Raising the roof – London’s buildings are getting taller


At 111metres high, St Paul’s cathedral was the tallest building in London for over 250 years, and its familiar dome could be seen for miles around. Then, in the 1960s, the Post Office Tower, now known as the BT Tower, exceeded St Paul’s by 66metres. Advances in materials and building techniques, and the lifting of height restrictions opened the way for ever taller buildings, and fifty years on, St Paul’s only ranks 41st in the list of the tallest structures of London.

So what are the new giants on the London skyline, to whom do they belong, and what are they used for?

#10 BT Tower 177 metres

Designed by architects Eric Bedford and G R Yeats for the Ministry of Public Building and Works, the tower was completed in 1964. It belongs to BT Group, and is primarily a broadcasting transmitter.

Interesting fact: Until 1993, the BT Tower was designated an official secret and was not shown on Ordnance Survey maps.

#9 30 St Mary Axe (The Gherkin) 180 metres

Designed by Norman Foster and completed in 2003. The Gherkin is mostly commercial office space, occupied by Swiss Re, a re-insurance company who commissioned it. Along with being Swiss Re’s UK Operations Head Office, the building houses various other large companies.  The Gherkin is currently owned by Brazilian billionaire, Joseph Satra, who paid ₤700 million for it in 2014.

Interesting fact: Although the building has a curved shape, it has only one piece of curved glass – the cap at the very top of it.

#8 St George Wharf Tower (Vauxhall Tower) 181 metres

Designed by Broadway Malyan and opened in 2014. This is the tallest solely residential building in the UK, with a two bedroom flat currently on the market at ₤4.85 million. There are two hundred and twenty-three flats of varying sizes, typically five flats on each of the fifty-two floors.

Interesting fact: At the top of the building, there is a wind turbine to power the building’s lighting.

#7 Tower 42 (formerly the Nat West Tower) 183 metres

Designed by Richard Seifert and completed in 1980. The tower was officially the first London skyscraper, according to international standards. It was originally occupied by Nat West, but is now used as a general office building. Having changed hands several times, Tower 42 was bought in 2011 by South African businessman, Nathan Kirsh, for £282.5 million.

Interesting fact: Tower 42 is so called, because of its forty-two cantilevered floors.

#6 25 Canada Square (Citigroup Tower) 200 metres

Designed by César Pelli and completed in 2001. The building is used by Citigroup for commercial banking, but is owned by Quinan Private and PropInvest. Citigroup Tower is joint 5th tallest building with 8 Canada Square.

Interesting fact: Citigroup pay the owners £46.5 million rent per year.

#5 8 Canada Square (HSBC Tower) 200 metres

Designed by Norman Foster and officially opened in 2003. After changing hands several times, the building is currently owned by Qatar Investment Authority, who bought it for an estimated £1.1 billion in 2014. The building is used for banking and is joint 5th tallest building with 25 Canada Square.

Interesting fact: Two bronze lions guard the entrance of the HSBC tower. They are named Stephen and Stitt, after two executives of the HSBC Shanghai Headquarters.

#4 122 Leadenhall Street (The Cheese grater) 225 metres

Designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners and opened in 2014. The building, which cost ₤286 million to build, was given its nickname by London’s chief planning officer, Peter Rees. He said he could imagine his wife grating Parmesan with it.

Interesting fact: The cheese grater is the world’s tallest steel megaframe building.

#3 110 Bishopsgate (Heron Tower) 230 metres

Designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox and completed in 2011. Because of disputes over naming the building after owners, Heron International, its official name is 110 Bishopsgate. After initial problems finding tenants during the financial crisis, the building is now almost fully occupied, housing various commercial companies, and several bars and restaurants, which are open to the public.

Interesting fact: The Heron Tower has the UK’s largest privately owned aquarium (70,000 litres) The tank is cleaned by several part-time divers and two “fish attendants” care for its 1200 occupants.

#2 One Canada Square 235 metres

Designed by César Pelli and opened in 1991. The building is sometimes incorrectly referred to as Canary Wharf. Most of it is used for offices, but there are some retail areas on lower floors. Currently owned by British Land, One Canada Square cost an estimated ₤624 million to build.

Interesting fact: This is the world’s first stainless steel clad skyscraper, and has a steel mass damper pendulum to compensate for movement of the building in high winds.

#1 The Shard 309.6 metres

Designed by Renzo Piano and opened in 2013. The Shard cost an estimated ₤435 million to build, and is 95% owned by the State of Qatar. Sellar Property Group own the other 5%. It is the tallest building in the EU, and houses offices, restaurants and a hotel. It is also the home of Al Jazeera English television and news broadcasting.

Interesting fact: The Shard’s owners took out an injunction to stop French climber Alain Robert entering or climbing the building, after security guards noticed him there in November 2012.