Walkie Talkie Building: It’s Got Laser Eyes


It’s an understatement to say that London’s Walkie Talkie Building has been through a rough time since its opening in August 2015:

The 20 Fenchurch Street London skyscraper had already caused cars to melt with a death ray from its reflective glass. This was before the building even started construction. Its sky garden, once it was open, was criticized for not living up to its promises and feeling like an ” airport terminal.”

The building’s concave design was also charged with creating a downdraft strong enough to knock over people. The building’s successful grant planning permission was also a scandal. Its planner warned that it would cause “significant visual harm.” Finally, the U.K.’s Carbuncle Cup Awards voted the tower the most ugly British building in the past 12 months. The Walkie Talkie seems to have no place else.

Building Design magazine has granted the Carbuncle Cup Awards. It may seem like another piece of lighthearted headline-grabbing fun. The central issue of building aesthetics remains a major topic in British public debate. Carbuncle refers to a 1980s speech by Prince Charles that criticized contemporary architecture. This speech was remarkably influential in reshaping British planning priorities over the next decades. The award’s condemnation is also supported by a lot of weight this year. Although it might seem excessive, there are worse things about the Walkie Talkie that can be disliked than its aesthetics.

The tower’s bulky, top-heavy bulk makes the tower hang over the nearby streets and river. It isn’t a walkie talkie, it’s not bulky or has any resemblance to an antenna. Its silhouette could be described more as a ” Sanitary Towel”, which is a maxi pad or sanitary napkin that has been swollen at its top to allow for high-rent views from the upper floors.

Although the tower might feel intrusive, people tend to change their opinions of buildings that are perceived as eyesores over time. Londoners may one day like this ugly stub of building. However, that is not necessarily a guarantee of its quality. Even more disturbing is the way it was delivered to London’s skyline. If Londoners had known what they were getting, the Walkie Talkie wouldn’t have been built.

Its sky garden was the pivot on which the tower’s regrettable approval was swinging. Although it may only cover the tower’s three highest floors, this greenwashing was Walkie Talkie’s trump card. It would create a new public space to supposedly offset the tower’s visual intrusion.

It was designed to be a vertical park with mature trees and ferns that offers stunning views of London’s ever-changing skyline. The final garden was a collection of expensive bars and restaurants with some public space. It is not open to the public, as non-diners must book in advance.

The garden is in some ways a reflection of the direction Britain is heading. A “public” garden in London can be defined as a small, private, troubled space that is surrounded by luxury businesses. Access to the space is controlled and monitored by security personnel. Londoners weren’t willing to ignore the construction of a new tower for the sake of a corporate entertainment venue.

It seems that the city planners might actually do something about the sky gardens, despite being criticized by the public. The City of London Corporation stated this summer that it was looking at ordering a major overhaul of space to bring it closer to the design they approved. This is too little too late when it comes down to saving the building’s reputation. Although Rafael Vinoly, the Walkie Talkie’s architectural firm, did not do well, the majority ire was reserved for those planners who allowed it to slip by.

London architecture is not being abandoned completely. The city is still a treasure trove of architecture and new buildings are being built every day. Even though the Neo Bankside was included in the RIBA Awards London winners, this shows. There is no doubt that the city has a bad reputation for putting private gain ahead of the public good. While developers may not care about the impact this has on ordinary Londoners it is a serious threat to the brand of London.

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