Sky Garden misses lofty ideals?

Monday 12 Jan 2015

After solarisation comes polarisation – the new Sky Garden in London’s ‘Walkie Talkie’ building receives mixed reviews

The Sky Garden, 20 Fenchurch Street, London, UK opened this week to mixed reviews.  It has been designed by Gillespies landscape architects as an enclosed public park over two levels (ground floor and roof garden) within the Rafael Viñoly designed ‘Walkie Talkie' building in the heart of London's financial district - The City.

Initial reactions to the Sky Garden appear to mirror professional and public opinion of the controversial building in which it is housed and it has garnered some vocal decriers.

The supporting camp is populated by the architect and landscape architects along with a handful of City councillors.  Those less enamoured of the project include the Guardian's architecture critic, Oliver Wainwright: "...feels like you're trapped in an airport..." and gardener and blogger Richard Reynolds: "...another scandal...".  Even the City of London's former chief planner, Peter Rees, who championed the project has questioned the validity of the name: "...I think calling it a sky garden is perhaps misleading".

The current dissatisfaction is focused not on the building's exterior aesthetic, but on the interior.  Detractors have commented on the cage like steel structure and the inability to get close to what would be bird's-eye views of the City below.

The use of the name ‘garden' has received flak with the botanical nature of the development being likened to a rockery or a hotel lobby filled with pot plants despite the project receiving horticultural assistance from the world renowned Kew Gardens.

However, most criticism has been levelled at the lack of accessibility to the Sky Garden by the public despite it being promoted by the developers as a ‘public park', something that smoothed the path to planning consent.  To visit, the public need to book a 1.5-hour window at least three days in advance.  In addition, the Sky Garden is closed to the public at six o'clock in the evening when it becomes the reserve of the patrons of the restaurants and bars within the building.

The ‘Walkie Talkie' building was completed in April 2014 and its bulbous shape and location amongst some of London's most revered heritage landmarks polarised the architectural world.  It also created controversial headlines that summer - the curvature of the glass building concentrated the sun's light and reflected a scorching beam into the streets below that melted car parts, blistered paintwork and in one stunt was used to fry an egg by a café in the spotlight of the building.

It would seem the ‘Walkie Talkie' just keeps making headlines, unfortunately not always for positive reasons. 

Have you been to the Sky Garden? Tell us what you think in the Comments section below.


Client: Land Securities and Canary Wharf Group
Lead Landscape Architect: Gillespies
Architect (building): Rafael Viñoly
Horticultural and Glasshouse Expertise: Kew Gardens
Specialist Planting Design:Growth Industry
Landscape Contractor: Willerby Landscapes
Greenwall Design Specialist: Biotecture

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