Give me contemporary architecture
We live in a time when really great architecture is happening and I, for one, find it incredibly exciting. I live in South-West London and watched with fascination the Shard being built. It now gives me huge pleasure whenever I spy it on the horizon or spot its jagged top suddenly popping up above the surrounding Victorian landscape. Unlike most contemporary tall buildings it has an open-air viewing gallery on the 72nd floor. This allows you to gaze up to the very top of the building as the shards of glass that form the spire disappear into the sky. You can hear and feel the wind and the noise of the city. It feels exhilarating to be there.
London nicknames buildings it either loves or loathes. We have the Gherkin, the Shard, the Walkie Talkie and the Cheese Grater, all built in the last few years. These new buildings provide competing viewing platforms for the public with 360 degree panoramic views of London along with restaurants. While I enjoy the views, I also love the buildings. The Walkie Talkie at 20 Fenchurch Street, with its small footprint and ability to defy gravity by growing wider as it rises, has just opened a Sky Garden on the 35th to the 38th floors. As part of the planning approval, the architect Rafael Viñoly was charged to make a public garden. Unlike viewing platforms elsewhere, it is completely free to visit although you do have to pre-book a ticket.
The gardeners opted for a series of richly planted terraces and the planting is dominated by drought–resistant Mediterranean and South African species. Individual plants have been chosen to work in harmony with the particular quality of light found under the roof canopy. Colour and flowers flourish all year round and among the flowering plants are African Lily (Agapanthus), Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia) and Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia Reginae) interspersed with fragrant herbs including French lavender and rosemary. There are inevitably two restaurants and a brasserie located in the garden to tempt you with good food and wine but the garden alone is well worth a visit.
What actually prompted me to write this praise to contemporary buildings was arriving at Liege-Guillemins station in Belgium. I had not heard of it or seen any pictures despite it having opened in 2009 and the experience quite shook me. The Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava, designed the station with a vaulted glass and steel canopy allowing a building without facades. The canopy covers five platforms and extends over 145 meters. Below ground level a series of pedestrian bridges and walkways connect one end to the other. The canopy transforms the urban landscape like a breaking wave prolonged by the platforms it shelters. It is utterly beautiful and I feel inclined to go on a Calatrava tour and visit his other architectural masterpieces.
In addition to buildings, I also have a partiality for bridges and London is planning two new ones to span the Thames: Thomas Heatherwick’s garden bridge, already stirring a fair bit of commentary and political shenanigans, and the footbridge linking Vauxhall with Pimlico. They will join the Millennium Bridge, known locally as the Wobbly Bridge (slight problem when opened), as pedestrian-only thoroughfares thus allowing much more flexibility in design. I am already getting excited and could indeed become an architect groupie.