The Gherkin and how it changed London

The Gherkin as it is formally known is located at 30 St Mary Axe and was also previously known as the Swiss Re Building. It is a commercial skyscraper in the middle of London. Precisely in the primary financial district called the “City of London”. In December 2003 it was completed and finally opened in April 2004. The Skyscraper measures a total height of 180 meters (that is 591 feet) and has 41 floors. It stands on the former sites of the Baltic Exchange and also the Chamber of Shipping. The Chamber of shipping was unfortunately extensively damaged in the year 1992 by an explosion of a bomb of the IRA in the St Mary Axe. St Mary Axe is the name of the street from which the official name of the tower comes from. The Public quickly found another nickname of the skyscraper: They call it: The Gherkin.

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There were plans to build another tall building at the site. But after the plans to built the 92 floor high Skyscraper called “Millennium Tower” were dropped the plans were going through for the Gherkin. The 30 St Mary Axe (The Gherkin) was designed by the architect Norman Foster and the Arup Group. The developer Skanska was starting to built the skyscraper in 2001. Since then the tall building has become a very feature of the capital London and because of its shape is one of the city’s most widely recognized examples of contemporary architecture.

The building was primary occupied by Swiss Re, which is a global reinsurance company. The company commissioned the building as the head office for the uk operation of swiss re. With Swiss Re inside the building was reffered to as the Swiss Re Building. Although this name was never offical and with the company’s headquarter in Zurich it was never their main headquarter for the company. Therefor the nickname “Gherkin” was way more popular.

The Gherkin under construction

 Energy-saving methods are used in the tall building, they allow to half the bill for the power compared to a similar tower of its size would consume. There are gaps inside each floor, creating a natural ventilation system for the entire building. Of course every sixth floor there are fire breaks in place which are interrupting the system. With this shafts the building is creating a giant double glazing effect with air sandwiched between this two layers of glazing and insulating the office space inside.

The face of the Gherkin

Normally architects promote the effect of the double glazing in the residential housing which is avoiding the inefficient convection of heat between the outside air and the inside. Fortunately the building exploits this effect with its shafts. They pull the warm air out of the building during the summer. In the winter they warm the building using the passive solar heating. One other positive aspect of the shafts is that they allow the sunlight to pass through the building. Which is making the working environment more pleasing and of course keeping the lighting costs down

The height of the building makes it necessary to have active mass dampers in place. they controls the wind excited sways and increase the stiffness. To a design by Arup, its 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 apex.

On the top floor of the Gherkin, which is the 40th floor, there is a bar for the tenants and their guests. The bar is featuring a panoramic view of London. One floor under the bar is a restaurant operating and again one floor (the 38 th floor) below you find private dining rooms. Normally most buildings have a giant lift on the rooftop of the building. This is obviously not possibly with this kind of shape. But the architect placed the lift at the 34th floor and build a special push from below lift which extents to the 39 th floor. Inside the building is a marble stairwell leading the visitors up to the bar in the dome.

Due to its shape and location the Gherkin is visible over long distances.

After completion

Unfornuatley for the building in April of 2005, the press needed to report that a glass panel from two thirds up the tower had fallen to the plaza beneath the tall skyscraper. The complete plaza was sealed of after this incident but the building itself remained open. To protect the tenets and visitors a temporary covered walkway was erected, extenting across the plaza to the buildings reception. Special engineers were examining the other remaining 744 glass panels on the whole building. The cost of the operation was covered by the developer Skanska and the curtain wall supplier Schmidlin-TSK AG.

The special shape of the Gherkin helped to win a number of awards for architecture. For example in October of 2004, the architect Norman Foster was awarded the 2004 RIBA Stirling Prize.  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.

In September of 2006 the tall gherkin shaped skyscraper was put up for sale with a price tag of 600 million pounds. Potential buyers were for example British Land, Land Securities, Prudential, ING, and the Abu Dhabi royal family. In february 2007 the IVG Immobilien AG and the UK investment firm Evans Randall signed the contract for 630 million pound making it Britain’s most expensive office building. The company Swiss Re booked a gain of more than 300 million pounds

In 2014 the company Deloitte announced that the building was up for sale again. It was expected to reach an agreement on a price of 550 million pounds. The current owner (IVG Immobilien AG and the UK investment firm Evans Randall) could not afford to make the loan repayment sciting differences in the value of the multi-currency loan and the British pound, high interest rates and general financing structure. Fortunately and finally in 2014, the skyscraper “The Gherkin” was purchased for £700 million. The new owner is now the Safra Group which is controlled by the billionaire Joseph Safra from Brazil.

6 things you may not know about the Gherkin

  • The Skyscraper The Gherkin has just one piece of carved glass in the whole building it is the lens right at the top of the skyscraper.
  • There are 1037 steps in each of the stairwells. That is three times as many as in London’s monument
  • There are six shafts inside the building ventilating air
  • each floor rotates five degrees from the one below
  • with 1816 square meters the 16 th floor is the largest
  • there is a roman grave under the gherkin


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