London is known for its history and culture, but also as a center of the business and finance world. Supporting this are a number of skyscrapers that dominate the skyline. And while London may not boast any of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, it definitely can claim the most unusual looking!
So the next time you visit England, make sure to take in these incredible sights.
Unusual Buildings in London
Some of London’s skyscrapers have really unique shapes, making them some of the most recognizable buildings in the world. And while they all of regular names and addresses, the odd shapes have given rise to some really funny nicknames. In fact, most of these buildings are better known by their nicknames than their real names.
So while you may know The Empire State Building in New York City, and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, you’re more likely to hear London’s skyscrapers as The Shard, The Gherkin, The Cheesegrater, and The Walkie Talkie!
1. The Shard
Real Name: The Shard
Address: 32 London Bridge St, London SE1 9SG, United Kingdom
The Shard is located in Southwark, near the Tower of London, and is often shown in cityscape photographs that include London Bridge. It is also known as the Shard of Glass, Shard London Bridge, and by its original name, London Bridge Tower. It’s official name is actually, yes, The Shard. And it’s easy to see why – the building looks like a shard remaining after a (very large) piece of glass was broken!
The Shard is truly an international accomplishment, being of Italian architecture, and jointly owned by a British property group and the country of Qatar! As the tallest building in London, it dominates the cityscape. It is 72 storeys tall, or 309.6 meters / 1,016 feet. The 31st-33rd floors are home to restaurants that will give you a brilliant aerial view of the city: Oblix, Hutong, and Aqua Shard. Above that, on floors 34-52, is the Shangri-La Hotel. Most other tenants are companies occupying office space, but The Shard is also home to the Al Jazeera English television station.
You’ll often see The Shard in cityscape photographs that include the historic London Bridge, as well as the shorter, round building that is London City Hall. Though not a skyscraper, London City Hall has its own unique bulbous shape designed for energy efficiency. London City Hall no longer houses the Greater London Authority, but is the home to a number of offices and shops.
2. The Gherkin
Real Name: 30 St Mary Axe
Address: 30 St Mary Axe, London EC3A 8BF, United Kingdom
My guess is that 30 St. Mary Axe is the most recognizable skyscraper in London, due to its unusual shape. If you don’t know, its nickname of “The Gherkin” refers to a small pickle, and that’s exactly what it looks like! An alternate description of egg-shaped is often used as well.
The Gherkin is located in the financial district of London. At 41 floors, it is much shorter than The Shard, coming in at 180 meters / 591 feet in height. Most of the tenants are private offices and as such, the majority of The Gherkin isn’t open to the public. You can, however, enjoy a restaurant called Helix on the top floor, which will give you panoramic views of greater London. There’s also a bar called Isis on the top floor.
Its shape is only one of the energy-savings aspects in its design. For example, it has six shafts that run through each floor (except those that serve as fire breaks), and they creating a double-glazing effect, insulating the inside air.
The building has no fewer than 18 elevators (or “lifts” in Brit-speak) that can carry 378 people each and move at a speed of 6 meters per second!
Previously on the same site was a building known as the Baltic Exchange. It was damaged by bombs set off in 1992 by the Provisional IRA (a splinter of the original IRA, or Irish Republican Army, responsible for all of the terrorism in North Ireland that went up into the 1990s.) The building was so damaged that it couldn’t be saved, which made room for the construction of The Gherkin in 2001.
3. The Cheesegrater
Real Name: Leadenhall Building
Address: 122 Leadenhall Street, 122 Leadenhall St, London EC3V 4AB, United Kingdom
Another famous London skyscraper, affectionately known as The Cheesegrater, is a short two-minute walk from The Gherkin. Officially known as the Leadenhall Building, the exterior does indeed look like a box grater you’d pick up at any home goods store! It’s situated between the Gherkin and the Leadenhall Market, a prime area for shopping and dining.
122 Leadenhall Street is 225 meters / 738 feet tall, putting it roughly halfway between The Gherkin and The Shard in terms of height. It has 48 floors, though above 45 is all service space for things like water heaters and generators.
Most of the building is occupied by office space, but if you’re interested, step inside the seven-storey atrium to have a look around. There is also a restaurant called Bob Bob Ricard on the premises, that features an incredible flamboyant yet nautical interior design, a call-for-champagne button at every table, and a delicious menu that is surprisingly affordable given the location. Although, it should be noted that the restaurant is on the third floor, so you won’t get any amazing birds-eye views of the city. That’s ok; your eyes will be riveted by the food in drink in front of you!
4. The Walkie Talkie
Real Name: The Fenchurch Building
Address: 20 Fenchurch St, London EC3M 8AF, United Kingdom
20 Fenchurch St, also known at the Walkie Talkie, is another London skyscraper known for its weird shape. Yes, it looks like the handheld communication device, and is smaller at the bottom than the top. The reason is that the developer wanted to maximize available square footage in the limited ground space available. Since it’s also in the financial district, a 5-minute walk south from The Cheesegrater will put you right at 20 Fenchurch.
Although the Walkie Talkie is a landmark building with an unusual design, but not something dear to the hearts of most Londoners. In 2015 it won the un-coveted award called The Carbuncle Cup, a humorous competition to determine the ugliest building in the United Kingdom! In addition to being ugly (which could be debated), it has presented some more serious concerns. The heat created by the building is enormous, and supposedly someone was even able to fry an egg on the sidewalk outside the building. Additionally, the overhanging design caused a street-level wind tunnel effect, which was obviously displeasing to those who had to walk by it, not to mention any street vendors nearby!
The one possible bright side of the Walkie Talkie is the Sky Garden at the very top. The large indoor greenspace was designed to be London’s highest park. It can be quite beautiful inside, but like the building itself, the Sky Garden is highly criticized. Some have compared it to a large departure terminal, while Vice has gone so far as to claim it as a symbol of inequality, due to the fact you can only book entry online.
All in all, 20 Fenchurch is at best a curiosity.
5. The Scalpel
Real Name: The Scalpel
Address: 52 Lime St, London EC3M 2RY, United Kingdom
52 Lime Street, aka The Scalpel, is in the financial district and nearby many of the other buildings listed above. It soars to a height of 190 meters / 620 feet tall, boasting 38 floors above ground level. The name comes from its angular design and was bestowed on the project by The Financial Times…and it stuck to become the building’s official name.
There’s no viewing deck, rooftop bar, or restaurant. Buf if you find yourself in the area, make sure to stop by Red Lion Coffee at the base of The Scalpel.
6. The Prawn
Real Name: The Willis Building
Address: 51 Lime Street, London EC3M 5AD, United Kingdom
The Willis Building is just next door to The Scalpel. The nickname comes from its design of overlapping curved sections that resemble seashells. Apparently, the architects Foster + Partners don’t much care for the moniker!
7. The Inside-Out Building
Real Name: The Lloyd’s Building
Address: 1 Lime St, London EC3M 7HA, United Kingdom
Lloyds of London, whose home is affectionately known as the Inside-Out building, is the OG of odd London skyscrapers. Its construction began in 1978 but not completed until 1986. in 2011, it became a Grade 1 listed building, a big deal for architecture in the UK. It was (at the time) the youngest building ever to receive the designation.
The nickname is due to the fact that many of the building’s service features, such as staircases and elevators, ductwork, power conduits and water pipes, are all on the exterior. Unfortunately, that has meant higher maintenance costs for the building. Inside is a 60-meter high atrium that is criss-crossed by escalators, but they don’t reach the higher floors.
Tours of the building are not offered.
As you can see, London is creative not only for the design of its skyscrapers, but also for their nicknames. Love them or hate them, the buildings and their names are hear to stay. Which is your favorite – or your least favorite?
Personally, I delight in seeing the modern buildings juxtaposed with historical architecture of The Tower of London and various churches that are among or around the skyscrapers. Would I have designed it that way? Probably not, but since they didn’t ask, I choose to enjoy what I can!