S is for Skyscraping #atozchallenge

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When I arrived in London it was not a high rise city like New York. That felt rather disappointing.

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Centrepoint today being refurbished.

We had Centrepoint, a white elephant of a building, built by Harry Hyams who, rather notoriously used to keep places empty until he achieved the sort of lettings he wanted. It felt like an indulgence that only a rapacious property developer would be allowed to consider.

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Former Nat West tower

The Nat West Tower, now Tower 42, which was built in the shape of the Nat West logo and completed in 1980 was the new tallest building the year after I came.

The reason was plain. The planning authority for the City of London wanted to keep London the way it had been for years.

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St Paul’s, partially blocked by a famous 1900s development this led to a law change – but wait for U is for… to find out!!

There were restrictions on heights of buildings in certain protected corridors that preserved the views of St Paul’s Cathedral but this was a blanket ban.

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This is what the planners wanted to be the tallest building in the city for a time, circa 1950

Back then the City did things its way, like it had always done. It gave jobs to those it had always given jobs to – white, privately educated men broadly. It was quite happy being reasonably successful and if upstarts like New York and Hong Kong, and increasingly, at that time, Tokyo wanted to be more brash, more pushy then, well, old boy, they would wouldn’t they? That just showed a lack of class.

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Part of Canary Wharf

And then along came Mrs Thatcher. I caused a bit a reaction the other day when I said she was a curate’s egg, rather than wholly bad. In respect to how she broke open the City she was classlessness personified. She hated old boys’ networks just as much as unions (which she saw as one and the same – unelected oligarchies).

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The Stock Exchange today

The ridiculous, self interested stock markets were forced to reform, ending the closed shops of stockers and jobbers and brokers. In their pace can a new environment. Not always better but the barriers to entry were removed.

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The Post office tower – not strictly in the City and pretty much hated when built in the 1960s but iconic nonetheless for that.

The outcome for the built environment was immediate. The consolidation and the ending of open outcry trading (where people stand and shout at each other to make trades) meant new, much larger buildings were needed. The planners, as ever, were slow to react and fought a rear-guard to stop huge buildings, arguing they would change the character of London.

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Canary Wharf today seen from 8 miles away on the Millennium bridge

And there it might have stayed, with resistant planners fighting frustrated trading houses and an ever dwindling role for London in the race to be part of a world economy. But Mrs T wasn’t done. Through an initiative of her Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine a regeneration policy was adopted – the creation of Enterprise Zones (EZ) that gave landowners and developers tax breaks and relaxed planning controls if they built new industrial and commercial premises in areas devastated by business closures. One such was Canary Wharf a derelict and polluted part of the old London Docklands that had been in terminal decline since the 1960s with the final closing occurring in 1980.

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An early sign that development in the city was going to be different – the Richard Rogers ‘inside-out’ Lloyds of London building completed in 1986

In 1982 this became an EZ under the auspices of the London Docklands Development corporation and work soon began on new, state of the art offices that included huge trading floors. Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley took buildings there and the Canada Square Tower was started which, at 50 floors dwarfed anything else in London. So tall was it, it needed a navigation light on the top.

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There were problems. Getting to Canary Wharf was via a new lightweight railway – the Docklands Light Railway or DLR. It was dubbed the Toytown railway so small a capacity and so frequent its stoppages. So much so that the first new tube to be built in many a year was begun to bring the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf.

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Being Lloyds, you might have to go through the ancient entrance to get to the ultra modern

The City woke up. Panicked at what it saw as an existential threat it changed its planning policies and allowed new offices to be built, over tube and railway stations (Broadgate and at Ludgate Hill) and roads (Alban Gate over London Wall). The resulting oversupply by 1990 led to the financial collapse of the company that owned Canary Wharf and for some four years development stalled.

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The Shard, Europe’s tallest

Boom follows bust follows boom as we know only too well. So on the next up wave, in 1995 Canary Wharf rose from the ashes.

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An early attempt to build big, this one based on a Ghostbusters building, Minster Court

That was when I first became involved in its development, acting for the American banking giant Citigroup where we helped develop, over ten years, 1.6 million square foot of European HQ offices. For the next 15 years I spent a lot of time sweatily negotiating developments for the likes of HSBC, Credit Suisse, Lehman Brothers, Clifford Chance and others there. It was hard, fun, tiring and many times laugh out loud absurd.

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The cheesegrater

Now the cluster that is Canary Wharf is a mini Manhattan in its own right and the success of large buildings has rubbed off on the City. And the City has learned another lesson.

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The walkie-talkie

If you are going to build then let us, at least have something special. Not a slab of sheer glass walls which is the common sight at Canary Wharf, but tubes and slopes and curves and twists.

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The Strata at Elephant and castle, seen from the City looking like a startled owl

Not every tower works, not all will be iconic.

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The City cluster seen from near my home

The Shard is disproportionately big to my eyes.

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The Gherkin

There are still too many bland buildings.

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More Gherkins, with a sliver of old London next door.

But the fact that the media can still come up with nick names for the best new buildings gives me hope: The Shard, the Cheese-grater,

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The Walkie talkie – temporarily renamed the  Scorchie Talkie when the sun’s summer rays were so concentrated onto the road below that someone’s car melted in the heat – the Gherkin and, soon, I hope the Helter-Skelter.

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City Hall or the Glass Testicle

Even the City Hall, though it doesn’t conform to the skyscraper motif, had its own name for a while – the Glass Testicle. Maybe you think that’s fair? Whatever, I do like our range of buildings thought for me the best is this, a little down the river near Waterloo

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The Oxo Tower


This is part of the 2016 A to Z Blogging challenge. Please click here to find your way to other participants.

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About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published three anthologies of short stories and a memoir of my mother. More will appear soon. I will try and continue to blog regularly at geofflepard.com about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
This entry was posted in A to Z blogging challenge, challenge, London, miscellany and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to S is for Skyscraping #atozchallenge

  1. Jools says:

    I’d actually never heard the name for City Hall before – but I love it! So appropriate, in so many ways.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: S is for Skyscraping #atozchallenge | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  3. Another fascinating tour, Geoff. To think I ran 3 London Marathons when Canary Wharf was jjust a building site.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. noelleg44 says:

    Amazing architecture, Geoff. Reminds me so much of Chicago – if you travel there, take the river boat architecture tour!


  5. gordon759 says:

    In fact, when you arrived in the city most skyscrapers had disappeared. Men no longer wore very tall top hats, or rode Penny Farthings. One could have been fitted to the main mast of Cutty Sark, and the ceremonial cavalry did ride tall horses, but the only ones you would have been concerned with were launched into the air at Lords or the Oval.


  6. greyzoned/angelsbark says:

    Beautiful photos! Incredible architecture. I love big city structures. Nice post!

    Michele at Angels Bark

    Liked by 1 person

  7. lucciagray says:

    I love your insights on London. I don’t know the names or nicknames of most of these new skyscrapers. The London skyline has changed a lot in the last 10-15 years, more than in the previous century almost! And to think you had a part in it! I personally love the contrast of new and older buildings It let’s us see where we came from and where we’re going…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I was surprised by how comfortable I felt in London, much more than I feel in cities that I know considerably better, like New York. I eventually determined it was because there are relatively fewer sky scrapers. The scale of a place seems much more human when you can see the sky.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. jan says:

    I noticed that there were a lot of peculiar buildings in London kind of plopped down in the midst of the traditional!


  10. Ali Isaac says:

    Very interesting. Personally, I love the Gherkin!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. M. L. Kappa says:

    Thanks, Goeff, I’m really enjoying this tour of London!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Such a diverse collection of architectural buildings. I never realized London had become a reflection of Manhattan. You’ve opened my eyes.

    Gail’s 2016 April A to Z Challenge
    S is for Save Our Planet

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Good Morning Geoff! That shot of the gherkin with ‘a sliver of old London’ was actually quite shocking to me over first coffee. Your perspective is really clever and scrolling down from just the gherkin to the bottom of the picture really arrested my attention. I have people here and made them put down there coffees and come see – even the dog had to be told about it!! It’s an amazing shot, we all agree – even the dog!! Second coffee required!!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Reblogged this on Judith Barrow and commented:
    Some more great photos on the tour of London


  15. Pingback: Mention in Dispatches – Shopping with Mother, Disappearing Eagles and Tibetan Rites | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  16. Good to see the Post Office Tower has recovered after that incident with the kitten…

    Liked by 1 person

  17. A city would not be a city without its sky-scrappers. I loved visiting the OXO Tower and enjoyed the viewing platforms on top of The Shard. I also climbed the steps to the top of St Pauls’ Dome. Spectacular views of my favorite city.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Cool buildings. I’m so used to glass and concrete blocks that some of these look as if they came straight out of a sci-fi movie! A fun post.


  19. London skyscrapers are definitely not boring. I think I’m most fond of the Gherkin.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Judy Martin says:

    Although I prefer the look of the old buildings, i do love the names of the skyscrapers, walkie-talkie, cheese grater and the glass testicle!
    I thought that Lloyds building was kind of ugly, and the gherkin one, a bit like a rocket ship! I liked the ghostbusters one though! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Brilliant post – great pictures 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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