The Irony of London’s Sky Garden


Walkie Talkie is the nickname of a building, located at 20 Fenchurch Street in the historic city of London’s financial district, which is a commercial skyscraper. At the top floor there is a sky garden that was opened in January 2015. The 34-storey building is 160 metres tall and it is the fifth tallest building in the City of London and the 13th tallest in London. It has a distinctive shape which has a top-heavy form that seems to be bursting upward and outward. Although the original proposal was for making the tower with a height of 200 metres but there were concerns regarding the visual impact that it would have on the nearby St Paul’s Cathedral and Tower of London. However, the final approval was for its present height.

London View from Sky GardenThe ‘Sky Garden’ is on the top of the building and is claimed to be the highest public park in London. However, ever since it opened it has been mired in controversies and criticisms, especially about whether it is indeed a park and whether it can be called public because of the access restrictions. All the top three floors of the building are occupied by the garden and they are accessible by two express lifts. There is a large viewing area, terrace, bar and two restaurants. The main office floors of the building are served by fourteen double-deck lifts of which seven low-rise lifts go up to the 20th floor and seven high-rise lifts go above the 20th floor.

When you go up 35 floors of the Walkie Talkie’s shapely layers, you will enter the public garden that offers fantastic views and has lush South African and Mediterranean plants, observation decks and an open-air terrace that offers uninterrupted panorama of the city’s skyline. Although entry to the garden is free, visitors need to book their 90-minute time slot at least three days in advance online through the Sky Garden website. However, since there are many tight restrictions on entry and advance booking is needed for the visiting public, the garden has been severely criticised ever since it opened. It has also been criticised for not meeting pre-construction expectations of the extent and quality of the garden.

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When you zip through to the 35th floor of the city’s most controversial new towers, you will find sliding doors opening up to reveal the view which is expected to be spectacular but the tower is located in the centre on its own without any tall neighbours and that was the reason why its construction was opposed as it appears to be sticking out like a loner in wilderness. The first thing that catches your eye is The Shard in the centre of your view which is at a height of 150m on the same level as half-way up the crustal wedge and that makes it appear as a strangely flattened elevation. The other places that you can see are the emerging city cluster to the north including the Cheese grater, Gherkin and NatWest Tower in a row. To the east, you can spot a tiny Canary Wharf while the Tower of London appears much below your eye level.

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Although the designers of the Walkie Talkie were right in their theory that by placing it right in the middle of it all, the best aerial view of London would be available, but in practice this has not happened as it is quite hard and a big strain on your neck and your eyes to see the entire 360-degree vista. It seems that you are arrested in a great cage of steelwork in the foreground that flexes in all directions reaching 15m above your head in a massive arc and then descending in front of the glass facades. As a result, what you see is more of the structural figures than the skyline of London. Moreover, it gives a feeling of being incarcerated in an airport terminal hanging up in the air.

The views from the Sky Garden, irrespective of your location, are frustratingly distant as the city skyline appears quite befuddled because of buffer of external parapets to the north and a smokers’ terrace to the south. Moreover, there is no place where you can get close to the glass and look right down and although the entire city of London is spread out below, you will have to stretch your neck to get a glimpse.

The much-hyped garden itself is quite a disappointment as the rows of full-height trees that were shown in the computer visualisations are conspicuous by their absence. Instead, you will find a pair of planted slopes with massive steel watering columns. It was supposed to seem as if you are coming across a mountain slope which would be a terraced world of ferns and succulents dotted with African lilies, red hot pokers and bird of paradise plants.

The three-storey space also offers catering facilities in what seems to be a pile of glass-walled Portakabins and the irony of the whole food affair is that as you climb up, the prices rise. The Sky Pod Bar where the drinks are the cheapest are at the lowest level and when you climb to the next level you come to the Darwin brassieres and at the top you can find the Fenchurch grill. The whole place can accommodate 400 diners and an extra 200 members of the public can roam around the area. The prices are higher at the second level and at the top level they are the highest which is an irony since the view gets worse as you climb up and you pay more. At the highest level you will be furthest from the windows and separated from the vista by several layers of steelwork.