Leadenhall Building – a shade of the new cool ’60s!

The sixties have never been known for architecture in London – following the war, the damage that was done to our country by the Blitz left many derelict buildings, shattered houses and broken-down structures. However, rather than create a beautiful landscape once more in its place, what greeted us (and still does, can you believe it?) is a concrete jungle. You wonder if things are so bad up the rest of Europe and hope it isn’t but that hope gets extinguished within moments.

As you get out of Eurorail and wander in Paris, you don’t get a French bakery and bicycles saying “Bonjour”…you get white surfaces, grey walls and yellow balconies. The phrase “the city began to pick up its pieces” needs a whole new place on the mantle because nothing can perhaps be more offensive than bad architecture in Europe. It is in the fabrics of every city here, we are known for inventing so many different styles of designs but we live in white buildings, not cottages or palaces.

I learned a long time ago, the hard way, that Stalin approved of those yellow buildings in the Soviet Union. I just never imagined that post-war Germany would be one to fall in love with it too. But it’s there no matter which city you go for a little visit to, and it is a sight for sore eyes – the relics of the Berlin wall falling and yellow architecture rising – that is the hard way. The footage of people cheering the Berlin wall falling in such a notorious manner on our television screens made for cringeworthy sightings anyways, so imagine the surprise when you realise that all of it is still here in Germany, decades later.

Sometimes when the hypocrisy of the argument that concrete junk belongs in Europe gets too much you just need to open a paper, here in London and see it crying over yet another modern glass structure, taking over the skyline – and that will do it for you. But these towers of cranes are there to improve things for our city, the concrete jungle needs to turn into a concrete valley,

For the last twelve years, that is precisely what has been happening to Leaden Building. The interior is being worked upon at the moment and the former 1960’s building now almost cannot be recognized, except for the steep new business feeling of the time exuding from its structures. The capital wants to see itself stand as a powerhouse for trade and commercial activity, so putting up with so many concrete bustle and large-scale site excavations only seems a tad bit of a compromise.

The area chosen by Rogers Stirk Harbour for their latest creative establishment is renowned for the insurance market atmosphere of the ‘80s.This only adds to the page of history for the building because to have a ’60s structure right next to an iconic ’80s one would mean that you have managed to literally walk into one of those pop-up design books talking about structural design history in London through the years. Lloyds of London lives in that ’80s building and it shares nice views of St. Paul’s Cathedral with Leadenhall Building.

Leadenhall had set conditions of heritage and economics to accomplish – the Fleet Street house needed to be low-key enough as an office, it can’t stand out such the London Eye. An angled portico, ensures that it leans back from the Cathedral’s dome, and for the “cigarette-pack” designs of ’60s concrete junk means that there is a newfound welcomed addition in town. The structural beams are sometimes a vibrant yellow that looks very upstate and posh, just like the companies slated to occupy the space: AON and Amlin Insurance.

The structure weaves into a chrome artesian, polychromatic in nature and thick with glass, beams, pulleys and shafts. But many critics believe that the elevated ground floor, with the shiny pairs of escalators will be what the building is most remembered for. The ground level of the two buildings are quite enormous, teaching you that Leadenhall doesn’t like to shy away from the public life, unlike the ’60s monotonous visions.

In this respect, Lloyds followed in the same direction a very longtime ago. London is known to be a busy city, but we are not strapped for space no – even Manhattan isn’t as bad. It’s just house prices are always on the rice in the capital or for a major metropolitan because on an average day, too many travellers from up and down the country come to these cities for business purposes.

You would think but that would have nothing to do with housing issues, because they are mere travellers? But the focal point for trade activity in a country, makes that city stand out like any other. Neighbouring St. Helen’s Square for example, is going through renovation at the moment for pedestrians. An angular glass and steel environment is being built – a very typical London station idea –  that is covered on all sides with canted steel and curved glass.

There has been criticism over the glass box-set approach to Leadenhall. Critics have pronounced that there needs to be a mysterious element to the building, one that you come to realize as you wander inside. That does sound like a good idea on paper, but would that work with Leadenhall’s plans? Let’s find out…

There is an utterly long escalator, going upwards from the plaza situated on the ground level, that takes you into a private area. More of the box-set for you, but you do you have a separate sleek raised lobby area, that is isolated from Fleet Street. The reception desks are black, rectangular and sleek, and there are more than a dozen of screens ready for number-crunching busyness on facts, figures and tapes of news.

Business demands begets this technology-heavy existence in Leadenhall as modern offices increasingly want to function in stat-of-the-art environments. Some have begun to imagine how it could look like a cheesegrater in some ways, but I think the steel pods for elevators does need a little bit more life breathed into them. You don’t want to go from a concrete jungle to a tech jungle, now!

The elevator pods are enclosed in glass and visible from the street so perhaps there could be a little bit more room for mystery possible here about what goes on up at Leadenhall and what you can uncover as you tread around the place for the first time, or maybe even, everytime. Leadenhall, admittedly, does have a little bit of ‘street theatre’ element to it, but what’s crucial is the absolute need to have a good balancing out of appropriate work cultures and new-age design.


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