30 St Mary Axe, better known by its nickname Gherkin, is one of the most eye-catching buildings in London and it stands out prominently in the city’s skyline. The Gherkin is one of several modern buildings that have been built over the years in a historic area of London.
Construction of the Gherkin was commissioned by Swiss Re, a reinsurance company. The 41-story skyscraper was built in 2004 after a modern glass and steel design by the architectural firm of Foster and Partners.
Originally known as the Swiss Re Building, it was later renamed to its street address 30 St. Mary Axe after Swiss Re sold the building in 2007. Even before its construction was complete Londoners dubbed the building the ‘Gherkin’ for its distinctive shape, and it is still known by that name.
High-rises in the City
The tower was built in the heart of London’s financial center at the site of the 1903 Baltic Exchange Building which had been damaged by a terrorist attack in 1992. The construction of a glittering high-tech building in the middle of a relatively low-rise area with plenty of historic buildings and narrow medieval streets set off a new debate about the need for tall buildings in the City of London. But even as many new skyscrapers are now built in Canary Wharf – well outside the city’s historic center – the Gherkin has acted as a catalyst for the growing cluster of high-rises in the City.
The cigar-shaped structure has a steel frame with circular floor plans and a glass facade with diamond-shaped panels. The swirling striped pattern visible on the exterior is the result of the building’s energy-saving system which allows the air to flow up through spiraling wells.
On the street level, the Gherkin’s base is well integrated with an open public plaza. Huge white X braces create a dramatic entrance. The top of the tower, where visitors find an open hall covered by a glass conical dome is even more spectacular. From here you have great views over the city. Unfortunately the building is not open to the public.
Its unique, bold and energy efficient design has won the Gherkin many awards including the Stirling Prize, the London Region Award, and the Emporis Skyscraper Award.