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The CityΓÇÖs Walkie Talkie Tower: On Again?

The CityΓÇÖs Walkie Talkie Tower: On Again?

Following news this week that development of the Walkie Talkie building is once again set to be revived, we look back over the tower’s turbulent journey to date.

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It can’t be easy to plan, design and develop a 525-ft, multi-million-pound skyscraper with 600,000 sq ft office space spread across 36 floors – not forgetting a specification for the highest public park in the capital.

And for Land Securities’ planned office tower at 20 Fenchurch Street, the journey has been anything but smooth.

In the run-up to the City of London’s very own ‘walkie talkie’ shaped skyscraper, developers Land Securities proposed a 656-ft (200m) office tower. But following concerns about the towerΓÇÖs height and the impact it could have on views and nearby buildings in the City – especially St Paul’s Cathedral – it was scaled down to 525-ft (160m).

It subsequently won planning permission in November 2006, but continued to face criticism from the public and heritage groups, who appealed against the structure, claiming that it would “blight the city’s historic skyline“.

In 2007, The Labour Government’s conservation advisors described the tower as a “brutally dominant expression of commercial floor space”, slamming the design as “oppressive” and “damaging” to the City’s protected views.

Off the project went to a public inquiry, and in July 2007 the developers won approval with full planning permission.

So with planning permission in-hand, in 2008 the site was prepared for construction and the old 20 Fenchurch Street building (pictured) – a 1968 office building spanning 25 floors, then noted as being one of the CityΓÇÖs first ‘tall buildings’ – was demolished to make way for the new structure.

But then came another blot on the landscape – the recession.

Amid global economic uncertainty and tough credit measures, the project ground to a halt yet again, and remained in limbo until early 2010. Tentative reports emerged earlier this year suggesting that cheaper construction costs and an expected shortage of office space in the City would provide the impetus required to get the scheme off the ground.

Finally – could this be it?

It certainly seems that way, as news this week from the Financial Times reveals that Land Securities and Canary Wharf Group have agreed a joint venture valued at £500m, combined with funding from China and Qatar, to develop the structure.

So with funding and backing firmly in place, development is now expected to re-start in the New Year, with a finishing date of 2014 – just in time to greet a wave of hungry businesses each looking for more viable options as their existing office leases expire.

The overall shortage of space in the City is also reportedly pushing up rents in the conventional sector – another reason to push development and get the project off the ground sooner rather than later.

Furthermore, the project is now in direct competition with other rival skyscrapers – most notably British Land’s Cheesegrater on nearby Leadenhall Street. Reports suggest that both are vying for insurance company Aon’s requirement of 200,000 sq ft – and in the wake of suggestions that Aon could favour the first of the two to start building, the race is now on to secure this huge deal.

It now remains to be seen whether construction of the controversial Walkie Talkie tower will finally commence, and whether it will win the deal.

What is so great – and so hated – about the Walkie Talkie?

It’s a 525-ft office tower designed by the award-winning Uruguay-born architect, Rafael Vi├▒oly. The structure will have an all-glass fa├ºade of double and triple glazing, with the South side designed to improve efficiency through external ventilation and solar power.

The design – which has received a BREEAM rating of ‘Very Good’ – features a roof garden which is set to become the highest public park in London, offering an outside roof terrace, botanical gardens, a restaurant, private dining and 360 degree panorama.

The website describes the views as “commanding”.

One of the features that has caused such a stir is the shape of the building – and the very feature that earned it the comparison to the nation’s favourite 80s memorabilia, the walkie talkie.

The top-heavy design comes from the idea that more rental income can be generated by increasing space at the top of the tower, whilst not expanding the amount of limited space available at street level. Angry protesters not only challenged the towerΓÇÖs height and impact on the Square Mile’s protected views, but also felt that the looming design was “oppressive”, and should be confined to the 1980s along with early mobile phone models.

London resident Luke commented on the Evening Standard that, despite enjoying change, and embracing London’s other key developments such as The Shard and The Pinnacle, this particular design is “an absolute monstrosity.”

“What a shame that this seems to have been given the go ahead. I’ll have to move to Milton Keynes for a more fetching skyline now. Well done the bozos that said yes.”

However, Leslie Ferris commented that while “not the best”, the structure is an improvement on the old 20 Fenchurch Street and would also “create jobs and prove a new landmark.”

“I feel it will add to the truly world class buildings such as Bishopsgate tower (now known as The Pinnacle) and 122 Leadenhall Street. London is always going to be a vibrant changing city architecturally.”

Perhaps summing up the constant march forward of development in London, and the resistance of the Walkie Talkie development to both public and Government objections, Leslie added:

“And for those who don’t like the new buildings, get over it. They are coming.”

Find out more about the skyscraper at www.20fenchurchstreet.co.uk.

Image source: Building Design

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Author: | October 19, 2010 | 1 Comment

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