London has always been known for its rich history – the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben.
But significant architectural additions have been made in the last twenty years, and transformed it into a cutting-edge 21st-century city that celebrates modern art and design.
Here are five of my favourite modern buildings.
Can you imagine the London skyline without the Shard? Rarely has a single building made such a visual impact on the city. Visible from almost every corner – and mysteriously seems to be in unexpected positions as the river snakes its way through London (or is that just me?). Over the Christmas period, a special light-show is put on – this year, lasers shone out through clear skies and cloud.
I haven’t been up it, although I’m sure the views are spectacular. It is the outside the intrigues me, the reflections that change daily and the sharp angles and jagged unfinished pinnacle, emphasising the steel and glass structure and leaving us to fill in the gaps. How lucky we are to have one of the great modern buildings in our city.
The Tate Modern extension is a complete, utter triumph. Wow. The original conversion from the Bankside power station was a masterstroke by Herzog and de Meuron, one of my favourite galleries anywhere and one of the first significant lottery-funded modern buildings in London.
The extension is as good, if not better. Stunning from the outside, with personality inside – enough to compete with the iconic language of the main building. And beautifully, beautifully detailed. The light, coming through the latticed brickwork lights smaller galleries delicately. and creates a sense of mystery and awe, quiet reflection. The stairs – wow. Look at that concrete work! The curves!
As a means of displaying art, a gallery should never just be about the building, and the new displays of art within the Switch are first-rate too.
The ferris wheel is another addition to the iconic symbols of London. Not really a building – well, definitely not a building. And not as visible as the Shard, but what views from within! Again, the pods are beautifully lit at night. My favourite use was when the Almeida did a live webcast of the full reading of Homer’s Odyssey, and Juliet Stevenson read the passage about Cyclops being blinded by Odysseus – priceless.
As Richard Rogers said: “The Eye has done for London what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris, which is to give it a symbol and to let people climb above the city and look back down on it. Not just specialists or rich people, but everybody. That’s the beauty of it: it is public and accessible, and it is in a great position at the heart of London.” (Marks Barfield Architects (2007). Eye: The story behind the London Eye)
Technically 20 Fenchurch Street, but once a nickname is given to a building, it never really loses it. And this is so apt! The Walkie Talkie’s London story started off rather controversially, when reflections during a rare heatwave cracked car windscreens and shop windows, but corrected now so the surroundings are safe.
Unloved by some – and, yes, perhaps it’s proximity to the Tower of London is slightly problematic. But I love it’s white lines that expand as the building rises, in direct contrast to the Shard’s slender elegance. And there is a public garden on top – London’s highest. Booking a ticket is necessary, but it is free, and a beautiful space to wander round (and a rather nice bar too).
What a beautiful re-use of the Commonwealth Institute. The atrium is a celebration of space and so generous inside. And such beautiful stairs, some double-height, just to sit on – how generous is that? There are fantastic space for displays too.
Sir Terence Conran put millions of his own money into this project. He should be very very proud. One of the greatest new public spaces to have opened in London in years.