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Famous buildings: The Gherkin

The "Gherkin" total view in WS1

Officially named 30 St Mary Axe but usually known as "The Gherkin", this building is one of the most dramatic landmarks in London…

The road on which it stands takes its odd name from the nearby church of St Mary Axe. The “Axe” part refers to a relic kept in the church.

Situated in the capital's main financial district the Gherkin is 179.8m tall and towers above much of the city's skyline. The building was commissioned by Swiss Re, a Swiss insurance company, to act as its headquarters in London.

The design was a team effort between architects, Foster and Partners, and the engineering/designing firm, Arup. It was built by Skanska, who completed it in December 2003 and in April 2004 it became the recipient of several awards, including the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize.

How was it built?
The ambitious curved form of the building was achieved by designing a diagonal steel structure (a diagrid) to frame the spiralling light-wells. Interestingly enough, despite the shape of the building most of the panes of glass are completely flat; the only curved glass is the “lens” at the very top.

The skin of the building is double-glazed and the space between the glazings is ventilated to help with temperature control and energy efficiency. It also funnels air from outside and uses this as a ‘green’ alternative to air conditioning its offices.

In case you are wondering how such an extraordinary building received planning permission in such a traditional area, it was because of the narrowness of the street in which it is situated. Despite the buildings massive shape, passers-by are nearly oblivious to the tower's existence until directly underneath it.

Did you know…
At any one time 378 people can be vertically transported through the Gherkin at speeds of up to six metres per second.
The building has 24,000 sq metres of external glass. The equivalent of five football pitches.
The maximum circumference of the building is only two metres less than its height.
Related links
The Gherkin homepage
More famous architecture

Your shout!
Marble Arch? Tower Bridge? The Gherkin? What do you think is the most interesting architectural design in London? Discuss this with your mentor, or leave a comment below.

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Additional Photos by Csaba Witz (csabagaba) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 617 W: 172 N: 1499] (7018)
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