30 St Mary Axe is a London skyscraper that occupies a footprint in the city’s financial district that was once held by the Baltic Exchange. However, a one-ton bomb detonated by the Provisional Irish National Army compromised the façade and structural integrity of the building. The extent of the damage made restoration impossible, so the site was sold in 1995. Trafalgar House, The new owners of the structure, carefully dismantled the historic building façade with the intention to rebuild elsewhere.
In 1996, Trafalgar House revealed plans to build the Millennium Tower. At 1,266 feet high, far above any existing London buildings at the time, the project was rejected. New plans were soon drawn up by Norman Foster and Arup engineers, bringing the tower down to 591 feet in height and meeting with the approval of the City of London. Skanska began construction of the unique building at 30 St Mary Axe in 2001. It’s unique shape earned it the nickname of “The Gherkin” even before construction began. It was completed in December of 2003 and officially opened in May of 2004.
30 St Mary Axe has been hailed as a great success of modern architecture, winning numerous awards, including a unanimous vote for the 2004 RIBA Stirling prize. Its design uses double-glazing and shafts to create an energy efficient insulation effect. While most of the building is used as office space, the unique top dome level is a bar, offering excellent views of London that reach as far as Great Windsor Park on a clear day.
In the years since its construction, the Gherkin has become one of London’s most recognized landmarks. While not all Londoners love 30 St Mary Axe, they have learned to accept it. After all, with the opening of The Shard in 2013, The Gherkin may no longer be the most peculiar shape in the London skyline.