The “Walkie Takie” or, to use its official title, 20 Fenchurch Street, has made the news again this week with concerns from the City of London Planning Committee that the designs agreed in the planning application for the Sky Garden on the top floors have not been adhered to by the architects Rafael Vinoly and the developers Land Securities.
Costing over £200 million, construction of the 160m (525ft) high building was completed in spring 2014, with the Sky Garden providing viewing terraces, bar and restaurants on the top three floors opening in January 2015.
The building broke new ground for tall buildings in London with a planning agreement to allow free public access to the top floors. According to the City planners, however, the final Garden is not what was agreed in the planning permission, in particular, the bar/servery at Level 35 is larger than agreed and the terraces on Level 36 do not provide equivalent views for non-diners and diners and has no servery. In addition, the omission of some staircases prevents a circular route for visitors and the Level 37 terrace is larger than shown on the plans. Land Securities argues that the proposals on the plans were illustrative and the scheme provides the minimum agreed area of publicly accessible space.
The planners and the developers will no doubt resolve these issues, but are they the key issue that should be addressed? While the viewing galleries and terraces provide stunning views across the city, which are well worth visiting, and there is lush landscaping alongside the staircases, the non-landscaped areas are austere apart from some trees in planters in the upper terrace and a couple of painted bicycles to add colour to level 35. No doubt this keeps the terraces flexible for corporate hire, and the interiors to the restaurants are well done, but visitors would linger longer with summer drinks if there was some life and colour, apart from the views onto the activity in the city outside, in the immense cathedral-like volume of the space, dominated by the projecting restaurant.
What happens next? The developers proposals for improvements went to the the City’s Planning Committee on 31st July and committee members will have a site visit in September to assess them.
As the City points out, free public access to the upper floors of tall commercial buildings in the City of London is new and it is important for everyone to work together to achieve a satisfactory solution. Hopefully they can also learn any lessons from the first few months of operation to inform any improvements and also other future projects.