From a massive pickle-shaped building to a historic prison tower, and an iconic underground railway station to the Prime Minister’s residence, London is a happy hunting ground for the architectural tourist. To understand what makes these buildings truly landmarks, let’s explore what lies beyond and beneath their architecture.
The Gherkin at 30 St Mary Axe
Home to several insurance companies, The Gherkin, as the name suggests, stands out for its unique pickle shape in the heart of London’s financial district. Designed by Norman Foster, the building is known for its energy efficient features such as exposed shafts under each floor to expel hot air in summer, and using the sun’s heat and light in winter to substantially reduce energy consumption.
The Barbican on Silk St
The Barbican is one of London’s best examples of Brutalist architecture, built as part of the Barbican Estate’s redevelopment scheme. A world class performing arts centre is located twenty metres below ground level, beneath the elevated walkways. Designed by Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, The Barbican is known for its distinctive tooled concrete finish – a highly labour intensive technique that was executed over 200,000 square metres of concrete by workers using handheld pick-hammers or wider bush-hammers to expose the coarse aggregate.
Elizabeth Tower at Westminster
The building known popularly as the ‘Big Ben’ is actually called Elizabeth Tower – Big Ben is the 15-ton bell placed inside the clock tower! A historical landmark that once used to house a prison for politicians, the 11-storey tower also includes a mini-museum, a storeroom and 334 steps (with no elevator).
The O2 Arena at Peninsula Square
Formerly the Millennium Dome, The O2 has become one of the busiest music arenas in the world after being repurposed into a stadium following a year-long festival of exhibitions organised to celebrate the start of the third millennium. Designed by Richard Rogers, the Dome consists of a super-thin PTFE-coated glass fibre fabric canopy clamped to supporting cables, with twelve 100-metre posts holding it up.
King’s Cross Underground on Euston Rd, Kings Cross
Planned in 1851 and opened in 1863 with twin 800-feet train sheds, the King’s Cross underground station in London links six lines, making it the biggest and busiest interchange on the London Underground. Extensive restructuring and upgrades have been carried out over the years to improve passenger experience and safety.
Royal Opera House on Bow St
A must-visit destination for culturally inclined tourists to London, the current Royal Opera House building was designed by Edward Middleton Barry in 1857 – the first two theatres were lost to fires in 1808 and 1856. The theatre went through a massive £213 million upgrade between 1997 and 1999 involving the demolition of almost the entire site to make room for a larger complex.
10 Downing Street in Westminster
The official residence of the UK Prime Minister, 10 Downing Street is a 100-room building housing a private residence as well as offices, conference rooms, and reception and dining areas. Constructed by Sir George Downing between 1682 and 1684, the building (originally a group of three buildings that were subsequently connected) also hosts cabinet meetings as well as dignitaries visiting the Prime Minister.
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Betts, J.D. (2018). Big Ben. britannica.com
Populus. (2018). The O2 Arena. populous.com
Network Rail. (2018). The history of London King’s Cross station. networkrail.co.uk
Royal Opera House. (2018). History. roh.org.uk
Brown, J. (2017). Rebuilding No. 10 Downing Street. history.blog.gov.uk