Liverymen Walk the Square Mile



Where in London, apart from possibly Harrods, can you expect to find a scalpel, cheesegrater, walkie talkie (with burning qualities) and a gherkin in close proximity? Luckily, Max Elvidge, Chairman of The Livery Society, arranged a brilliant twilight walk with someone who could answer this conundrum.
 
On Monday 28 September 2015 sixteen Liverymen and guests met Blue Badge Guide Deborah Charles at Bank Junction, in the middle of The City of London, where examples of the more traditional and austere architecture of the financial district spanning three centuries – The Mansion House (18th), The Royal Exchange (19th) and The Bank Of England (20th) were in evidence. Here we learned how relaxation of the strict planning rules protecting the sight lines of St Paul’s Cathedral had enabled an explosion of colourful and flamboyant office buildings to rise higher than ever before within The Square Mile, this being the subject of our guided walk.
 
Since the late 1970’s, imaginative architects had started replacing the sub-standard post World War 2 office accommodation with ever more audacious structures.   The 43 storey NatWest Tower, opened by the Queen in 1979, was the first office tower to be built in The City. The Gherkin, the next major ‘tower’ structure, was completed 30 years later.
 
As buildings grow taller their foundations go deeper revealing historical secrets. Bloomberg Place in Walbrook sits on top of a Mithras Temple while Cannon Street station occupies the same site as the Roman Governor’s Palace.
 
The need to accommodate The City’s rich historical past is a challenge for today’s architects. As well as satisfying their clients’ demanding briefs for dramatic modern buildings, they have to be sympathetic to what already exists, particularly Wren’s City churches, together with dealing with a very tight medieval street plan. So as not to overcrowd these very narrow streets and alleyways, public space has been created by leaving some ground floors areas open and building the office structure above. This is evident at the Rothschild headquarters at New Court, The Cheesegrater opposite Lloyds of London and the Willis Building.
 
Some buildings have always been controversial. Lloyd’s of London’s steel structure, with its lifts and air conditioning on the outside was adjacent to the old established Leadenhall Market. More recently the Walkie Talkie building had the unexpected talent of frying cars and eggs on nearby pavements on the odd sunny day, but that has now been fixed.
 
There are still works in progress. The Scalpel is set for completion in 2018 likewise the stalled Pinnacle, currently standing at 7 storeys, will top out at 60 storeys in the same year. 
 
Fears that high rise office accommodation would fall out of favour post 9/11 have not materialised and top floors command top rents.
 
Environmental factors are also important with many new buildings having enhanced recycling facilities and external photovoltaic cells harnessing solar energy.
 
Buildings have become more colourful. By day No 1 Poultry is a mixture of three stone types sourced from Sardinia, Austria and Gloucestershire.   By night the glass and steel structures are lit in different hues.
 
One of the more unusual buildings must be The Heron Tower near Liverpool Street. Here one can dine on sushi at the top and then admire Europe’s largest aquarium in the foyer.   Here 1200 fish, comprising 60 species, swim peacefully and without fear that they will be devoured by any passing heron.
 
Then it was time to reflect on what had been seen whilst enjoying a very welcome glass of wine and sandwiches at Gow’s Wine Bar, and ponder what the next building revolution would bring to The Square Mile.

 
 
 
 
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