10 must-see modern architectural marvels in London

Ditch the cliches! Here are 10 must-see modern and contemporary architectural marvels in London which are redefining the skyline in this megacity.

1. The Shard

Designed by Architect Renzo Piano and based in Southwark, London, The Shard stands tall at 309.6 metres. Designed in neo-futuristic and modern style, it houses some of the world’s best offices, restaurants and hotel rooms. It has been open to the public since 2013. The tallest building in the UK, European Union and the 4th largest building in Europe and the 96th tallest building in the world is not just an architectural wonder but also eco-friendly.  95% of the materials used to build the building are recycled. The Shard has a public viewing gallery on the 72nd floor, which is also the highest publically accessible area in the entire UK. The building design won the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Stirling prize in 2014.

The Shard makes a huge impact on the London skyline

2. The Gherkin / 30 St Mary Axe

Designed by the famous Architect Norman Foster, The Gherkin is essentially an office building. ‘Gherkin’ is a type of cucumber, which is the design inspiration behind this building shape. Designed in neo-futuristic style, The Gherkin won the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Stirling prize in 2004. The circumference of the building is 178m, which is just 2 metres short of the height of the building which is 180m. Every floor rotates 5 degrees compared to the floor below, and hence attains the elevation of the building.

Probably the most famous piece of modern architecture in London, The Gherkin 

3. 122 Leadenhall Building

122 Leadenhall Building is primarily an office building, standing 225 metres tall on Leadenhall Street in London, against the backdrop of the St.Paul’s Cathedral and The Gherkin. The Leadenhall building is famous for its wedge shape. Inclined at ten degrees vertically, the building is also referred to as The Cheesegrater thanks to its form. It is designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners in a contemporary modern design style. It has been the recipient of the Commercial Workplace of 2016 by BCO (British Council for Offices) London and South East awards. One of the beauties of its design is that the narrowing height stands still as if to pay respect to the soothing backdrop of the Cathedral’s dome.

An aerial view showing the Leadenhall Building next to The Gherkin (image source: Pinterest)

4. City Hall

Despite its name, City Hall is not in the city and doesn’t even serve a city as such. It is the headquarters of the Greater London Authorities which operates on a 25-year-old lease. This excellent piece of modern design by Architect Norman Foster was chosen amongst 57 entries. It is often compared to an onion or a snail due to the resemblance in the shape. The building is built using eco-friendly methods like using a solar panelled roof and cold groundwater instead of refrigeration (this water is later used to flush toilets). The spherical form of the City Hall minimises surface area and hence also helps in conserving energy.

The City Hall on the bank of the river Thames, London

5. Arcelor Mittal Orbit

‘Something extra’ was needed in the skyline for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, for the London Olympics 2012. Designers were asked for ideas for an Olympic tower at least 100m tall and this design by Sir Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond won hands down. The estimated cost for this project was 19.1 million pounds of which 16 million pounds were funded by one of the richest men of Britain, Lakshmi Mittal, and the rest by London Development Agency. The design for the art-meets-sculpture observation tower is non-linear and quirky. The trunk of the 114.5 metres tall building consists of elevator and stairs which lead to the observation deck. The red tube surrounding it is actually the world’s longest and highest tunnel slide. Visitors circle around the tower 12 times in a 40-second trip, looking at London’s dramatic cityscape as they slide along!

The out of the box design of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, London

6. Lloyd’s building

This office of Lloyd’s Of London was designed by Architect Richard Rogers and completed in 1986. Constructed using concrete, stainless steel and glass, this building is also referred to as ‘mechanical cathedral’. The building takes its name from one Edward Lloyd who founded a coffee shop on this site in 1688, from where maritime insurance was conducted. Today Lloyd’s of London is an established insurance institution. The building is designed in a radical Bowelism style, which is heavily associated with Richard Rogers. In this style, services of the building like ducts, lifts are placed on the outside to maximise space in the interiors. This is the reason why the 95 metres tall building is also known as the ‘inside-out building’. It was the recipient of many awards including the Civic Trust Award, Concrete Society Commendation, RIBA to name a few. Apart from the innovative design, this was also the first time that 12 external glass lifts were used in Britain. This building appears in many movies including Guardians of Galaxy (2014), The Avengers (1998), Anomaly and so on!

The ‘inside-out’ Lloyd’s Building which heavily reflects Ar. Richard Rogers’ design style

7. Tate Modern Blavatnik Building

This building was built as an extension to Tate Modern, which transformed the neglected Bankside Power Station to the world’s most popular museum of modern art. Designed by Herzog & de Meuron, it was initially called the Switch House. This building is a unique pyramid shaped tower is clad in a perforated lattice of 3,36,000 bricks. This unique facade allows light to filter in during the day and glow in the evening. It is an environmentally sustainable building with high thermal mass, natural ventilation, solar panels and new green spaces. Now renamed as the Blavatnik Building, it is a global icon for London. It has been awarded both, the RIBA national and RIBA London award 2017 for its excellent design.

The unique pyramid shaped Blavatnik Building, London (image source: Ron Ellis / Shutterstock)

8. London 2012 Velodrome

London 2012 Velodrome was built for the indoor track cycling events at 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. The building uses simple materials in an efficient manner to meet the client’s expectations in the given budget. It is designed by Hopkins Architects Partners  LLP. The roof of the building is said to resemble a ‘Pringles’ chip, where the roof reaches its highest point at either end and sags in the middle. The form of the building is NOT  mimicry of the bicycle in any way but a 3-dimensional response to the functional requirements of the space. The building runs on a system designed to keep the track at the ideal temperature for speed, 82.4 degrees. Below the track lies an underflow heating system. The Velodrome has been a recipient of many awards including the RIBA Stirling prize in 2011.

The ‘pringle’ shaped roof of the London 2012 Velodrome (image source: Pinterest)

9. Neasden Temple

Also known as the BAPS Swaminarayan temple, this temple is located in Neasden, London. It has been designed by Ar. C.B. Somapura in traditional Nagara architectural style. The premises of the temple house an assembly hall, gymnasium bookshop and offices. This means that the temple is not only a place where one comes to pray but also to work, socialise and even exercise! The entire temple was built using marble, limestone and granite. In spite of being a modern building, it doesn’t use iron or steel. It is famous for its intricately carved central dome. Today, the temple sees a footfall of about 2000 people daily in the evening for the spiritual assembly/ aarti.

Mini-India: The Neasden Temple (image source: Pinterest)

10. Serpentine Galleries

They are two contemporary art galleries, the Serpentine Gallery and the Serpentine Sacker Gallery linked by a bridge over the Serpentine Lake. Every year, a leading architect displays his or her design in a temporary summer pavilion near the Serpentine Gallery. Each Pavilion is completed within six months and is situated on the Gallery’s lawn for three months for the public to explore. Cecil Balmond has been a creative force behind Serpentine Pavilion programme. Artists and architects who have displayed their work here include Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, Anish Kapoor, Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry to name a few.

A breathtaking art installation by Ar. Zaha Hadid in 2013 (image source: www.materialicious.com)

So when are you planning to pack your bags and visit these places?

About the author:

Tejashri Deshpande, an Architect by profession and an animal lover by obsession, has her own design practice in Pune by the name of Design Doobki.

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