A few days ago the Cheesegrater, aka the Leadenhall Building, reached its maximum height. Yesterday we were invited to take a tour around the building.
Though it won't open until the latter stages of 2014, the 225m skyscraper, the tallest in the Square Mile (discounting the Heron Tower's spire) is already a dominant profile on the skyline. While it's easy to dismiss the Cheesegrater's distinctive, tapering form as yet another exercise in architectural gimmickry, there's a strong rationale behind it: to protect the views of St Paul's Cathedral from Fleet Street. To this writer's eye the building's profile, and the combination of bold criss-cross steel lattice with the skeletal yellow 'mega frame' that rests behind it and the exposed bits of infrastructure that has long been Rogers' stock in trade, has resulted in one of the most graceful skyscrapers in recent years.
It's sited at an increasingly busy section of the Square Mile, with several much-loved buildings close by, not least the Lloyds Building across Leadenhall Street, also designed by Richard Rogers' firm some 30 years ago; the same principle architect, Graham Stirk, was the lead for both. That sense of being in a classy neighbourhood is amplified at our first stop on the 31st floor, which we ascend to via a rickety ride in the hoist. The Gherkin looks close enough to taste, and the Lloyds atrium is some way below us, while the workmen building the sky garden at nearby 20 Fenchurch Street can be seen.
Another ride up to the 46th floor and suddenly we're clear of almost every other building. Disconcertingly, we're at the same level as a helicopter that appears to be circling the Shard. The views of London are incredible, although an understandably wary security guard keeps us from getting too close to the edge for those vertiginous downward-looking shots.
Nestled within the few streets that house London's insurance firms, the Leadenhall Building has fared well in pre-lets: 51% has already been snapped up, most of it by Aon (best known to Brits as Manchester United's shirt sponsor), who are relocating their global HQ from Chicago, and by underwriting firm Amlin.
While the inhabitants may be of little interest to most Londoners, and the views we saw are unattainable to anyone not plying the insurance trade, the Cheesegrater does have one significant concession: the ground floor will consist of a capacious seven-storey atrium, open to the public although actually managed as yet another of London's multiplying privately owned 'public' spaces. Will it be enough for the 'scraper naysayers?
Here's a time-lapse video showing the construction of the tower. For further, and much better, analysis, read Olly Wainwright's excellent piece in the Guardian.
Many thanks to Ben Craig of FTI Consulting for arranging the visit.