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Walkie Talkie's Sky Garden opens to the public


The long-awaited greenhouse-like garden at the top of Rafael Viñoly’s controversial Walkie Talkie skyscraper finally opened this week

The ‘public space’ on the 35, 36 and 37th floors of the central London skyscraper is open to anyone who wishes to visit, however space is limited to those who book in advance.

Visitors have to fill in details including their email address and phone number to book a place at the Sky Garden and, according to the booking forms, anyone who doesn’t bring photo identity such as a passport or driving licence as well as those who arrive ten minutes late could be turned away.

The garden forms the centrepiece of the 20 Fenchurch Street Tower, which sits near the edge of the Thames and away from the main cluster of towers in the City of London.

The ‘public space’ element at the top was one of the main reasons the tower - which has been developed by a joint venture between Land Securities and Canary Wharf Group - was given the go-ahead despite heavy opposition, with many commentators have dubbed it ‘the ugliest building in the City of London’.

During the public inquiry in 2007, English Heritage’s head of advice claimed the tower’s top-heavy design made it an ‘oppressive’ addition to the skyline.

Paddy Pugh, EH’s London planning director told the inquiry: ‘This would become London’s ugliest and most oppressive building. Londoners have not even been asked whether they want this building in their city.

‘The harm it would cause to the historic environment outweighs any benefits the additional floorspace could bring to London’s economy.’

In September 2013 developers had to erect a scaffold to protect people on the street below from ‘death rays’ emitted from the building caused by it’s curved design.

The shape of the skyscraper had managed to focus the energy from the sun onto the street below and was hot enough to damage cars, blister paint and even fry an egg. The incident led to the building being dubbed the ‘walkie scorchie’ by the tabloid press.

Standing at 160m the building is the fifth-tallest in the City of London. The tower’s structure was completed late last year and cost £200million to develop.

Sky Garden viewpoints:

Peter Rees, former City of London planning officer
‘It’s fantastic. I am so amazed that people keep separating out the space and the building as two different things. And you don’t have to pay! Up your’s Shard!

‘If it looks like an airport that’s a great comment. Airports win more prizes than any other form of architecture and our best architects have designed airports around the world.

‘20 Fenchurch Street is a place where you go to meet people, so in many ways it does act like an airport. It’s the vaulted space which makes people think of it in that way.

The building is generous rather than greedy

‘It nods towards the river and looks back to the skyline behind it. All these people who complain that the building is greedy because it gets larger as it gets higher are missing the point. The building is the size of the site, it is generous rather than greedy.

‘Also, this is not an alternative to a trop to Kew Gardens. If you want to see a great colection of horticulture then you’ll have to take a trip to west London, this is a place for people in the City to meet and gossip, these spaces are the places which make the city tick.

‘If you look at the South Bank and all that crap, with empty buildings and post boxes built with dirty Russian money they are doing nothing useful and destroying the skyline through Boris’s planning committee of one.’

Peter Murray, Chairman, New London Architecture
‘The Sky Garden fits into the whole debate of what is a public space and it falls into exactly the same trap as the Garden Bridge. A public space is somewhere you can generally go on a whim, if it’s a public park you don’t expect to have to book to go in. I think there is a real fundamental issue here.

‘All these public spaces which are privately owned are only has good as the management which goes into them. Granary Square feels like a public space even though it’s privately owned and the space at the top of One New Change is great. It’s easy to access and it is genuinely public. The public space at 20 Fenchurch Street is an exchange from the authorities in return for the developers gaining planning consent. At present it is not a fair exchange. I think 20 Fenchurch Street need to change the method of management.

‘The developers may argue that they need to stop it becoming too busy, that they could have queues to get in or stop access if too many people are there. In New York the High Line can get so crowded you can hardly move at times, but this is in essence what public space is about.’

Ollie Wainwright, The Guardian
‘To appreciate this 360-degree vista, you actually have to look quite hard. For what stands out in the foreground is the great cage of steelwork that flexes in all directions, wrapping 15m above your head in a voluminous arc and plunging down in front of the glass facades….. It feels a lot like being in an airport terminal, jacked up in the air.’

Merism Capital founder Stephen Rockman speaking to City AM
‘It’s all part of an increasing trend of the mayor rolling over for developers. A public space mirage.’

Unknown City of London Corporation insider (as reported in The Guardian)
‘It’s still very much a live issue here. Let’s say it isn’t necessarily quite what it was meant to be.’


Readers' comments (2)

  • When at least it is one viewpoint where you don't have to look at the Walkie Talkie...........

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  • Chris Rogers

    Impossible to judge w/o going there; the ultra-wide angle lens images don't help.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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