they mysteriously disappeared, presumed murdered. Besides, this is probably one of the most secured location in the entire country.
It has an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, and public record office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of England. Today, if you are visiting the Tower of London, you have to take a walk around the White Tower and the Line of Kings, the Jewel House that put the Imperial State Crown (it has 2,800 diamonds and other rocks on the crown for the coronation of Queen victoria in 1837!) on display, the Royal Mint Museum (which was still in operation until 1812), the Bloody Tower, the Beefeaters, the weapon and the armor collection, and so much more.
The Tower Bridge in London was built between 1886 and 1984, and since then it’s been one of the most recognizable symbols of the city. While most people always have mistaken that this is the bridge in the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down”, the real London Bridge is actually half a mile upstream with no eye-catching architectural features like the Tower Bridge. One of the reasons, I presume, that people get confused with the two bridges because of Tower Bridge’s bascules that still lift several times a day!
While the bridge itself is a beautiful structure with two magnificent Gothic-style bridge towers and four strikingly blue suspension chains, it is also filled with monuments and historic writings.
Its high-level walkway offers a panoramic view of the River Thames, from the nearby Tower of London, to the modern skyscrapers in Cornhill and London Bridge, HMS Belfast, and City Hall. If you are interested to learn more about the history and mechanics of the hundred-year-old structure, visitors may also sign up for a guided tour for a behind-the-scenes experience of its original machinery.
The Shard also referred to as the Shard of Glass or Shard London Bridge, is a neo-futurism 72-story skyscraper, designed by Italian architect Reno Piano, with a height of 309.6 meters, named the tallest building in the UK since 2012. The entire Shard Quarter development is located in Southwark, revitalizing an old district of the London Bridge train station, and it got the name because of its sharp and sleek exterior – covered with over 11,000 pieces of glass panels.
The total area of the glass facade is about 56,000 square meters, enough to cover eight football pitches. I guess out of the remaining buildings on the list, the Shard is not “weird” – the pyramid-shaped building may not be the first in the world (huh, hello, San Francisco). But it does give this genre a reboot, as we know this shape is not that innovative, we don’t see them as much anymore. In fact, the inspiration for this sleek building was the irregular nature of the site.
The shard is actually a very eco-friendly building. 95% of the materials used for the building were recyclable materials, and 20% of the steelwork was from recycled sources. The four faces of the Shard are split, meaning the corners do not touch, giving the building space to “breath”.
The ground floor is the Shard Plaza, a public space with seating and plants. The second floor is a retail area and is connected to the concourse of the train station. From the 34th to the 52nd floor is the Shangri-La Hotel, and it has an observatory at the top of the pinnacle, offering panoramic views of London.
122 Leadenhall Street
122 Leadenhall Street is nicknamed the Cheesegrater, it’s a ginormous skyscraper, with 52 stories, 26 elevators, and 224 meters in height.
the new skyscrapers are somehow in a modern and weird shape that doesn’t very much go with the classical European buildings. For example, the Cheesegrater (122 Leadenhall Street) is ginormous, it was completed in 2014, and now it’s the fourth tallest building in London, owned by CC Land.
The building was designed by Richard Rogers, and why it’s nicknamed the cheesegrater, is probably because… it really looks like one. the tower is a trapezium with one side vertical, but the glass-covered tapered building doesn’t go all the way to the ground, the bottom of the building was supported by steel pillars that look like grated cheese coming out from, yeah, a cheesegrater.
30 St Mary Axe
Another skyscraper has an interesting nickname, the Gherkin, and I happen to love the shape of this innovative architecture. It was one of the “oldest” skyscrapers in the area, and it was once standing on its own by the river in 2004.
Among the surroundings, the Gherkin is one of the most iconic buildings that define the London skyline. It was designed by Norman Foster: The Gherkin was covered by 24,000 square meters of glass, and in fact, only one piece of glass of the building is curved – the one piece at the top. The circumference of the Gherkin (the thickest part) it’s 178 meters, and obviously, that point is the height at the top nor the bottom part of the building, given that the building is getting fatter in the middle.
Do you know the Gherkin was actually not the first choice? The original plan was to build the Millennium Tower, a 92-story skyscraper that would have become the tallest building in Europe. However, Heathrow Airport objected to the idea as it would disturb the flight routes. Hence, the cucumber-shaped building made the cut and was realized.
20 Fenchurch Street
While the other two skyscrapers do not have a tourist attraction, the Walkie-Talkie may get you interested. The new addition is an eye-catching architecture, with shapes that are like no other. It is a curvy skyscraper and when the building goes up, it gets swollen to a larger, curvy top that’s larger than the lower part of its body – as to how it was advertised when it was being built as “The Building With More Up Top”.
Why is it shaped like this? This time, it’s not for aesthetic reasons. It’s just to maximize floor space on the existing space of land!
Anyway… it turns out that the roof of the Walkie-Talkie building is actually quite special. It is constructed like a giant greenhouse for the public to enjoy and appreciate the magnificent view of the city of London. More, it’s free!
The name “Sky Garden” might bring you back to the ancient times in Babylon, where its “Hanging Garden” is a tiered garden featuring a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and vines.
the Sky Garden is a modern interpretation of building a garden at the top of a skyscraper. While this garden is not exactly the first of its type, its stylish and brilliant design made it one of the most popular attractions in London. It is claimed to be the tallest public park in the city, and it is filled with exotic plants that are mindfully placed on terraces that create different walking paths and trails.
At the front of the garden is an open-air deck, offering an unobstructed view of London at the River Thames waterfront. There, you will be able to take a good look at the Shard, Tower Bridge, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, even to the West End if the weather is clear.
To prepare for the visit, visitors are needed to register and pick a time slot at their website – I am a typical type-A personality and I must plan plan plan … Not sure if they accept any walk-ins, my guess is very much unlikely. Bookings for the Sky Garden are free and only allow bookings 2 weeks in advance. You could imagine it fills up pretty fast (especially the sunset period).
The process of booking the visit, yet, is quite simple and easy. Follow the steps and you should get the tickets without any hassle. Check Sky Garden’s official website for the schedule and availability as the time slots can be filled up pretty fast, the garden could be closed if it is reserved for a private event.
Remember to print out the tickets (the pdf files with a barcode) after receiving the registration email. There’s a security check upon arrival and facial ID is required for the registration (wow that serious). But other than that, the sky garden is only one elevator ride away.
One side is an outdoor balcony facing the river Thames. The shard is right there directly on the opposite side of the bank. I was (again) very lucky to visit the Sky Garden on a gorgeous summer day, the entire London is clear to view and I looked all the way to the Westminster and beyond.
The City Hall is like a cousin of Gherkin because it was also designed by Norman Foster. The City Hall only has 10 floors a diameter of 45 meters, and a height of 45 meters. It’s located on the South bank which mirrors Gherkin on the other side of the river. It has a simple name and it was an homage to the America-inspired structure of the Greater London Authority, which was an attempt to establish a format that was more efficient than the Greater London Council. Nicknames? It is called “the snail” and “the onion”.
Among the weirdest buildings that has already built, we have to mention the Tulip (which is notthing like Tulip at all, and it was originally proposed to be an add-on to the Gherkin.
The proposal was to build a tower that’s 305 meters in height, next to the Gherkin, and it’s merely a 360 degree observatory with gondolas circulating around the edge of the three oval panels, plus sky bridges in the core. The project was designed by Foster + Partners, and it almost became the second tallest buidling in London. The project was subject to start in 2020, with oppoistion by Historic England, Historic Royal Palaces, and the Greater London Authority, it was eventually shut down by the Mayor after it was approved by London’s planning and transportation committee in 2019.
As a matter of fact, it’s not just me! Walkie Talkie judged the UK’s worst building on the BBC! More, here we have a video that kind of explains why London’s Skyscrapers are oddly shaped – check it out: