It's been eleven years in the making but Heron Tower is finally open for business, and with this auspicious event Peter Ferrari, managing director of property development at Heron International, gave us a tour of the building, the tallest in the city of London.
Greeting visitors in the triple-height lobby is the largest privately owned aquarium in the United Kingdom. The fish are based on species that are found around Heron Island in the Pacific. They are now being introduced, gradually a group at a time in a process that will take several months to complete.
Cleaning a tank of such a size isn't like the fish tank you have at home. Instead due to the sheer scale it involves a couple of divers actually entering it and cleaning it from the inside, and will be large enough to host three bamboo sharks that grow up to 1.2 metres in length.
Security is discreet. There will be times when the building operates at a heightened state of alert, and it's been planned that airport style security can be wheeled out if need be, but otherwise it sits concealed behind the fish tank with people able to enter the building via a smart card that knows exactly where they are going.
One of the draws of the building is the concept that it functions not just as a place of work, but as a hotel for offices. With concierge staffing a desk, the towers occupants will be able to get anything they want. Anything. There's even a doorman complete with a bowler hat to up the hotel-aura a little more.
More importantly Ferrari feels confident the actual type of product they offer is unique, and regardless of the other advantages and perks, the 40,836 square metres of office space is the main reason Heron Tower stands today. There are plenty of small spaces on the market but very little for medium sized companies looking for perhaps between roughly 1,000 and 3,000 square metres of space which translates into one to three floors of Heron Tower.
The three floor number is crucial to the concept that Heron are marketing - that of an office village. The floorplates are column free, expansive and open with everyone able to see everyone on that level with an atrium set on the northern side that runs up the three floors creating a focal point.
The architects, KPF, made to the decision to avoid a central core and instead set it off to one side of the building. Furthermore, the core is not just offset but positioned on the southern side of Heron Tower, something that aids the building with solar shading and reduces the need for air conditioning.
As this southern fašade is not used by office workers it can also be partially covered, so it has photovoltaic cells mounted on it. These are in the form of squares only a few centimetres each which make up a network running up the tower that is one of the largest solar arrays in London adding up to 3,000 square metres. Unlike Ropemaker Place, these are sown into the fabric of the building, and not easily replaceable.
For any visitor the must-do experience of Heron Tower is surely a ride up the scenic express lifts. These run all the way from ground to the top floor hitting a peak of 15 miles per hour. The acceleration is such that one can feel the G-forces pushing their body down as they take off and watch the city whiz past. For London it's a unique experience.
Topping the building will be a restaurant, complete with several roof terraces that provide impressive views over London all the way from Wembley in the north to Crystal Palace in the South. Of particular interest to visitors will likely be the uninterrupted view of the Gherkin which allows one to see the entire building from top to bottom without a single obstruction.
It's from here that one can get a true feel of the cladding of the building due to the proximity the exterior of it has to you. The diagonal steel crossbracing becomes clear, and exudes a feeling of familiarity but then it's the sort of thing you've seen before all over the world, perhaps most famously in I.M Pei's Bank of China Tower.
Also clearly visible is the stepped nature of the top of the building. There's no feminine Gherkinesque curves or zoomorphic gimmicks here, but rather good solid right angles and a slightly conservative corporatist feel. It's reflected in the fact that Heron Tower tellingly has no nickname, and if possible for a skyscraper, boasts a discrete design. If it were a car it would perhaps be a BMW, rather than a Lamborghini. This is reflected in the ambience around the building as a visit to the plush new offices of McDermott, Will & Emery will confirm.
Topping it is the needle-like spire that was originally to lift the project into the record books as the tallest building in Britain with a height of 246 metres. As it stands, the spire was reduced in height to 28 metres rather than 44 metres with Ferrari telling us this decision was driven by aesthetics and the desire to have more pleasing proportions, something that was of a greater consideration than being taller than One Canada Square at Canary Wharf.
The restaurant and skybar will have a separate entrance to the rest of the tower for the diners with the two lifts going straight there without stopping. SushiSamba offers what is described as Japanese "fusion food". This is a mix of Japanese food blended with Peruvian and Brazilian. The chain has operated successfully abroad in a number of upscale locations, but this is their first foray into the British market.
Standing there in the space that will be SushiSamba it's hard to believe it happened. The birth of Heron Tower was never going to be easy, as not only did the developer have to cope with the hysterics of English Heritage complaining that the skyscraper would destroy the skyline of London, but also a global crash in 2008 that made Heron look, at least for a short period as a monumental mistake. The recession of the late 80s almost caused Heron to unravel then, but this time it's a different story.
With the tower now completed and sitting there on the skyline, there have been surprisingly few complaints about the effect it has had, whilst in ploughing ahead when every other developer decided to stall their building, Heron has secured a first-mover advantage in the market. As a result, their competitors are all playing catch-up.
Although the tower is only 25% let so far, this Peter Ferrari assures this puts the developer on target. Inquiries into the office space are coming at regular intervals and Heron is hopeful of announcing a couple more deals in the coming weeks.