Having recently attended an architecture librarians event in the City of London, I’ve decided to find out more about the area and have chosen New City: Contemporary Architecture in the City of London by Alec Forshaw as book of the week. Our tour of the city included lunch at the top of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ or rather 20 Fenchurch Street’s Sky Garden and an exhilarating excursion to the top of The Shard (wow!) before concluding with a drinks reception at Foster & Partners architectural practice HQ. We also had a tour of the company’s library, situated in a large two storey corridor at the edge of the design studio for handy consultation when developing design ideas. The ever-changing nature of the City skyline was demonstrated by the huge number of cranes and building sites making way for new developments including the Scalpel and the Can of Ham, so this book, published in 2013, is merely a snapshot of the City at a moment in time. If you are considering a visit yourself, it is an informative, accessible guide, illustrated with photographs by Alan Ainsworth.
An introductory chapter explains that between 1850 and 1900 around 80% of buildings in the City were replaced. After the First World War, it became the financial capital of the British Empire and many of the old Victorian buildings were replaced with palatial new builds created by architects such as Edwin Lutyens, Ernest George, Aston Webb, Edwin Cooper and Herbert Baker. The devastation of the area during the Second World War led to a great deal of enthusiasm for renewal, but the country’s financial situation didn’t match its ambitions. The cheaply built post-war buildings were largely becoming unfit for purpose in the 1980s. That, combined with the deregulation of the financial markets in 1986, led to a radical reconstruction of the City, financed by private investors and the City of London Corporation. The chapter also acknowledges the mixed fortunes of historic buildings within the area, but it was interesting to note on our tour the protected views of St.Paul’s and other major historic landmarks.
The building of Norman Foster’s 30 St. Mary Axe (the ‘Gherkin’) marked a turning point, resulting in a wave of proposals for tall buildings. Ken Livingston, Mayor of London at the time, was supportive, “high buildings should be assessed on what they add to the skyline, rather than what they take away” (p.14). Interestingly, at the time the book was published, the author cites Peter Rees, City of London’s (now former) chief planning officer as saying that he thinks the skyscraper boom may be coming to an end. Time has proved that this is not the case.
Forshaw sets the architectural developments within their cultural and political contexts, discussing the sustainability agenda and the incorporation of public spaces around and within the City buildings – hence our ability to access the Sky Gardens in what is essentially an office block. You can read about some of the controversy relating to Rafael Viñoly’s 20 Fenchurch Street in the book, yet in 2015 it won the award for Best Commercial High-rise Architecture London at the International Property Awards.
If you are considering a visit take New City with you. Its useful plans and informative text will make a great introduction to the City of London. If you want to find out more about the buildings, then visit the recently refreshed Architecture My Subject pages to find some inspiring resources. A search for City of London on Detail Inspiration, for instance, will show you detail drawings, accompanying photographs and information about Renzo Piano‘s Shard. Enjoy!