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Coordinates: 51°30′52″N 00°04′49″W / 51.51444°N 0.08028°W / 51.51444; -0.08028

30 St Mary Axe (The Gherkin)
30 St Mary Axe, 'Gherkin'.JPG
General information
Location 30 St Mary Axe, City of London, England
Status Complete
Constructed 2001-2003[1]
Opening 2004[2]
Use Office
Roof 180 metres (591 ft)
Technical details
Floor area 47,950 square metres (516,100 sq ft)
Companies involved
Architect(s) Foster and Partners
Structural engineer Arup
Contractor Skanska

30 St Mary Axe, also known as the Gherkin and the Swiss Re Building, is a skyscraper in London's main financial district, the City of London, completed in December 2003 and opened at the end of May 2004.[2] With 40 floors, it is 180 metres (591 ft) tall,[1] and stands on the former site of the Baltic Exchange building, which was severely damaged on 10 April 1992 by the explosion of a bomb placed by the Provisional IRA.[2][3]

After the plans to build the Millennium Tower were dropped, the current building was designed by Norman Foster,[1] his then business partner Ken Shuttleworth[4] and Arup engineers,[5] and was erected by Skanska in 2001–2003.[1]



The building is on the former site of the Baltic Exchange building, the headquarters of a global marketplace for ship sales and shipping information. On 10 April 1992 the Provisional IRA detonated a bomb close to the Exchange, severely damaging the historic Exchange building and neighbouring structures.[2][3]

The UK government's statutory adviser on the historic environment, English Heritage, and the City of London governing body, the City of London Corporation, was keen that any redevelopment must restore the building's old façade onto St Mary Axe. The Exchange Hall was a celebrated fixture of the ship trading company.[6][7]

After English Heritage later discovered the damage was far more severe than previously thought, they stopped insisting on full restoration, albeit over the objections of the architectural conservationists who favoured reconstruction.[8] Baltic Exchange sold the land to Trafalgar House in 1995.[9] Most of the remaining structures on the site were then carefully dismantled, the interior of Exchange Hall and the façade were preserved, hoping for a reconstruction of the building in the future.[9]

In 1996 Trafalgar House submitted plans for the Millennium Tower, a 386 metres (1,266 ft) building with more than 140,000 m2 (1,500,000 sq ft) office space, apartments, shops, restaurants and gardens.[10][11] This plan was dropped after objections for being totally out-of-scale with the City of London and because of the fear that planes would fly into it;[10] the revised plan for a lower tower was accepted.

The gherkin name dates back to at least 1999, referring to that plan's highly unorthodox layout and appearance.[12] Due to the current building's somewhat phallic appearance, other inventive names have also been used for the building, including the Erotic gherkin, the Towering Innuendo, and the Crystal Phallus (also a pun on Crystal Palace).[6][13][14]

Planning process

Left: Looking south down Bishopsgate, one of the main roads leading through London's financial district, Right: The tower contrasted with other buildings, seen from the southern end of St Mary Axe

On 23 August 2000, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott granted planning permission to construct a building much larger than the old Exchange on the site.[6] The site was special because it needed development, was not on any of the "sight lines" (planning guidance requires that new buildings do not obstruct or detract from the view of St Paul's dome when viewed from a number of locations around London), and it had housed the Baltic Exchange.[15]

The plan for the site was to reconstruct the Baltic Exchange. GMW Architects proposed building a new rectangular building surrounding a restored exchange — the square shape would have the type of large floor plan that banks liked. Eventually, the planners realised that the exchange was not recoverable, forcing them to relax their building constraints; they hinted that an "architecturally significant" building might pass favourably with city authorities. This move opened up the architect to design freely; it eliminated the restrictive demands for a large, capital-efficient, money-making building that favoured the client.[16]

Swiss Re's low level plan met the planning authority's desire to maintain London's traditional streetscape with its relatively narrow streets. The mass of the Swiss Re tower was not too imposing. Like Barclays Bank's former City headquarters, the passerby is nearly oblivious to the tower's existence in neighbouring streets until directly underneath it.

Design and construction

The top floor of the Gherkin.

The building was constructed by Skanska, completed in December 2003 and opened on 28 April 2004.[2] The primary occupant of the building is Swiss Re, a global reinsurance company, who had the building commissioned as the head office for their UK operation. As owners, their company name lends itself to another nickname for the building, variants on Swiss Re Tower, although this has never been an official title.[17]

The building uses energy-saving methods which allow it to use half the power a similar tower would typically consume.[17] Gaps in each floor create six shafts that serve as a natural ventilation system for the entire building even though required firebreaks on every sixth floor interrupt the "chimney." The shafts create a giant double glazing effect; air is sandwiched between two layers of glazing and insulates the office space inside.[2]

Architects limit double glazing in residential houses to avoid the inefficient convection of heat, but the Swiss Re tower exploits this effect. The shafts pull warm air out of the building during the summer and warm the building in the winter using passive solar heating. The shafts also allow sunlight to pass through the building, making the work environment more pleasing, and keeping the lighting costs down. The primary methods for controlling wind-excited sways are to increase the stiffness, or increase damping with tuned/active mass dampers. To a design by Arup, Swiss Re's fully triangulated perimeter structure makes the building sufficiently stiff without any extra reinforcements. Despite its overall curved glass shape, there is only one piece of curved glass on the building — the lens-shaped cap at the very top.[2]

On the building's top level (the 40th floor), there is a bar for tenants and their guests featuring a 360° view of London. A restaurant operates on the 39th floor, and private dining rooms on the 38th.[17] Whereas most buildings have extensive lift equipment on the roof of the building, this was not possible for the Gherkin, since a bar had been planned for the 40th floor. The architects dealt with this by having the main lift only reach the 34th floor, and then having a push-from-below lift to the 39th floor. There is a marble stairwell and a disabled persons' lift which leads the visitor up to the bar in the dome.

The building is visible over long distances: from the north, for instance, it can be seen from the M11 motorway some 32 kilometres (20 mi) away,[17][18] while to the west it can be seen from the statue of George III in Windsor Great Park. The Gherkin can also be seen from the London Eye.

After completion

The base of the tower

On 25 April 2005, the press reported that a glass panel two thirds up the 590 ft (180 m) tower had fallen to the plaza beneath on 18 April. The plaza was sealed off, but the building remained open. A temporary covered walkway, extending across the plaza to the building's reception, was erected to protect visitors. Engineers examined the other 744 glass panels on the building.[19] The cost of repair was covered by main contractor Skanska and curtainwall supplier Schmidlin.[17]

In December 2005, a survey of the world's largest firms of architects published in 2006 BD World Architecture 200 voted the tower as the most admired new building in the world. The building also featured in recent movies such as Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (film), Sharon Stone's Basic Instinct 2 and Woody Allen's Match Point[20] and, rechristened the Spirit of London, became the centrepiece of Keith Mansfield's 2008 novel Johnny Mackintosh and the Spirit of London.[21]

In September 2006, the building was put up for sale with a price tag of GB£600 million.[22] Potential buyers included British Land, Land Securities, Prudential, ING and the Abu Dhabi royal family. On 21 February 2007, IVG Immobilien AG and UK investment firm Evans Randall completed their joint purchase of the building for GB£630 million, making it Britain's most expensive office block.[17][23][24]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "30 St Mary Axe, London". Skanska. Archived from the original on 2010-02-04. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "30 St Mary Axe". Emporis. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  3. ^ a b "1993: IRA bomb devastates City of London". Archived from the original on 2010-02-02. Retrieved 2010-02-02. 
  4. ^ "'Gherkin' man to design depot". BBC News. 2004-10-19. Archived from the original on 2010-02-07. Retrieved 2008-10-23. "The "Gherkin" was designed by Mr Shuttleworth when he worked at Lord Foster's company." 
  5. ^ "30 St Mary Axe (The Gherkin)". Arup. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  6. ^ a b c "'Erotic gherkin' for London skyline". BBC News. 2000-08-23. Archived from the original on 2010-02-07. Retrieved 2010-02-07. 
  7. ^ Lane, Megan (2007-07-05). "Extreme restoration". BBC News. Archived from the original on 2010-02-07. Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  8. ^ Murray-West, Rosie (2000-09-30). "Baltic backs legal fight over 'gherkin'". Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  9. ^ a b "History - 1949-Today". Baltic Exchange. Archived from the original on 2010-02-04. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  10. ^ a b "London Millennium Tower". 2005-03-01. Retrieved 2010-02-07. 
  11. ^ "London Millennium Tower". Retrieved 2010-02-02. 
  12. ^ "No gherkins please, we're British". The Guardian. 1999-08-06.,,281729,00.html. Retrieved 2009-11-28. 
  13. ^ James S. Russell (June 2004). "Foster’s “Towering Innuendo” is a Big, Eco-Friendly Hit.". Architectural Record. Retrieved 2007-03-22. 
  14. ^ Christopher Fildes (2000-09-02). "Cloud-capped towers". The Spectator. Retrieved 2007-03-22. 
  15. ^ "Swiss Re, aka The Gherkin". Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  16. ^ "Issues - The newsletter of GMW Architects". GMW Architects. pp. 3. Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f Spring, Martin (2008). "30 St Mary Axe: A gherkin to suit all tastes". Retrieved 2010-02-07. 
  18. ^ Hossenally, Rooksana. "The Gherkin, London, UK". Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  19. ^ Bar-hillel, Mira; Harris, Ed (2005). "Safety fear over Gherkin". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  20. ^ Sandhu, Sukhdev (2006-06-21). "Sex on the skyline". Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  21. ^ "Keith Mansfield 2009 on Johnny Mackintosh and the spirit of London". BFKbooks. 2009. Retrieved 2010-02-19. 
  22. ^ Davey, Jenny (2006-09-16). "Prize Gherkin put up for sale". Times Online. Archived from the original on 2010-02-04. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  23. ^ Walsh, Fiona (2007-02-06). "Gherkin sold for £600m". Guardian. Archived from the original on 2010-02-04. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 
  24. ^ Inman, Phillip. "Gherkin's £600m sale sets London property record". Guardian. Archived from the original on 2010-02-04. Retrieved 2010-02-04. 

External links

Skyline view with Tower 42, the Willis Building, 30 St Mary Axe and the Broadgate Tower.

Preceded by
Kingdom Centre
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Emporis Skyscraper Award (Gold)
Succeeded by
Taipei 101
Taipei, Taiwan

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