You don't have to scrape the sky to get stunning vistas of London. At least that's the thinking behind The Garden at 120, a new mid-level roof garden on Fenchurch Street. This suspended pocket park lives 15 floors high, atop One Fen Court.
As of today (15 February) it's open to the public. And the best bit? It's completely free. No pre-booking necessary, just turn up and ride the lift up. We took a sneak peek just before it opened.
The roof garden offers 360 degree views, but as it's only 15 floors high, some pesky neighbouring skyscrapers are unfortunately in the way. This is especially bothersome to the north, where a combination of The Scalpel, The Gherkin, The Cheesegrater and other towers in that cluster obscure the view. Still, you do get a pretty unique view of those towers, even if you can't see the greens of Hampstead Heath and Alexandra Palace beyond, like you can from the nearby Heron Tower.
That said, if you're here to get a view of the fringes of London you're doing it wrong anyway. Instead, the views on offer are mostly of zone 1, with a bit of an exception to the east as you can see past nearby Whitechapel — which is very spottable thanks to the handily labelled White Chapel Building — and Canary Wharf's towers.
Designed by Eric Parry Architects on behalf of insurance company Generali, One Fen Court is a noteworthy building even if you ignore the roof garden. That's largely thanks to its unusual design — it's almost one building stacked on top of another. The higher level is covered in iridescent strips, producing a vivid colourful effect both inside and outside.
But back to the garden. On weekdays it's open 10am-6.30pm, until summer hours kick in on 1 April, at which point it's open till 9pm. Excitingly, it's trialling opening hours on the weekend too, trying to counter the presumed-scarcity of things to do in the City on non-working days. There are two six-weekend trial periods, for which the garden is open 10am-5pm. The 2,800 sq m roof garden has a capacity of 207 people, so if it's a particularly clear day, you might have to queue.
The final thing worth looking out for is down at ground level. The building has a spacious through-passageway to retain a historic link between Fenchurch Street and Fenchurch Avenue. It's from here that you catch a lift to the roof. But before you do, look up. There's a digital art installation by Vong Phaophanit and Claire Oboussier on the ceiling.
It aims to act as a camera obscura bringing imagery from the garden down to the street. The best moment comes when the image flickers onto the roof's live-stream, trained on Tower Bridge. People walk underneath barely noticing, but stop and stare when it grabs their attention.
You can find The Garden at 120 on 120 Fenchurch Street.