Thursday, 18 February 2016

The Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street

Forget the Shard, as far as I'm concerned 20 Fenchurch Street aka "the Walkie Talkie" is the London skyscraper of the moment; controversial, garish, and hyper-postmodern. The building seems to have attracted more negative attention than positive since its completion, something which I really don't understand, but personally think adds to its mystique rather than detracts. I quite like how opinionated everyone is about it! Of course, we can't easily dismiss legitimate complaints which have already tarnished the building's reputation somewhat. For example, the solar glare issue which arose during its construction; during a two hour period per day direct sunlight bouncing off of the Walkie Talkie's highly reflective surface was concentrated into a kind of death ray with tempratures in the streets to its south reaching 117 °C! This meant that within this two hour timeframe the building was basically transformed into a colossal magnifying glass, frying passersby like ants and earning it the nickname the "Walkie Scorchie!" The building's architect Rafael Viñoly blamed the phenomenon on global warming and the glass has since been covered with a non-reflective film. 
Many have also complained that the Walkie Talkie has created a wind tunnel effect at street level with the City of London Corporation receiving an increased number of complaints about draughts after the building's completion.
It was also awarded the Carbuncle Cup in 2015 for the "ugliest building in Britain completed within the last twelve months" but honestly I just don't see it! I think its an incredibly aesthetic building... 
It stands a little way apart from its bros, buildings like 122 Leadenhall Street "The Cheesegrater" and 30 St Mary Axe "The Gherkin", and is one of the latest highrise constructions in London's skyscraper boom, which is currently reinventing the city's skyline. Although the Walkie Talkie is not the tallest tower in London it somehow manages, for the moment at least, to completely dominate the everchanging cityscape through sheer weirdness; its like some kind of giant chunky wombat leaning over you. It was originally planned to be a lot taller, 40m taller in fact, however heritage groups expressed concerns, stating that its visual impact would compromise nearby St Paul's and the Tower of London and so it now stands at a respectable 160m - which is certainly tall enough to make an impression!
Personally I adore the way in which London is developing visually. I find it all very exciting, and love to see the old and new complementing, as well as contrasting and even clashing with one another; ideas bouncing back and forth, constantly inventing and reinventing the surroundings. This is exactly what the Victorians did when they decided to build Tower Bridge slap-bang next to the Tower of London; I'm sure it was meant to both complement and compete with the older structure. Both of these buildings were architectural statements of their day; the Normans were saying one thing, Queen Victoria another, both wanted to create a lasting impact on our city; shaping its present and its future. I'm not mad at the latest developments like some people are, I can appreciate the old and the new, and I think 20 Fenchurch Street is absolutely stunning; the curvature of the glasswork, the sheer scale of its flanks... What's more its open to the public, free of charge; all that's needed is a little foresight in selecting a date and time, and a small amount of queuing, although apparently walk-in tickets are available too, and you're free to explore the phenomenal Sky Garden. 

I've heard complaints about the "garden" element of the Sky Garden being little more than a glorified rockery with little to write home about, and although this may be true to a certain extent I really enjoyed my recent visit and let's be honest the view of London is its main draw. When the lift opens up, you round a corner and are greeted by an incredible sight; the city in all its glory! London is certainly a weird looking place, not really beautiful but somehow impressive, enduring and well put together; the Shard stands proud like a towering, immovable sentinel, the Tower of London sits squat like some bold, regal mushroom and a far off glint reveals itself to be the clock face of the Elizabeth Tower. From up here the city is laid bare before you and it's possible to actually appreciate how it really looks like never before, without distraction; something along the lines of Game of Thrones meets Bladerunner, old and new, modern and postmodern, layers upon layers of history and ideas - a sight to behold! Its an incredible sensation to walk level with the tops of skyscapers, and to look down onto the millions of oblivious metropolitanites swarming like insects in the streets below. This experience comes for free courtesy of 20 Fenchurch Street, "the Walkie Talkie". Regardless of your opinion on the structure itself, make sure that you don't miss out on the opportunity to soak in that incredible view from its Sky Garden during your time in London! Plan ahead and book it in - it'll be worth it. 
Tip - plan to go half an hour before sunset to witness the city in both daylight and darkness; seeing all of those millions of lights begining to turn on at dusk is something quite magical.