Sunday, 27 May 2012

It Pays to Look Around

Everyone loves 30 St Mary Axe, don’t they? I certainly do. The  Gherkin, as it is popularly known was  designed by Norman Foster and Arup, and built by Skanska. Completed in December 2003, it was built on the site of BalticExchange which was destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1992.

However, this is not about the building itself, but how it interacts with its surroundings. If you are a fan of reflective surfaces, then the City of London really is a place you should explore. There is a lot of glass in a relatively small area, and everything seems to reflect everything else, but 30 St Mary Axe is slightly different.


Buildings in the City tend to sit cheek by jowl with their neighbours. Those neighbours can be 21st century skyscrapers, Wren churches, 19th century banks and more besides. Due to the City’s street map being largely unchanged from its pre Great Fire plan, the City is a mass of irregular plots, which has led to some really creative work being required by architects to make use of the available space. However, sometimes that leads to it being difficult to see where one building ends and the next begins.

The area around the Gherkin is quite different. The size of the original plot and the building’s relatively small footprint means that there is a now a quite spacious “plaza” area surrounding it. 

The creation of the plaza has the added advantage of opening up the view of the wonderful Holland House, a very fine early 20th c office building which had previously been hidden away in the narrow Bury St behind the old Baltic Exchange. Holland House also offers our first unusual interaction. Because it has conventional windows, rather than the glass walls of a modern building, with the right lighting conditions it gives the impression that there is another gherkin hidden behind its windows!

Obviously, its corpulent shape and triangular windows means that the reflections of other buildings are uniquely distorted, which is always a joy to us happy snappers and it does look good reflected in the single plane surfaces of its neighbours, but he thing that really interests me though is the way it casts light on to its surroundings. 

When the sun is cooperative 30 St Mary Axe throws diamonds, triangles and bow ties of light on the ground and onto the surfaces of the adjacent buildings. Maybe I’m easily pleased but it’s a sight that always makes me smile.

Finally, just a few more of my pics , which really begs the question “can you ever have too many photographs of 30 St Mary Axe?“………

………obviously not!

As an interesting post script,  I was delighted to find that the story of the Baltic Exchange didn’t end with its demolition. It seems that much of the interior and exterior found there way into the architectural salvage market. Having changed hands and locations several times the remains eventually ended up in Estonia where, apparently, the intention is to reconstruct the Exchange somewhere in Central Tallinn. I suspect that the story doesn’t end there!


  1. Interesting post, Malcolm. As you know, I love a good reflection. I've never seen the triangles and bowties cast by the Gherkin -- great stuff. I can see why it makes you smile.

  2. Thanks MJ, you have to be lucky to catch the sun in the right position. The shot along St Mary Axe was taken from the Lloyds Building during Open House so, again, it was pure chance being the right place at the right time.