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20 Fenchurch Street Opens

After years of skyscrapers going up, the City of London skyline is about to stablise, at least for a while, as 20 Fenchurch Street finally opens its doors to the public.

The offices in the tower are already largely occupied, and have been since before Christmas, but now the much heralded skygarden has been completed with the public finally given access. Unfortunately, it's no longer a garden in the sense it was promoted, and the access that the public have been given is a far cry from what was originally promised or what was heard in the 2007 Public Inquiry.

Outrageously, the greenhouses at Kew was even used as a precedent in a planning application relating to the building. The developer even boasted that Kew Gardens were working with the design team.

For those who have been following the planning applications filed with the City of London, this no surprise as the plans to modify the top of the tower were filed in 2011. Even those though showed planters visitors could sit on on the south-facing side with trees which are now absent. The council could have vetoed the plans there and then, but didn't and they passed without any public storm.

What was initially promised back in 2006 was a skygarden stepped over numerous levels, with planting that filled the bottom floor all the way to the south facing facade. This was modified in 2008, but the concept of four individual garden zones, some with winding paths running through them remained. You'd be able to pop in and sit down having lunch in London's most unique public green space. This helped win over the critics and the building was awarded planning permission, despite the fact it looks like its in a permanent sulk as a result of its top heavy design, partly because the planners approved of the public amenity it would have at the top, namely "a green park where people could congregate."

This space has now been cannabilised and replaced by staid corporate eateries, the sort that Patrick Bateman would murder for a reservation at. The design of one dining area is so poor it even has a large display of the London skyline behind it, even though one should be able to see the skyline when dining.

One recent hint the top of the tower was not going to be the iconic upper space promised, was the refusal of the developers to allow press tours. Although happy to show off the building when it was under construction, including views from the top of the core for those brave enough to climb the scaffolding, the developers reverted to acting like Hollywood film studio out to try and cover up the architectural equivalent of a Heaven's Gate flop.

Not only does former City of London planning chief, Peter Rees, argue it's not a green park, but there's clearly little ability for the public to congregate. Tickets are being handed out, albeit free, on the basis of booking in advance, gone is any hint of spontaneity at visiting as you can all the other secluded little parks and squares in the City.

This conflicts with what the press were previously told on visits to the construction site. Not only was this to be "Land Securities' gift to London", but the public would "be able to go straight up off the street" with ticketing only to be used at busy times. This is clearly untrue, and perhaps one of the reasons why the architectural press is directing its ire towards to the building.

It also raises questions of the integrity of the planning system, and whether developers can be trusted. If a controversial building is granted planning permission because of something positive it offers, it should be up to the planning system to insure the existence of this supposed amenity. From an ethical point of view developers should stick to what they have offered, rather than throw it off the top floor balcony to make a quick buck once they have secured the green light or else who could ever trust them again?

What's after a gestation period approaching a decade left is a nominally public space, aimed at the Gordon Geckos quaffing champagne and steaks, and a disappointing feeling of what might have been, just like the external design of the skyscraper we're stuck with lumbering on the skyline like an oversized and unloved Quasimodo.

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