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122 Leadenhall Street.

Richard Rogers is one of the country's leading architects and former partner of Norman Foster. With his distinct techno-industrial style his unique blend of architecture the likes of Lloyds of London and the Pompideau Center in Paris which he worked on with Renzo Piano have become icons.

Foster now has his beloved 'Gherkin', whilst Piano is about to see the 'Shard of Glass' rise, but unlike his two former counterparts, Rogers has yet to see a true skyscraper designed by him go up in London. With the Leadenhall Building on 122 Leadenhall Street, which comes complete with an equally silly name of 'the Cheesegrater' that could be about to change.

From Old to New.

Indosuez House was completed in 1969, one of a collection of international style buildings off CGU Plaza that were creating new office space for the center of the insurance and shipping business in the City. The 14 floor 159ft/47m block is owned by British Land who are well aware of the latest developments in the area which is becoming ground central for new towers.

With Swiss RE and their latest project, the Willis Building, both over the road this is a prime development spot that can command the best of rents. This is reflected in the height of the building which is 225m tall.

The economics of skyscrapers are simple - building tall buildings gets more expensive the higher you go, this is why most towers have large floorplates as can be seen from Canary Wharf.

It's clear though this building will not have large floorplates - space per floor will be an average of approx 12,000 sq ft which isn't much for a tower of this height seeing as the likes of One Canada Square have over twice as much floorspace per floor. Only a tower in an exclusive location that will get premium rents can be profitable from the increased construction costs of being so tall.

Meanwhile the Corporation of London, faced with the competition from Canary Wharf and Frankfurt, not to mention a percieved loss of prestige thanks to the district they manage appearing slightly old fashioned are encouraging new and exciting towers with the latest design and engineering techniques, a true architectural showpiece so to speak.

With this happening in the background, development of this under utilised site was inevitable and British Land wanted a leading architect who would befit their prestige project. All eyes turned to city favourite, the Richard Rogers Partnership.

A Daring Design.

The Leadenhall Building is Roger's at his most extravagant and unrestrained having clearly been given the brief to do a landmark building that can become part of the wonderful new collection of towers London's skyline promises.

It has his trademark diagonal bracing on the cladding, the exciting pseudo-industrial crown, and glass lifts on the outside of the building which whizz up to the very tip of it.

The use of colour on the spine of the building which contains the main structural support harks back to his recent design 88 Woodstreet as does the texture and layout of the cladding. The nightlighting too is typical of Rogers, with strong reds and yellows providing contrast and breaking up sheer mass.

For the first time we see a Rogers design operating outside of the compactness of his previous works which have all come in well under the 300 foot barrier, and barely scraped the skyline. With this momumentality it is almost as if the architect dares us to be hit in the face with his artistic sledgehammer.

What makes this stand out from his previous designs though, without lapsing into what could so easily have been a greatest hits collection of gimmicks, is more than just the sheer height.

The shape of the building is a wedge, something not seen in London before, and perhaps a deliberate decision to provide a geometric shape that creates a contrast with the zeppelin-like figure of it's neighbour 30 St Mary's Axe, the spire-like London Bridge Tower, and the hexagonal Tower 42.

The fact that it tapers to one side helps reduce the mass of the building the higher it goes in the same way that London Bridge Tower works. As a result despite it's height when viewed from Waterlo where St Paul's is also visible, the bulk of the tower is drastically reduced.

Making the Bottom.

Most interestingly of all is the base. It's often said, and quite rightly too, that the toughest part of tower design is the top and bottom but here it excels and shows off Rogers talent to the full.

122 Leadenhall stands next to the public CGNU/Aviva Plaza, or whatever they have rebranded themselves as today. The challenge has been to continue the feeling of this plaza and the openness it brings whilst at the same time sticking a skyscraper on it.

Whereas Seirfert cantilevered Tower 42 above a banking hall, Rogers has taken things a step further and built a large amount of the base of the building on stilts that support the main bulk of the tower some 90ft/30m above a public lobby surrounded on three sides by highly transparent cladding. Inside this lobby is an indoor garden creating the illusion of an open public space that is infact internal.

With the number of tall buildings off the plaza there was always going to be the danger of it becoming a very claustrophobic space but the clever move of providing clear views all the way through the base of the building to Leadenhall Street on the other side, helps remove the feeling on ground-level of the building acting as a barrier which so many towers do suffer from.

Another challenge of having so many tall buildings in so little space, is the downdrafts such as those you can already experience come off Avivas h.q if you know where to stand. The shape would provide even stronger drafts with the right conditions thanks to it's sloping face but for this a more conventional solution has been adapted which is simply placing a canopy above the entrance which extends out above the sloped side to completely neutralise these.

The use of podiums always helps relate the building more to the streetplan, and as you can see from Heron Quays in Canary Wharf sheer glass walls present more of a visual barrier. Thanks to the wedge used a podium would ruin the form but the use of an extended canopy which appears to act as a border between the lobby and the main bulk of the tower creates the same visual impression as a podium does when there isn't.

A Dead Cert.

Until recently a tower like this, no matter what the quality of design, wouldn't have stood a chance of getting approval in the City. Thanks to 110 Bishopsgate times have changed and the much bulkier tower of a similiar height, Minerva has been approved since.

English Heritage having lost a couple of public inquiries have had the rug swept from under their feet, sucessfully opposing this tower when such powerful forces are in favour is not an option for them.

The Corporation planning department are supportive of towers of this height in the right location, and this just happens to be in the right place, whilst London's biggest skyscraper fan is the Mayor, Ken Livingstone.

They slipped the planning application in only days before the law changed reducing the time an application could stand approved from five years to three, so they are clearly hedging their bets for the future.

As a result approval is a certainty. The question is when is construction going to start? Well this all depends on the office sector which is rapidly improving. British Land only have this and 201 Bishopsgate un-let as planned major projects in the City in the future so all it takes is one client as the Willis Building has shown.

We could be looking at a start as early as 2005 or as late as 2010. Either way it's a dead cert if ever there was one.

Article Related buildings:

The Leadenhall Building

The Leadenhall Building
122 Leadenhall Street wire frame
122 Leadenhall Street wire frame
Massing model of 122 Leadenhall
Massing model of 122 Leadenhall
CGI massing model of 122 Leadenhall
CGI massing model of 122 Leadenhall