Most of the critics of Rafael Viñoly's “Walkie Talkie” at 20 Fenchurch Street are other architects or professional moaners. Laypeople, like the City workers milling around the building at lunchtime, are more amenable.
As if to prove my point, Sir Simon Jenkins, a vocal and consistent critic of, well, just about anything built since bricks were invented, has called it “bizarre” and that it proves the City of London doesn’t care about the skyline.
The journalists and architectural critics who comprise the panel of the “Carbuncle Cup” unsurprisingly agree with Sir Simon. They awarded the building the 2015 top prize, deeming it the UK’s ugliest building.
I disagree with such architectural snobbery, and suspect they are giving voice to the same elitist criticism, perhaps emboldened by a series of unfortunate instances (the solar death-ray, falling bolts, and the “reverse Marilyn” down-draft), which oughtn’t be part of a critique of appearance.
The building is beautiful.
It has shapely curves which draw the eye up into the sky, and it mesmerisingly reflects the passing clouds. It is not too big, not being in the top 10 tallest buildings in London, and it is roughly half the size of The Shard, which it gives a magnificent view of from the Sky Garden platform.
Indeed, anyone who has been to the viewing gallery would need a heart of stone not to be moved by the glorious views across the capital afforded by the Walkie Talkie’s position close to the river. And that position puts it firmly in the heart of the insurance district, where new office space is much needed for a fast growing industry and London success story.
Read more: How to book a visit to the Sky Garden
It is wrong to say the building is greedy, which some conveniently elide with criticism of perceived greed in The City, just because it gets larger at the top and "takes more space than it should". In reality the base plate uses less space than the plot of land allocated, allowing for greenery at ground level.
Far from taking, the building gives back.
The developers, Land Securities, did try to get one over on the City of London Planning Committee by not building the Sky Garden to specification, with more corporate hire space than approved, at the expense of public space. This was noted, and in coming weeks they will submit a plan to rectify this and improve the visiting experience for the public, including a better booking system and more trips to the top made available each day.
Once these improvements to the internal space have been made, I am sure that the Walkie Talkie – rather like a yogi returning from an Ashram – will have inner beauty to match the gloriously shapely exterior.