The 122 Leadenhall Cheesegrater and protecting London’s skyline landscape view of St Paul’s Cathedral from Fleet Street

by Tom Turner @ 7:01 am October 13, 2013 -- Filed under: context-sensitive design,Landscape Architecture,London urban design   

St Paul's Cathedral, the Fenchurch Cheesgrater and the London Skyline from Fleet Street

London has had controls on tall buildings since the Great Fire of 1666 and views of St Paul’s Cathedral have been protected since Faraday House was built in 1938. A recent consequence of this protection is that No 122 Leadenhall Street, dubbed the Cheesgrater, was shaped like a wedge of cheese. The planners and the designers (Rogers Stirk Harbour Architects), sought to lessen the impact on the much-loved view of St Paul’s Cathedral for those traveling east along Fleet Street. As the above photographs show, the west elevation is shaped like a church spire on its south face and a rectangular block on its north face. This reduced the floor area by almost 50% (and the rental income by approx £4.5m/year). I commend the sacrifice of profit to beauty but is the result beautiful? My answers are (1) the north and south elevations of the Cheesegrater drive an ugly wedge into the City’s once-harmonious skyline. So the endeavour was worthy but the result is only a partial success. (2) The most important street view of St Paul’s Cathedral, from Ludgate Hill, would have been unaffected by an any-shaped building at 122 Leadenhall Street (3) I would prefer a spire, in keeping with London’s traditions, or a curvilinear building to harmonise with the Gherkin and the Walkie Talkie (also known as Vinoly’s Bulge). Please consider the following questions, with the above images from left to right:

  • Was the skyline better before the addition?
  • Is the Cheese Grater a good shape for this skyline?
  • Would a rectangular block be OK?
  • Is this a place for a ‘Pepper Pot Skyscraper’?
  • Would a Shard-type spire be more in keeping with London’s historic skyline?

THE most important surviving views of St Paul’s Cathedral are from the River Thames embankments and Waterloo Bridge. The Greater London Authority GLA should commission a digital model of Central London for use in generating accurate perspectives of development proposals. They need to be seen in relation to each other and to the existing urban landscape. And/or, they could ask David Watson to produce a complete verified photomontage and ZVI analysis. As the photograph below shows, the architecture and planning professions have allowed a chaotic skyline to appear. Quite possibly they are surprised and embarrassed by what has happened – and puzzled as to how a better outcome might have been achieved.

St Paul's Cathedral, the Heron Tower, Tower 42, the Gherkin, a Blob, the Cheesegrater and the Walkie Talkie - seen from Waterloo Bridge. Simon Jenkins and many other commentators view this skyline as

The view of St Paul's Cathedral from Ludgate Hill is unaffected by the Cheese Grater. Thames views are much affected

Paul Finch, consultant editor of the Architects’ Journal and Architectural Review, commends the public space which will be created below the building and summarizes his view of 122 Leadenhall Street as follows: ‘All in all, the Cheesegrater is a speculative office development of extraordinary quality, built in an exemplary way by Laing O’Rourke, with engineering by Arup. It sets standards that few are likely to emulate.’
Finch read history at Cambridge and has edited BD, the AJ and the AR. A history degree should give him impartiality but a life in architecture could be counter-productive. On high buildings in London my views are closer to those of another Cambridge man, Monty Don, who is a scion of the architectural Wyatts and the marmalade Keillers. Reflecting on the protected views of low-rise Paris from the Arc de Triomphe, Don is delighted that Paris ‘has resisted the indiscriminate spread of skyscrapers. There is nothing wrong with these per se, after all, Manhattan is stunningly beautiful precisely because of them, but they diminish any otherwise magnificent buildings they adjoin. They destroy the scale. Look south-east and the city is flat-topped, the individual roofs of buildings smoothed to one harmonious plateau’ A French garden journey, Simon and Schuster, 2013 p227). But could Paris have become the world’s financial capital if this policy had not been instigated? If they had also switched to the use of English, possibly.

Note: I have included a pepper pot shape in the above montages in response to one of the conclusions from the 2001-2 House of Commons report on Tall Buildings: ‘Tall buildings should be clustered rather than pepper-potted across a city’. ‘Pepper-potting’ can refer both to the shape of a pepper grinder and to the sprinkled distribution of the pepper which falls from its jaws.

7 Comments »

  1. Tom your visual gags are as funny as your literary ones! My first thought was your pepperpot inspiration had been taken from a chess set, which would be a little like replacing the Tower of London with the castle. [ http://www.popartdecoration.com/projects/chess-piece-rook-632-1591-2.jpg ]

    Which is the real view of St Paul’s from Fleet Street? The first view is preferred and the last view has perhaps the least visual impact on St Pauls(possibly because of it slender form and symmetry)and twinning with the existing spire.

    Perhaps the issue is that the massing study needs to be done first – and perhaps site specific planning principles developed – before any building is designed for the site?

    I am not sure whether there was full consideration of the impact of the Walkie Talkie for example on the Tower of London. Or whether its impact was inadvertent because the planners were trying to protect views of St Pauls?

    Were there concessions given on site coverage and development of greater bulk to reduce its initial height?

    The top Thames view of the Cheesegrater is fine: even though it partly obscures the Swiss Re building, it is complementary as a group of buildings. The front on view beside the Walkie Talkie is much less inspiring – as is the whole view of Thameside development – from this perspective (in your last photo). The Walkie Talkie seen from these perspectives is not as problematic.

    So, the assessment process of views has to be comprehensive.

    Comment by Christine — October 15, 2013 @ 3:28 am

  2. The second pic from the left is ‘REALITY’ as photographed on a rainy day last week. I agree about the Shard in this position being a better choice. But should it have a Christian cross on top? Or should it have an Islamic crescent (given that it is Arab-owned)?
    Re the Walkie Talkie, I think there was a lack of forward-thinking and a severe lack of visual impact analysis and ‘comprehensive’ is not a word which should be used in this context! The one really great thing about the Walkie Talkie is the roof-top ‘Winter Garden’. I do not know if it can be opened to the sky in good weather and if it can’t they are going to have to spend a lot on aircon.
    I am in basic agreement with your compositional judgements.
    Re the future of the City of London’s skyline, I am working on a montage which may not be worthy of publication. We’ll see! It is more of a hypothesis (or wild notion) than a proposal.

    Comment by Tom Turner — October 15, 2013 @ 4:15 am

  3. I am looking forward to seeing your montage! (And wondering whether you would have got planning approval for the pepperpot solution above?)

    The view of St Pauls with the Shard is to be preferred to either the square block or the pepperpot.

    I am not sure that there would be any reason to put a Christian cross on the top of the Shard unless there was some proposal for using it for a Cathedral or buildings related to the a banking function run by the Church of England ie like the Vatican Bank.

    Are all Arabs Islamic? Do all buildings owned by arabs have islamic crescents. It is not something that was noticeable on the buildings at Harrods?

    Yes, it would be great to know more about the roof top wintergarden proposals for the Walkie Talkie (hopefully not so scorchie up there).

    Comment by Christine — October 16, 2013 @ 1:02 am

  4. The cross idea only came to mind because the spire with a cross is so very traditional in London.
    I have not seen an account from Renzo Piano of the precise meaning he attached to shard but guess it is ‘A fragment of broken earthenware. spec. in Archaeol., a piece of broken pottery. Phrase: to break, etc. into sherds : to reduce to fragments, break beyond repair.’ ( as in for example E. B. Tylor Early Hist. Mankind viii. 217 1865 ‘ The mutilation of the priests of Cybele was done with a sherd of Samian ware’.) I hope I am wrong about this because it seems a rather-cruel thing to do to old city. But if I am right then there could be a case for placing a religious symbol on top – as an act of atonement.
    There are some Arab atheists and some Arab Christians. The majority are Muslim. However Russians are buying up masses of London property (more for money laundering than because they want to live here). Christianity is doing pretty well in Russia these days. Perhaps the buyers would like to atone for their sins. If so, this would be another reason for a religious symbol on the Shard. Although they are not traditional on top of secular buildings in Christian societies, the times they are a-changin.
    Lots of views from the Shard have been published. It has no need to be beside the Thames, for views, and indeed has views of the English Channel on a good day. Nor would trees do much to interrupt views!

    Comment by Tom Turner — October 16, 2013 @ 4:43 am

  5. I am sure there is an endorsement of the Shard and its views here! [ http://www.londonlovesbusiness.com/pictures/462xAny/7/9/3/7793_rexfeatures-2110058d.jpg ]

    Are Russians thinking of buying the Shard?

    Why is London a good place to launder money? [ http://www.lawstudentatlast.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Money-Laundering.jpg ]

    What does the Archbishop have to say about acts of atonement for the ‘wrong use of money?’
    It is not a concept that is very familiar to me.[ http://www.betemunah.org/atonemen.html ]

    Comment by Christine — October 19, 2013 @ 2:08 am

  6. In the old days going to football matches was a working class recreation. Ticket prices were low, toilets were few and men used to stand on the terraces and drink loads of beer. Then, when nature followed its course, they used to pee there they stood and what they were up to was less obvious when the rain was pouring, as often happened. It’s a bit like that with money laundering. There is so much money sloshing through London’s foreign exchange markets that a few extra zillions do not appear on the radar. I heard that many London apartments are bought by petty officials, from Russian government offices. They have very good incomes from corruption and like the idea of it being invested in a safe place where asset prices are zooming etc etc. So they have bought a lot of property in the Shard and elsewhere. Cyprus used to be a favoured place because there is even more sun than in London but things went wrong when the government swiped Russian deposits. http://jeffreyhill.typepad.com/.a/6a00d8341d417153ef017c37f5c3bb970b-800wi London seems safer but, with luck, we will learn from Cyprus!

    Comment by Tom Turner — October 19, 2013 @ 2:35 am

  7. Well there is a saying that every cloud has a silver lining. It seems the cloud of the GFC was to make the banking system and the uses to which it is put a bit more transparent.

    As they also say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it….so it seems the banking system is due for a little fixing(of the type unlike match fixing). Fixing the banking system could be the silver lining from the GFC.

    The UK’s trading and industrial power followed the decline of Venice as a mercantile state.
    [ http://www.slideshare.net/khooky/venice-decline ]

    Comment by Christine — October 20, 2013 @ 2:08 am

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