City of London’s tallest building rises above corporate interests
It will be the tallest building in the City of London and complete the array of towers that began with the “Gherkin” and rose up to the “Cheesegrater”.
At 309.6m, 1 Undershaft will be more than 80m taller than its neighbour, 122 Leadenhall (the Cheesegrater), and will contain more than 90,000 sq m of commercial space. It will be, according to the architect Eric Parry, “the final piece of the jigsaw” of the City cluster skyline.
The new building, which is scheduled for completion some time in the next decade, will be almost identical in height to the nearby Shard, south of the river Thames and just outside the City.
But unlike its neighbours, Mr Parry’s skyscraper might be less easily reduced to a cutesy nickname. There is no attempt at branding through form here, just an austere, functional and slender structure.
The tower, developed by Singaporean Aroland Holdings, will replace a 28-storey tower completed in 1969. Heavily influenced by Chicago’s postwar commercial architecture, it was badly damaged by an IRA bomb that exploded in Bishopsgate in 1993.
Its replacement also has a hint of the Windy City in its stripped-down minimalism and distinctive X-bracing.
The bracing is necessary because of the architect’s wish to create a visual and physical connection between two of the City’s oldest places of worship, St Helen’s Bishopsgate and St Andrew Undershaft — both founded in the 12th century.
To do this, the tower has been raised above the ground, leaving a 10.5m public space beneath it. In the process, the tower’s core has had to be pushed to one side, which necessitates the bracing on its external walls.
Mr Parry’s plans will also create a large public square in front of the tower with a sunken area of shops and restaurants in the form of a recessed ellipse.
The architect refers to New York’s Rockefeller Center, which features a similarly sunken piazza, one of the city’s most successful public spaces, where commercial architecture is animated by becoming a part of city life at weekends, evenings and holidays, as well as during the working day.
Although the tower appears to be a simple extruded block, its design in fact employs a subtle entasis — a trick the Greeks used on their columns.
The tower tapers almost imperceptibly as it rises. The bracing also slims down to reflect the decreasing need for reinforcement on the higher storeys.
The bracing itself — crosses of a slightly folded section of weathered steel — gives the tower its architectural expression, echoing the structure of both the neighbouring Gherkin and Cheesegrater, although apparently employing two-and-a-half times less structural steel than the latter.
“I think it stands out,” Mr Parry told the Financial Times, “through its proportions, the expression of its structure and its materiality, which it wears on its skin.”
The top of the tower will have the City’s highest viewing platform, which will be free to the public, and an education floor designed to be used by schoolchildren. Beneath these will be a restaurant.
Mr Parry has arguably developed the most sophisticated approach to the City of London of any of the architects working in the capital today.
His buildings, including 60 Threadneedle Street, 5 Aldermanbury Square, which also employs entasis, and new projects in Gresham Street, Fenchurch Street and the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers, show an understanding of the grain and texture of the city streets rather than in the building as object.
So much so that when asked whether it felt good to be designing the city’s tallest building, he looked almost nonplussed.
“The height was always predetermined,” said Mr Parry. “Between the Civil Aviation Authority’s limit [310m] and the Corporation of London’s plan, this was always going to be the tallest building in the City. What seems more significant to me is the way in which the building can contribute to the urban context.
“There is the world of the everyday and the sacred domain of the churches below and, at the top, the idea of education and understanding that takes the height beyond the realm of the corporate.”
This article has been updated to add when the tower is scheduled for completion