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15th August 2014
Author: Clarissa Jennings – Glenigan office sector expert (@CJ_Glenigan)
With office developers competing for space – and height - just to make a statement, the age of the iconic office building is upon us.
Over the last five to ten years, we’ve seen developments become more quirky, with architects pushing the boundaries of design. It’s not just about ‘how high?' anymore, it’s ‘what shape?’.
Did it all start with the Gherkin or do we need to go back further? Building projects in the 1960s, for example, were quirky, but what proved the `iconic’ element wasn’t always the design, but the price. Despite the comparably high cost of these post war buildings, they are still being demolished to make way for new developments – which will invariably be labelled ‘iconic’. So how durable are these structures?
Let’s start by exploring what ‘iconic’ actually means.
Google the word ‘iconic’ and the definitions include something that is ‘famous’, ‘popular’ or representative of ‘particular opinions or a particular time’. The term can also be applied to something that is representative of something else – for example, the Eiffel Tower is a symbol of Paris.
In architecture, an iconic design is usually a design that is ‘ground breaking’ and one that sets new standards in its field. It is a design that other designers and manufacturers follow, as it becomes a bench mark for other similar products. Furthermore, an iconic design is one that stands up to the test of time, remaining a good design, despite the passing of years, decades and even centuries.
Lord Norman Foster has certainly had a say in the rise of these distinctive structures over the past 15 years. His architectural firm Foster & Partners designed the Gherkin – or to give the building its official name, 30 St Mary Axe – which sparked the transformation of the London skyline after its completion in 2001. Lord Foster also led the redesign of Wembley Stadium and the Millennium Bridge – globally recognised structures in their own right.
The Gherkin set the trend of giving buildings affectionate nicknames, with a plethora of weird and wonderfully named developments now occupying the capital – from the Shard (Glenigan Project ID: 95848133), the Cheesegrater (122 Leadenhall Street – Glenigan Project ID: 02336525) to the Cucumber (One Merchant Square, Paddington - Glenigan Project ID: 06015212 ) and the Helter Skelter (The Pinnacle, Bishopsgate - Glenigan Project ID: 01100614). The London 2012 Olympics weren’t even immune to the craze, with the velodrome renamed the Pringle due to its curved shape.
This phenomenon appears to be a very British trait and functions to make buildings comic and fun, taking the fear out of these huge behemoths. But it can sometimes backfire, as in the case of the Walkie Talkie (20 Fenchurch Street – Glenigan Project ID: 13070201) which was renamed the Walkie Scorchie by the press last year after it emerged that the concave shape of the building was channelling the sun's rays into a concentrated beam onto Eastcheap, capable of singeing carpets, blistering paintwork and even melting parts of a car's bodywork.
Unusually shaped structures have been around since the Pyramids, but before the advent of computers architectural designs were hand drawn and, consequently, landmark buildings were much more conventional in their nature. Since then, digital technology has moved forward at such a rate it has propelled us into a new era of architectural innovation.
But with the Gherkin falling into receivership earlier this year, does this mark the beginning of the end for this era of iconic office buildings?
Another development, the so-called Can of Ham on St Mary’s Axe (Glenigan Project ID: 08376348), has been delayed due to lack of uptake from tenants in the City. Could more overseas investment speed up the process – as it has with the Malaysian-backed redevelopment of Battersea Power Station (Glenigan Project ID: 93113200)?
Whatever your views on these high-rise developments, they have turned the London skyline into an exciting, ever-changing landscape and, in the process, redefined the concept of an iconic building. But we will still be talking about them a century from now – as we do the Empire State Building – or will another new wave of office blocks simply take their place?
For more information about the commercial office sector, contact Clarissa Jennings at Glenigan on 01202 786719.
What are your views on the latest wave of office buildings – do they represent growth and economic confidence or are they merely a blight on the horizon? Get involved in the debate on our social media channels via the icons at the top of the page.
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