mnot’s blog

Design depends largely on constraints.” — Charles Eames

Wednesday, 10 September 2003

The Gherkin

Filed under: Arts

One of the most interesting examples of architecture I’ve seen in a while is the nearly-finished Swiss Re building (aka 30 St. Mary Axe) in London, also known as “The Gherkin” by locals there.

I first saw it wondering the streets around BEA’s office in the City. I happened across the Lloyd’s building - a landmark in and of itself - turned the corner, and saw Swiss Re. The audacity of it takes your breath away, and I predict that it will both dominate and define London’s skyline for at least the next twenty years.

As I understand it, this nickname first came about when people saw the plans, because the building looks like nothing more than a giant pickle stuck into London’s skyline; it wasn’t a complement. However, in the transition from renderings and artists’ mock-ups to reality, the disparaging comments have ceased. Yes, it does, trivially, look like a giant pickle, but the building is so awe-inspiring in both its scale and detail, one quickly forgets.

This is a great contrast with so much other current architecture. Most projects these days are conceptualized, designed, approved and built from CAD and nothing else, resulting in buildings that aren’t on a human scale at all; they look clean and fresh on a 21-inch flat screen, but fail to transition well to concrete, glass and steel. The result is buildings that weather and date quickly.

In public architecture, we’re seeing more things like Federation Square in Melbourne - a multiple-city-block monstrosity that should have been stopped long before seeing daylight. It’s ugly, it doesn’t integrate with the rest of the city at all, and will be a permanent blight on Melbourne. The architects that I know (yes, you Inger!) love it, but no one else does. Are we giving architects and the design boards they sit on too much power? Has the process of selecting the best design for the inhabitants of a city turned into a farce, where architects get to show off to each other with self-referential, egotistical portfolio fodder, at the expense of millions in public funds and more in lost opportunity?

Don’t even get me started about multiple-use urban planning…


4 Comments

Nance Ross said:

Gorgeous building, but what idiot allowed it to be built where it dominates the aspect of the Tower of London, and graceful Tower Bridge? Put it over by the God-awful Queen’s Concert Hall to distract from that imbicilic pile of clunky concrete! London urban planners are almost as bad as their Los Angeles counterparts…..and at least as unappreciative of historical icons.

Saturday, February 14 2004 at 2:46 AM

charlie ward said:

I agree entirely. One can only wonder who on earth makes these such awful decisions. I would really like to know how GREEN this thing is ?? Does anyone know? Ive read about a few windows that swing open to aid in the airconditioning, but my car does that and its 20 years old. Does it collect, clean and store its own water ?? Does it produce electricity in any capacity. Is it Bird friendly ? I am perhaps a little cynical but does it truely need to be that shape to be environmentaly sound ? I wonder if we arent getting a little too romantic in our persuit of green living. If a building can look like St Pauls Cathedral and still be “ Green” lets do more like that, much more graceful and beautiful than a giant “ Pickle” I am sure the architect is very clever and I applaud his bold statement but it just seems very, American in its “over the top” “over reaction” attitude to Greening OUR planet. Sorry about Banging On it just irritates me :-))

Tuesday, May 29 2007 at 10:05 AM

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