From the majestic St. Paul’s Cathedral, climbing the 434 steps leading to the top of the dome one after another; or from the glass walkway, which can comfortably be reached by lift; or at the top of the Monument to the Great Fire, climbing up all 311 steps of the narrow spiral staircase. These are just some of the “classic” places to enjoy the stupendous London skyline, which changes rapidly, year by year. This is because London’s skyscrapers spring up quickly, enriching the visitors’ view: indeed, it’s practically impossible not to spot some mammoth buildings under construction. From one of the panoramic points identified, or perhaps from the top of one of the new London skyscrapers, it is interesting to explore the skyline of the British capital with its buildings of varying renown: some are prominent for their height, others for their daring architecture, still others for their historic importance. Let’s see which are the 10 most famous skyscrapers in London and what characteristics they have.
The 10 most famous skyscrapers in London
- 30 St. Mary Axe – The Gherkin
- The Shard
- One Canada Square
- Manhattan Loft Gardens
- Spire London
- Strata Tower
- 20 Fenchurch Street
- One Blackfriars
- The Trellis
- Heron Tower
1. 30 St. Mary Axe – The Gherkin
We start not with the highest, but with the boldest and most original of London’s skyscrapers. Built between 2001 and 2003, inaugurated in 2004, the unmistakable 30 St. Mary Axe skyscraper was nicknamed “The Gherkin” by Londoners because its shape is similar to that of a pickled cucumber. It was also once known as the Swiss Re Building, a reference to its owner, the Swiss Re insurance group.
Designed by Norman Foster and Ken Shuttleworth, this building is 590 feet six and a half inches tall and is mostly occupied by the insurance group’s offices. As well as its architectural style, The Gherkin also stands out for the technologies used for energy saving.
2. The Shard
The list of London’s most famous skyscrapers continues with the tallest building in the city, as well as all of Europe with the exception of Russian skyscrapers. The Shard was inaugurated in 2012 after 3 years’ work. Standing 1015 feet 9 inches tall, it was designed by the firm RPBW Architects led by Renzo Piano, who said he had been inspired by Canaletto’s paintings depicting eighteenth-century London. This is a very tall pyramid covered with glass, erected on the former site of Southwark Towers, built in the sixties.
3. One Canada Square
Before Renzo Piano’s “The Shard” was built, the tallest skyscraper in London was One Canada Square, also known as Canary Wharf. Inaugurated in 1991, with a total height of 771 feet divided into 50 floors, the skyscraper is famous for its pyramidal top, which makes it highly recognisable. The design was the work of the architects Cesar Pelli & Associates, Adamson Associates and Frederick Gibberd Coombes & Partners
4. Manhattan Loft Gardens
This is a skyscraper that has only just been built, completed in 2019. Designed by the US firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the studio responsible for Dubai’s Burj Khalifa (the tallest skyscraper in the world), the Manhattan Loft Gardens is 469 feet 2 inches tall. What made it instantly famous were the three huge green spaces in the structure, as well as the unique design of the upper part, which seems suspended in the void.
5. Spire London
One of the most interesting of the skyscrapers under construction in London, not far from One Canada Square, the Spire London is rising up and, once complete, this skyscraper will be nearly 771 feet tall. The design of this building recalls the lines of an enormous ship which, given its position, will seem ready to set sail in the waters of the Thames. Looking at the building plan, on the other hand, similarities can be found with the forms of a stylised orchid.
The Spire will be the largest residential skyscraper in Europe: however, it should be emphasised that, although the works were originally due to be completed in 2020, the delivery of the building seems to have been postponed, starting with a slowdown of the works in the last two years.
6. Strata SE1
Standing 485 feet five inches tall, surmounted by 3 integrated wind turbines and nicknamed “The Razor”, this building houses 399 residential units. Built between 2007 and 2010, it has been included several times in the classifications of the most unique – and criticised – buildings in the UK and abroad.
7. 20 Fenchurch Street
Another London skyscraper that absolutely cannot be overlooked is 20 Fenchurch Street, which rises up in the City’s financial district. Completed in 2014, this commercial building is 524 feet 11 inches tall. According to the initial plans, the skyscraper was to be more than 656 feet tall; later, in order not to create excessive contrast with St Paul’s Cathedral nearby, it was decided to scale down the building.
It was nicknamed “The Walkie Talkie” due to its peculiar shape. Designed by the architect Rafael Viñoly, the building was on the front pages of London newspapers for a long time due to “thermal” problems caused by the concave shape of the glazed wall of the south elevation, which – acting like a magnifying glass – caused a big rise in temperatures in the street below. To overcome the problem, the wall was furnished with a system of slats to act as a sunscreen.
8. One Blackfriars
It stands 534 feet 9 inches tall and has an unmistakable irregular shape, with one side protruding. One of the most interesting newcomers to the urban London landscape, One Blackfriars stands in the central district of Bankside and was completed in 2018. Due to its peculiar shape, it was nicknamed “The Vase” or “The Boomerang”. It was designed by the firm SimpsonHaugh and Partners.
9. The Trellis
As mentioned, new skyscrapers rise up in London all the time. By 2025, the city’s skyline will have been completely changed by the construction of the building The Trellis, which is scheduled to be built near 30 St. Mary Axe and will exceed the height of The Shard.
10. Heron Tower
We end the list of the 10 most famous skyscrapers in London with Heron Tower, 754 feet 7 inches tall, and so the third highest in the city after The Shard and One Canada Square. Built between 2007 and 2011 to the design of the architects Kohn Pedersen Fox, it attracts the curiosity of visitors not so much for its architectural style as for the huge 70,000 litre aquarium behind reception, which is home to around 1,200 fish of 60 different species.