Make your skyscraper a Shard before the public turn it into a Trellis or Walkie Talkie

Peter Knapp
Should the Walkie Talkie have been named The Willow, instead? (Source: Getty)

In an attempt to ease the growing housing crisis, the government is looking to relax height restrictions on buildings in London to allow city planners to build upwards in high-density areas.

This is an important step in resolving the lack of affordable accommodation for London residents, but it will likely ruffle some feathers. Londoners have traditionally had a rocky relationship with the city’s skyscrapers and tall buildings. With nicknames like the Cheesegrater, Walkie Talkie or Trellis Tower, it’s little wonder why.

These names may sound faintly amusing when we first read them, but having the wrong name or brand attached to a building can actually prevent it from developing an iconic status over time. For that reason, developers need to start viewing these structures as more than just buildings, but as brands in themselves. A strong sense of branding vision needs to be present at the very start of the design phase, long before the cement mixers roll in.

Read more: Big Ben to the Shard: See how London's skyline has changed over 100 years

Many pedestrian nicknames given to tall buildings emerge after the designs are announced, and are often coined by the public or the press. In fact, it has almost become a public sport to think of silly names for new structures. While developers don’t introduce their buildings with names like “Walkie-Talkie”, without a strong alternative they stick fast.

For instance, when the plans for London’s second tallest building were revealed last year, the team behind the launch called the building after its location, 1 Undershaft. Not the most imaginative of names, I’m sure you’ll agree. As such the alternative moniker of “Trellis Tower” resonated both with the public and press due to its design, despite conjuring a mundane and somewhat boring image.

On the other hand, if developers introduced their buildings pre-named, then facile nicknames wouldn’t get a chance to stick. If 122 Leadenhall Street, also known as the Cheesegrater, was introduced to the public with a name that imaginatively reflected its physicality, then public perception would likely be much more flattering. If, instead of being coined by the public as the Walkie Talkie, the building had come to market already christened with an evocative name like “The Willow”, to celebrate the graceful leaning design, that more favourable name would likely have stuck.

Read more: If Labour splits, what should the new breakaway party be called?

It all comes back to expectation management. If the public is expecting a “Walkie-Talkie” or “Can of Ham”, why would they want skyscrapers that evoke these symbols? However, if the public is looking forward to a visual spectacle that transcends other buildings in the capital, they will be far more interested and excited about the new build.

The Shard is a standout example in how to achieve this. Its name, introduced alongside the building announcement, captures its shape in a compelling way, while still describing it accurately.

If London’s skyline is to rise further, then architects and developers need to better develop their approaches to branding the buildings they are set to construct. In doing so, London’s residents will feel better connected to their skyscrapers, recognising them as feats of design and engineering rather than reminiscent of benign but boring objects, vegetables or garden furniture.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

Related articles