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Tower “The Gherkin” in London.

Yesterday, skyscraper “The Gherkin” finally opened its doors in London. The Gherkin, more formally known as the Swiss Re Tower or 30 St Mary Axe, has slipped so easily into the London skyline that it comes as a shock to discover that it officially opened only yesterday. That is the trouble with a very, very tall building. It takes so long to go up that, by the time it is finished, you feel you’ve known it for ever.

Swiss Re Tower in London
Built in the heart of the City of London, the Gherkin was Norman Foster’s second attempt at a skyscraper on the site. The first was a massive affair that would have dwarfed Tower 42 (formerly the NatWest tower), then the tallest building in the City, and reduced the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral to a pimple. This building, which did have the feel of a rather knobbly gherkin, was rejected by the planners. But Foster, ever the pragmatist, came back with a revised scheme, deliberately marginally lower than Tower 42.

But whether you like or loathe tall buildings, the Gherkin is a supremely skilful addition to London’s skyline. It is one of those buildings, along with Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao, that even the most philistine, the sort who normally bridle at the idea of anything “modern”, have come to love. Walk along the south bank of the Thames from the Design Museum to the Royal Festival Hall or drive into the City along Mile End Road, particularly at night, and the Gherkin’s curving form constantly entertains and enlivens.

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