Quick back story: Open House London is an annual festival celebrating the best of London’s architecture and design, and it’s been going for over two decades. Every September, for one weekend only, the doors to some of London’s most iconic and protected buildings are cautiously unlocked to the general public.
My choice was the Gherkin, as it’s affectionately known. I arose at the crack of dawn (okay, 06:45) to race down on my bike to 30 Mary Axe Street in 10 minutes flat. I joined a quiet queue of 50 or so people and waited an hour to be let in for 20 minutes. It was a perfectly crisp, sunny September morning.
London’s skyline is changing. Every time my father comes here, it is with astonishment that he notes how the view has altered from Waterloo Bridge since his last visit. Its wonderful conglomeration of narrow alleys with misshapen old pubs, the aesthetic curves of St Paul’s with angular blocks of flats in the Barbican, is rapidly falling under the shadow of modern, some would say monstrous, skyscrapers in the City, the Southbank and beyond.
“Incredibly, some 250 or so tall buildings, of 20 storeys or more, are currently consented or proposed across London,” writes Josh Sims for Raconteur. “Some 30 of the 250 will be more than 40 storeys high, 19 of them over 50.”
To put that in perspective, the World Trade Center had 94 floors. The Shard has 87.
I have mixed feelings about skyscrapers. I don’t wish for London to become like Manhattan – fabulous from afar, but sun-starved and myopic from within its formidably high walls. I love London’s openness, physically and in spirit.
On the other hand, London is bursting at the seams. A tube strike sends the whole city grinding to a halt; housing is in painfully short supply. I was told by the occupant of the place I applied for on SpareRoom last Autumn that 90 other people had enquired in a 24-hour period – and this for a roomshare in a tiny flat in North London. Skyscrapers don’t tend to be residential, but perhaps it’s time to think that way. When constrained by space, the only way is up.
Tall buildings can be dazzling, too, and in London they have acquired comical names as people warm to them: the Cheese Grater; the Gherkin; the Walkie Talkie.
And the view from the Gherkin is so phenomenally beautiful that I found tears in my eyes when I ascended it as part of Open House this morning. Love for this city pours forth no more readily than when confronted with its magnitude and beauty from above.
But words can’t really do justice to this one. I’ll let the photos do the talking.