Opinion

The Gherkin Is Disappearing From London's Skyline

M@
By M@ Last edited 8 months ago
The Gherkin Is Disappearing From London's Skyline

What's missing from this view from St Paul's?

It's the Gherkin. The iconic skyscraper, once so dominant on the skyline, is in danger of disappearing forever.

The image above is an artist's impression of how the City of London will look in a couple of years. It's hard to believe that, only a few years ago, skyline views were dominated by the Gherkin.

Image by Foster and Partners, architects of the Gherkin.

When it opened in 2004, the curvy skyscraper was the second tallest building in the Square Mile. Only Tower 42 overshadowed it, and only by three metres.

Since then, several lofty neighbours have moved in. The Heron Tower and the Cheesegrater are both around 50 metres taller, blocking views from the southwest and northwest. Towers under construction such as the Scalpel and 100 Bishopsgate will further obfuscate. But the real Gherkin-killer is the towering 22 Bishopsgate, the blocky edifice that will replace the failed Pinnacle scheme. It's the tallest structure in our photo of City Centre's model below:

Gherkin: come out, come out, wherever you are.

And, as this view shows, it will complete a horseshoe of tall buildings around the once proud Gherkin:

The above views show mostly buildings that are currently under construction. Also on the cards is the mighty 1 Undershaft, which would almost compare in height with the Shard. It's the sleek oblong in the image below, slotting into the skyline like a Tetris piece.

Taken together, these new towers will block most views of the Gherkin from the west. But its place on the skyline is also troubled by developments to the south and north.

Views from London Bridge, for example, are already obscured by the so-called Walkie Talkie building. The completion of the bulky 40 Leadenhall skyscraper (pictured below, and in the foreground of the image above), as well as the Scalpel will further get in the way.

40 Leadenhall.

And to the north, the unstoppable march of the City into Shoreditch also threatens to conceal the Gherkin. Developments like the Principal Tower, the Stage and Bishopsgate Goodsyard will add a new wall of glass when viewed from this direction.

The wall in the north: Bishopsgate Goodsyard (centre/right), with other Shoreditch towers to the left.

It's only really to the east that clear, unobstructed views of the Gherkin will remain common. But even here, the massive ongoing redevelopment of Aldgate, coupled with midrise plans for Whitechapel will further restrict sightlines. By 2025, the Gherkin may only be visible from a handful of locations.

Should we care?

We think so. The Gherkin holds a special place in London's architectural history. It was the Square Mile's first tall building for 20 years. Whether you love or loathe skyscrapers, it was the Gherkin that led the way for the countless towers that now threaten its roofline.

But it wasn't just the first of a new breed; it was also the best. Despite initial opposition and comparisons to a sex toy, the shapely tower soon won the affections of Londoners like no skyscraper before or since. The Gherkin joined the London Eye and Tate Modern as a 21st century icon for London.

It also has impeccable environmental credentials, including a unique system of natural ventilation. 100 years from now, when someone is writing a book on the history of green architecture, the Gherkin will figure prominently.

The dome of St Paul's Cathedral — itself the tallest building in London for much of its history — can still be picked out from the crowd thanks to protected sightlines or viewing corridors along which tall intruders are forbidden. The Cheesegrater and Scalpel towers lean backwards to avoid one of these sightlines.

Is it time to consider similar restrictions to safeguard views of the Gherkin? If not, one of London's most distinctive buildings will soon become all but invisible.

Last Updated 12 December 2016

Jaybo

Oh well.

Juno

Nice shape - the curves make it sort of cuddly, wheareas the Cheesegrater looks as it it wants to slit your throat. But because Barcelona acquired the similar Torre Agbar about the same time, it wasn't as specifically iconic of London as it might have been, and as the Shard now is.

A shame it's going to be surrounded by buidlings that are tolerable at best and dross at wrost.

Jimmy W

It's getting into quite a pickle, I'd say.

HoosierSands

As Searcy's restaurant only has a view to the west, I can imagine they're pretty annoyed too. Instead of enjoying your scallops with an intriguing vista, you get floor after floor of Powerpoint presentations and bored office workers. (Of course,the bar at the top is 360°)

Patryk Stanisz Photography

It is a really nice building! Last week I was shooting a lovely wedding in The Gherkin and I must say that the view from the top is amazing.

Alison

It makes me sad that the Gherkin is no longer the dominant building on the City's "skyline". It's one of my favorite buildings in the world. Despite the existence of the Torre Agbar (similar but not as refined IMHO), the Gherkin was indeed iconic and spoke of London, largely because it was the dominant and most unusual building in view. Now it's surrounded by other buildings that are just okay, boring, or actually ugly. What a shame. I suspect in 25 years (or less?) Londoners will regret allowing this explosion of mediocre tall buildings. Fortunately for the Gherkin, its plaza and its unique shape and coloring will keep it a "standout": you'll just have to be closer to see it.

AlanC

Good article but, 'obfuscate?' It's those damn confusing translucent buildings that do it. (But obstruct will do nicely).

Kay

1 Undershaft will replace one of the city's most aesthetically pleasing buildings, St Helen's. It's one of a few remaining that carries Mies Van Der Rohe's signature international style and is the closest thing London has to the Seagram building. Razing it would be a real shame.

Tanja / The red phone box trav

that's sad!

Furious Resident

Why not demolish it and build something three times as tall on the site?

Andrew McQuillan

I'm not even from London (Only been there or to Europe once.), and I've been wondering about this before I found this article (Which I agree with, completely.). As a tourist, the Gherkin is one of the first buildings that makes me think of London. Your last good view from further away might be from the Bermondsey Wall. If anything, that angle might be one of the few enhanced by new skyscrapers because in the skyline from that angle, there are some real gaps that will be filled in between older buildings (Though, I think they really dropped the ball with the design of 22 Bishopsgate compared to the original design. In the original design from the Waterloo Bridge view I saw in renderings, the Gherkin was able to peek through that and another building, and I thought that looked pretty cool. The new design is ok, but I see it as squandered.). What's important is that the Gherkin isn't blocked from the Bermondsey Wall. Based on my calculations from that angle, nothing should be blocking it, but the 100 Bishopsgate will be directly behind it, or slightly to the right, so the silhouette of the Gherkin won't quite be the same (But at least the Gherkin will still be able to be seen. At least as far as I know.). The Hornsey Lane Bridge view (The suicide bridge) was another one I saw when I was in London that I really liked, but based on what I concluded, it's going to be blocked by 100 Bishopsgate. This phenomenon of important buildings disappearing from view isn't exclusive to London, though. Where I live (Vancouver), in a few years, there will be no unobstructed views left of BC Place Stadium, which is a very important landmark to us out here. It's sad that developers in a lot of cities can't build things that respect or complement the best parts of a skyline instead of blocking them. They don't care as long as they get that cash. The only people left with the good views are the rich.

BREXIT

Yet, when the Gherkin was being built you were probably moaning that it 'blocked the view of St Paul's'. Cities evolve - get over it. If you don't like it, go live in a village, there's plenty to choose from.

IrvSwerve

Has anyone seen a recent picture of St Pauls from Richmond Park the view of which has a protection order dating back to Henry VIII.The skyscraper hotel next to Stratford International rail station on the other side of London i has now reached its full height and was the subject of consternation when it was realised too late that it would obtrude on the protected view.
They're a privileged lot in Richmond anyway so no sympathy from me but I'd like to see the final view.