Walkie Talkie – Sky Garden

Eileen Haring Woods inspired. A photo of her and Michael and the caption Free, invited. Easy to get there – bus, underground and a short walk from Bank, along Lombard Street with the building like a bowing flower head at the end. All glass.

20 Fenchurch Street was designed in 2004 by Rafael Viñoly, a world-renowned Uruguayan architect based in New York City. Viñoly has successfully turned the idea that buildings having to be smaller at the top on its head.At 38-stories it is the fifth tallest completed building in the City of London. Later I read in July 2017 the Hong Kong food company Lee Kum Kee Group purchased the building from Land Securities and Canary Wharf Group for £1.3 billion.

Exiting the lift on the 35th floor, the first panorama is of the Shard piercing up out of the south bank of London. It did take my breath away, I missed someone to share it with, looked around to find an equal, but everyone was on their camera phones. Such is the life. I determined to walk round before I took one photo. I was early, the day was dull, rather wonderful actually, moody, cool, monochromed, unglaring, cool,  gentle. Bob would say, perfect conditions for a photo.

It was free, and the thought kept returning to my practial merchantile mind why not charge £1. And the answer came back: let it be free. The coffee and cake were exorbitant. The restaurant lunch starters started at 12-20, mains 35 to 45.

I texted Les, my architect friend. His response was negative – hated the building. He’s with the Carbuncle Cup who this the the worst new building in the UK during the year.  The chairman of the jury that decided the prize, Thomas Lane, said “it is a challenge finding anyone who has something positive to say about this building”. 

Named by the press “Walkie-Scorchie”and “Fryscraper”, after a latent scorching effect of the buildings concave mirror focuses sunlight on the streets to the south, with spot temperatures readings at street-level including up to 91 °C (196 °F). It damaged a parked car and one reporter fried and egg  in a pan set out on the ground. Then there was the wind tunnel effect on street level, (I had to hold my hat on!) and a general disappointment with the sky garden – “a meagre pair of rockeries, in a space designed with all the finesse of a departure lounge” as Oliver Wainright, architecture critic of The Guardian, described. 

Lombard Street, however, was full of mystery and intrigue. Passing under the Gresham Grasshopper, it made me want to explore this golden mile I knew so little of.


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