The 2015 Carbuncle Cup winner will forever be known as the “Walkie Talkie”
The notorious ‘Carbuncle Cup’ is awarded annually by Building Design Magazine, to the worst new building of the year. And yes, the Walkie Talkie is so obviously ‘in your face ugly’, with its concave shape, worrying stoop, and the way it stands like a giant thumb, apart from the cluster of the City of London’s high-rise buildings, both spatially and stylistically. It is also slightly unnerving with its rearing top, larger than its footprint at street level, rising like a large wave about to break over you.
The architect, Uruguayan Rafael Viñoli Beceiro, has effectively disowned it saying “We made a lot of mistakes with this building”, and after the alterations imposed on the planners and developers by the City of London Corporation he said that “My name is on it but it’s not my building.”
Despite being reduced in height by 115 feet to safeguard historic views of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London, it still dominates the skyline, looming over both these London landmarks. One has to wonder why it was ever allowed to be built. Added to that, in the summer of 2013 during construction, its concave design reflected and magnified rays from the sun to such an extent that they began to melt and scorch things below including door mats, tiles, bicycle seats, car panels, and the wing mirror casing of a Jaguar. The press made much of it at the time alternating between scorn and ridicule directed at the the design of the building. Reporter Jim Waterson even managed to fry an egg on the hot pavement.
Temperatures of just above 90 degrees Celsius were recorded. Quick off the mark as usual, Londoners dubbed the building the “Walkie Scorchie” for a short time until a technical solution was put into place by a Californian specialist, who had worked on a similar problem with the Vdara hotel in Las Vegas, also designed by Viñoli. The face of the building looking over the Thames was shrouded in temporary netting to deflect the sun’s rays until the permanent Brise Soleil was put into place from the 3rd to the 34th floor.
Yet the building does have one redeeming feature: The Sky Garden with its wonderful views across London. But even this has not been without controversy. The inclusion of a free public garden at the top of the building was a condition for allowing the scheme to go ahead and was indeed a key element in obtaining planning permission. Planners’ *visualisations*, so often a degree fanciful, included large trees but the finished result, certainly to begin with, was on a much smaller scale. Access for the public, though free, is restricted to one and a half hour slots, which must be booked in advance, though there are times when you can simply arrive at the door and if there is space you can go in. There are also times when it is closed for private events or monthly maintenance. There is an airport-style security check-in leading to the lifts. That said, it is still very much worth the effort to experience the surprise of such a jungly garden high above London, and the all round views from there.
As you step out from the lift onto Level 35 you walk into a different world, and as visitor numbers are controlled, it is not too crowded or echoey. Also, it is naturally ventilated and the air feels fresh, a feeling reinforced by the greenery of the plants. Spread out over three floors, there are stairs around, and paths through the gardens.
There is a profusion of tree ferns, palm trees, bushes, giant versions of house plants, and on the lower levels smaller and flowering plants, all well-watered and cared for. Restful and soothing though the plants may be, it’s the views of London that that win the day for me.
To begin with there are the views from the Francis Golding Terrace running across the front of the building, named after the architectural townscape advisor who was involved in the design and planning stages of 20 Fenchurch Street.
Please join me behind the glass panels for a walk on the terrace…
…then walk up with me through the gardens where there are more views of some of London’s famous landmarks, and at the heart of them, the Thames.
For more information on the Sky Garden see: https://skygarden.london