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Traditional landmarks lose out to the new when it comes to defining London

50 years ago Big Ben, the Tower of London and London Bridge were among the names and landmarks that typified the British capital for a large percentage of the world’s civilised population. Over the past couple of decades, however, centuries of history have been overtaken by technology and changes that some embrace and some disparage, in every field of human endeavor including architecture.

Londoners are used to unusual buildings, (think Cheeseburger, Gherkin etc.) but the Walkie Talkie is stirring up quite a lot of static in the neighborhood of 20 Fenchurch Street. The design by Rafael Viñoly has been called ‘bullying’ because of its towering mass which only gets bigger as it goes higher. Rather than taper towards a point at its peak (37 stories in all) it tapers up and out, with more floor space the higher you go.

690,000 square feet of the tower will be office space, with another 23,000 square feet of retail space, and on the top three levels what chief city planner Peter Rees called ‘a party city in the sky’. The plans include a champagne bar and a gourmet seafood grill, so cocktails, dinner and high-level business meetings can all take place in an outsized eyrie with unobstructed views from every one of 360 degrees.

To complete the picture, the top three levels will also contain landscaped gardens in a sub-tropical atrium, kept at comfortable temperatures for both plants and humans. There will be an open-air balcony for strolling and viewing, and the ‘Skygarden’ is free to the public (though they’ll still have to pay for drinks and dinner.)

20 Fenchurch, or Walkie Talkie, has been in the works since 2009; completion is scheduled for August 2014. Opposition has come from the owners of neighbouring real estate who claim their right to light has been violated. UNESCO threatened to have the Tower of London designated a World Heritage in Danger because of overshadowing by the new tower, and English Heritage called the building “a brutally dominant expression of commercial floor space.”

However the Walkie Talkie has shouldered onward, upward and outward to overcome all objections;

Rafael Viñoly brushes off criticism for his creative design, basically with the attitude that controversy is a good thing, and whether his building is loved or loathed, it certainly won’t be ignored.









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