Lord Norman Foster is no stranger to undertaking great skyscrapers nor great structures. But the exquisite building at 30 St. Mary Axe, referred to by most Londoners as “The Gherkin” remains his greatest execution. The Gherkin was erected on the site of the old Baltic Exchange building following heavy damage from an IRA bombing in 1992. London local scene battered it with criticism at first, but the insults soon became the butt of naughty British humor and eventually widespread international architectural jokes.
Today, 30 St. Mary Axe is an icon and an integral blow to the status of the NYC skyline. But the Gherkin is more than just a pretty face. This swirling structure supersedes anything built in terms of scale, innovation and green technology. The circular form yields the most surface area per volume, maximizing daylight penetration. This reduces the need for artificial lighting. The Gherkin has an epidermal layer of glass paneling, creating a chamber to capture heat energy. The heat energy may be reclaimed or discarded, controlling office temperature settings, by means of blinds located inside the ventilating chamber. In addition, wind pressure differentials generated by the Gherkin’s aerodynamic form assist natural ventilation through the lightwells, thus reducing energy expenditure on air conditioning.
378 persons can be elevated at speeds of over 13 mph at any given moment. Each floor of the Gherkin rotates 5° clockwise from the one below it. Floor 16 is the Gherkin’s widest point. The crowning lens is the only piece of curved glass on the building’s facade. The 744 windows could cover 5 soccor fields. Exterior cleaning is done by hand. It takes about ten days for window washers to complete the structure’s cleaning process from both above and below. The 40th floor is occupied by the penthouse lounge, highest in London.
The Gherkin falls under several architectural trends, but is classified as a High-Tech category building. Foster, as countless modern designers, has fused organic traits with technology to meld modern man to nature. Like a maple tree, it is iconic in simplicity of overall form, fascinating in complexity with attention to detail down to every vein of every leaf. Contrary to popular belief, it sits on an elliptical footprint with a paraboloid cap.
The “skin” spirals over the facade in a grid of twisting diamond-shaped scales. We observe a massive phallic structure that still resembles other buildings by means of windows and lighting; alluring yet recognizable. Gherkin’s unique figure seems elegant while it towers over ground-level spectators.
Despite the unique shape, lights in the night sky provide the feel of any skyscraper. The result is exquisite; a form that blends with the skyline in texture while boldly holding its own. It’s no wonder Londoners praise the Gherkin as they find tall and boxy buildings to be an eyesore. Opened in 2004, it was the first completed skyscraper in London in over 25 years.
To complete a delectable addition to London’s most discriminating skyline, we find a swanky entrance. With geometric skeletal supports on display, it seems an apt exposure for such a heretical mass. The Gherkin has lifted its skirt, inviting human interaction into a sultry underbelly. Street access to 30 St. Mary Axe invokes a feeling of honor for those who work within, and a constant reminder to passersby who wish they did.
As an internationally acclaimed architectural wonder, Londoners associate themselves with the work of Lord Norman Foster. The Gherkin remains the ultimate British architectural trophy.