It has been trumpeted as “the building with more up top”; a swollen pint glass of a tower that bulges out as it rises to pack in more offices at the lucrative higher levels, with a Babylonian sky-garden up above. What its developer might not have bargained for is that, like every Bond baddie lair, the Walkie-Talkie building would also come with its own death ray.
News this week that 20 Fenchurch Street, designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly, “melted” part of a Jaguar parked beneath its bulbous mass, only adds to the impression that the building is the ultimate symbol of everything that is wrong with the City of London – a physical monument to capitalism destroying itself.
Despite being bitterly opposed by Unesco and English Heritage – which described its “oppressive and overwhelming form” as a “brutally dominant expression of commercial floor space” – the Walkie-Talkie was cheerily waved through the planning process by Peter Rees, who since 1985 has presided over the wealth of novelty silhouettes that now choke the London skyline.
London’s chief planner has admitted that he thought the site on Fenchurch Street, a way to the south of the City’s cluster of towers, was the wrong place for a tall building. But he was soon convinced by the lure of a “public” garden at its 160m-high summit. “We came to think of it as the figurehead at the prow of our ship,” he told me last year. “A viewing platform where you could look back to the vibrancy of the City’s engine room behind you.”
It is a figurehead maybe, although one that is less svelte mermaid than bullying bouncer. Clad with vertical solar fins designed to protect the interior offices from glare, these silvery slats are stretched open as the building swells upwards, giving it the look of a broad-shouldered banker bursting out of his pin-striped suit – now with deadly laser beam eyes.