The protected view of St Paul’s Cathedral from Fleet Street is one of the biggest reasons why the 220 metre-high Leadenhall Building tapers at a 10 degree angle, earning it the nickname ‘The Cheesegrater’ and why its future neighbour at 52 Lime Street, ‘The Scalpel’, leans back in the opposite direction. In this way, both remain hidden behind the cathedral dome. This same view was also a key consideration in the design of 40 Leadenhall Street, an 84,600 square metre development of between seven and 34 storeys that sits to the east of The Scalpel.
But here, developer TH Real Estate wanted to take a different approach, as head of development Geoff Harris explains: “Developing in London is quite a challenge because there’s a very historic street pattern and block size, and a lot of protected views. In the recent past, a lot of buildings have been shaped to deal with those constraints. We were looking for a building that is beautiful, unique and distinctive in its form, that takes us back to 20th-century US tower design – a building that expresses its verticality, mixes solid and clear and uses terracing.”
Working with Make Architects, Harris’ team completed 58 separate design studies, modelling all the constraints in 3D to produce an envelope in which the building had to sit. But rather than shaping the building to fill that space, they considered it from the inside out, looking at how form could follow function. “We ended up with a terraced building that is arranged in slices,” he says. “It deals with all the constraints, but it’s still a very clean form that is rectilinear.”
“40 Leadenhall has to be unseen from Fleet Street, by sitting behind the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in the same way as The Scalpel,” adds James Taylor, partner at Make. “But we didn’t want the architecture to be defined by this requirement. Our focus was on creating a group of simple, well-proportioned elements which work on the skyline. The Fleet Street view requirement was handled by working a set of terraced set-backs into the overall composition, which also enhance the workplace with external amenity spaces.”
There is a long history of city dwellers giving irreverent nicknames to new buildings. Now with an array of irregular forms rising above their hoardings and a constant stream of proposed towers coming to market, Londoners have gone into overdrive. Within minutes of a building’s launch, there will be a heated competition on social media to coin an appropriate name.
In future, London’s towers may be less easy to name as architects and developers take a more understated approach. Gwyn Richards, the City of London Corporation’s head of design, said in a recent interview that he wanted to see “less iconic buildings, less provocative buildings, fewer buildings which might have nicknames”.
But that hasn’t saved 40 Leadenhall Street from becoming known as ’Gotham City’, a name originally coined by Richards’ predecessor Peter Rees. Harris says he doesn’t mind. “Actually, I quite like it. It’s interesting because we were aiming for that 20th-century US architecture and that has come through. But we won’t be writing ‘Gotham City’ on our hoardings.”
Sometimes a building’s owners may adopt a nickname officially, as Sellar Property Group did at The Shard – originally coined by conservation body English Heritage as an insult. If it does stick, a nickname can be a badge of genuine landmark status: few would recognize the Gherkin by its official name of 30 St Mary Axe.
Developers themselves may now come to market with a brand already formed, as WRBC has done for The Scalpel. This is partly a way of heading off any less flattering suggestions. But naming these giant buildings also makes them relevant on a human scale, and somehow less threatening. “People don’t do this to the same degree in New York because it’s already an established high-rise city,” points out Bill Price, director at WSP in the UK. “They’re more blasé. In London, it’s a relatively new phenomenon but in time the novelty will wear off here too.”
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