tower with more names than any other, Swiss Re, the Gherkin, the
Towering Innuendo, and officially the rather uncatchy 30 St. Mary's
Axe is the tallest building to have been built in the City of London
between 1979 and 2004. London's have already taken it into their
hearts, whilst it's even won the Stirling RIBA Prize of 2004. Here
we take a look at what has fast become a new international icon
for Britain's capital city.
The Baltic Exchange was a shipping exchange, founded by the Georgians
and one of the major financial buildings of London. Given it's importance,
and closeness to the insurance industry it's no coincidence it is
literally across the road from Lloyds of London.
In 1992 the IRA set off a massive bomb as John Major was celebrating
a Conservative election victory. Damage was widespread and nowhere
was it more severe than outside the Baltic Exchange which was almost
completely destroyed by the blast.
Like the Luffewaffe before them, the IRA had created an opportunity
for a prime spot in the center of London to be redevelope, albeit
at a heavy price to those who had died and the destroyed architecture.
One thing that isn't realised is how close they had come to actually
having caused so much damage that Tower 42 was almost toppled and
for a while demolition was seriously considered. This though was
not to be and instead redevelopment of the City of London would
Realising what they were faced with it was Norman Foster and Partners
who first decided this was an excellent position for a new tower.
The building plot didn't conflict with any of the precious sight
lines that cut up the City to preserve the views of St Pauls.
Perhaps spurred on by the annoyance of the inability to build the
Commerzbank HQ in London where it was originally designed for, Foster
and Partners came up with a similiar three-sided but more organic
looking super-scraper dubbed the Millenium Tower. At approaching
400m tall it completely dwarfed all it's surroundings and with this
being the late 90s looked rather out of place compared to the rest
of the cluster which was only at a modest height.
The building was proposed and despite its massive size the planning
authorities found they had little legal ground on which to oppose
the building. In the end it was left to the CAA who ruled that Millenium
Tower was so tall it could have planes crashing into it. From then
it was back to the drawing board.
The precedent though for developers had been set, to think big for
An Enlightened Client.
The developer SKMC wanted a mixed-use high-rise building for a prime
site at the western end of West India Quay. It should be a landmark
building with the latest up to date design in a concious contrast
to the West India Quay preservation area whilst at the same time
respecting its surroundings. A covered amenity space and proper
access approaches for pedestrians and cyclists were also required.
The Greater London Authority set four objectives for the site if
it was to get the support of the GLA. These were the facilitation
of a future Crossrail, contribute to the urban design of the area,
an environmentally sustainable building, the tallest structure possible
to help cement the Isle of Dogs as a center in London.
Looking to Florence.
sort of building had been attempted before in a certain sense. True
no-one had built an egg that tapered at both the top and bottom
but ever since the construction of Florence Cathedral with it's
almost impossible dome. Brunelleschi's cupula was completely hollow
with the masonry skin being self supporting.
Looking to Florence it is clear that from a design perspective it
is more efficient of a building shaped like this to be hollow inside,
this meant Foster having to discard the traditional skyscraper core
and use the shell of the building to hold itself up instead with
only basic support from the inside. Perhaps it was this that first
turned Foster and Partners to the cathedral dome.
It's obvious that plenty of inspiration was drawn from this structure,
spiralling courses of brickwork forming two light shells were used
in the cathedral dome, Swiss RE was clad in a double skinned spiral
of glass. As Brunelleschi had found, spiralling skins on structures
like this were more effective at supporting the building and controlling
the curvature. This was crossed with the lattice-work of Buckminster
Fuller, who Norman Foster had worked under when he first joined
architecture, to produce the signature cladding we have today.
As with all structures of this shape there are both horizontal and
vertical forces as the structure is forced both down and out placing
immense stresses on it as the Romans discovered when the dome of
the Pantheon started to crack. Brunelleschi controlled these forces
by fitting chains between the two skins of his dome to stop it exploding
outwards under the strain, with the Gherkin the role of the chains
is instead the floors which are latched to the outside of the superstructure
to restrain them.
Aesthetics and Architecture.
Faced with a working massing model for the site, DMWR then had to
take into account the actual aesthetic qualities of the building.
They plumped for a look that can only be described as 'Thames Gateway'.
The similarities between the 11 storey crown of the tower and the
Thames Flood Barrier are entirely intentional however it has been
trimmed to fit in more with the east west flow of the site.
Looking up at the tower from the ground is supposed resemble a bow
of a ship referencing the nautical history of the area to create
a highly sculptural building that is a complete contrast to the
surrounding functional Canary Wharf towers. It's clean simplicity
and glass walls are to contrast purposefully with the podium whilst
allowing a stacking of uses on top of each other.
The base of the tower
is designed to allow the whole project to fit in at street level.
A highly complex base, it will predominantly be a frameless structure
of glazing with industrial touches of steel and cabling to remind
the public of the nearby dock cranes.
The great majority of the skyscraper will be clad in reflective
glass tinted slightly green.
Materials used in the public realm of the tower are designed to
reflect the industrial heritage of the site and focus on more traditional
building materials, namely granite, steel and timber all set in
industrial portions to reflect the size of the development.
Building a tower is never easy, the higher you get the windier it
gets and the more stresses are put on the superstructure that supports
a slender tall building like Columbus Tower the most effective way
to provide it with the support it needs it by building a concrete
core surrounded by a simple metal frame which can provide floor
by floor support. A central core is particularly useful when a building
is arranged around its center as most traditional skyscrapers are.
This building has a core 9 meters wide and 36 meters long split
into five separate sections to provide additional strength.
A special substructure has been designed to allow the proposed Crossrail
to travel under the tower without excessive weight placed on the
tunnel. In tipping a wink to this the columns of the tower which
sit directly over the eastbound tunnel are designed to articulate
what is underneath.
Having been approved work is expected to start on the site almost
immediately. The mixture of office and hotel space combined with
the wealth of the investment company involved who seem determing
to build speculatively guarantees an early start whilst its height
should have hotel groups queuing up for the tallest rooms in London.
Barclays are set to vacate the site in the summer and demolition
of such a small building will not take long. By the end of the year
the core should have started to rise above the ground creating a
new and exciting addition to the Canary Wharf skyline.