Architecture

"London's highest public garden" serves up a feast for the eyes

The Sky Garden is a public space at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
The Sky Garden is a public space at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
View 29 Images
The Sky Garden is a public space at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
1/29
The Sky Garden is a public space at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
The bar at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
2/29
The bar at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
Looking down into the Sky Garden atrium from one of the terraces (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
3/29
Looking down into the Sky Garden atrium from one of the terraces (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
Looking down into the Sky Garden bar area from one of the terraces (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
4/29
Looking down into the Sky Garden bar area from one of the terraces (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
The planted west terrace at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
5/29
The planted west terrace at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
A view of St Paul's Cathedral from the Sky (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
6/29
A view of St Paul's Cathedral from the Sky (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
The north viewing space at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
7/29
The north viewing space at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
A view of the Leadenhall Building and the Gherkin from the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
8/29
A view of the Leadenhall Building and the Gherkin from the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
Looking down onto the Sky Garden's west terrace (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
9/29
Looking down onto the Sky Garden's west terrace (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
A view over the Sky Garden's west terrace and out to St Paul's Cathedral (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
10/29
A view over the Sky Garden's west terrace and out to St Paul's Cathedral (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
Looking down onto the Sky Garden's bar area (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
11/29
Looking down onto the Sky Garden's bar area (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
A view of the east terrace at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
12/29
A view of the east terrace at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
A view of Tower Bridge from the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
13/29
A view of Tower Bridge from the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
A view of the central structure at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
14/29
A view of the central structure at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
The central unit at the Sky Garden contains two restaurants (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
15/29
The central unit at the Sky Garden contains two restaurants (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
The south-facing outside balcony at the Sky Garden looks over to the Shard (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
16/29
The south-facing outside balcony at the Sky Garden looks over to the Shard (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
A view of the Shard from the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
17/29
A view of the Shard from the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
Solar panels installed on the roof of 20 Fenchurch Street visible from the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
18/29
Solar panels installed on the roof of 20 Fenchurch Street visible from the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
A view of City Hall from the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
19/29
A view of City Hall from the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
A view of Tower Bridge from the atrium of the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
20/29
A view of Tower Bridge from the atrium of the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
A view across the Sky Garden's bar area and over to Canary Wharf in the distance (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
21/29
A view across the Sky Garden's bar area and over to Canary Wharf in the distance (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
The bar area at the Sky Garden overlooks the Shard (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
22/29
The bar area at the Sky Garden overlooks the Shard (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
A view from behind the bar at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
23/29
A view from behind the bar at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
A view of the atrium at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
24/29
A view of the atrium at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
A view of the bar area at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
25/29
A view of the bar area at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
A view of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge from the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
26/29
A view of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge from the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
A view looking south over the east terrace of the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
27/29
A view looking south over the east terrace of the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
A view looking south over the east terrace and the atrium of the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
28/29
A view looking south over the east terrace and the atrium of the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
29/29

Earlier this month, the Sky Garden opened at London's 20 Fenchurch Street. The attraction is touted as London's "highest public garden" and spans the top three floors in the building. Gizmag went along to have a look.

Designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects, 20 Fenchurch Street is perhaps better known as the Walkie Talkie, a moniker afforded the building due to its curved and top-heavy design. It hit the headlines during its construction for supposedly melting a car that was parked nearby. While that will remain a curious footnote in the building's history, the remarkable views from the Sky Garden on its uppermost floors will surely be considered one of its highlights.

The Sky Garden itself hasn't opened without its detractors. There has been criticism that it is not what was promised and that the planting is simply too sparse to warrant the space being called a garden. Nonetheless, it is possible for members of the public to book free slots to visit the terraces or to book a table in the bar or at one of its restaurants. And make no mistake, criticism aside, if you do pay a visit you'll be treated to arguably the finest views in London.

The planted west terrace at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
The planted west terrace at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)

Housed in the glass dome that crowns 20 Fenchurch Street, the Sky Garden is spread across floors 35, 36 and 37. It comprises a huge open atrium in which the bar is located and from which there is access to an outside balcony, a viewing space to the rear of the building, a central structure that houses two restaurants and two sets of planted terracing that rise up the sides of the space.

The greenery was designed by landscape architects Gillespies and was installed by Willerby Landscapes. It was designed to work with the light and environment that the Sky Garden provides. Different planting themes are employed in different areas, including a "prehistoric forest" with tree ferns and fig trees and a "mountain ravine" with Mediterranean and South African flowers.

Some of the flowering plants in the garden include the African Lily (Agapanthus), Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia), Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae). Elsewhere, there are herbs including French Lavender and rosemary.

A view of the east terrace at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)
A view of the east terrace at the Sky Garden (Photo: Stu Robarts/Gizmag)

Pleasant as the greenery is (albeit it perhaps unspectacular), it is when you turn your attention to what is outside the building that the Sky Garden comes into its own. As you enter the main atrium from the lift you are immediately faced with a huge south-facing window overlooking the River Thames and the Shard. Walking clockwise around the Sky Garden there are views over to the London Eye and down onto St Paul's Cathedral to the west.

The north facing viewing area looks over to the Leadenhall Building and the Gherkin, which are so close as to seem like they are within touching distance. Finally, on the east side of the building, visitors are given aerial views of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, as well as Canary Wharf away in the distance.

No doubt debate will continue about whether or not the Sky Garden warrants its botanical title, but it's a perfectly pleasant, almost serene place to visit. The star of the show, however, is what's outside the huge glazed dome and, for that alone, the Sky Garden is well worth a visit.

The Sky Garden opened officially to the public on January 12, while the restaurants opened a week before on January 5. You can see more photos of the Sky Garden in our gallery.

Sources: Sky Garden, 20 Fenchurch Street, Gillespies

2 comments
Peter Kelly
As I understand it, the issue is not whether it can be classified as a garden, but rather that is does not adhere to what was agreed when planning permission was granted. It was supposed to be a 'public park in the sky', but it certainly isn't a park, having so little in the way of greenery, and is barely public with anyone wishing to visit having to book in advance! Yet another example of a developer pulling the wool over a council's eyes just to get their way, only to renege and face absolutely no penalty.
Robert Walther
Very nicely done architectural space 400ft in the air. The plant infused areas are interesting but completely removed from the dining/bar areas. The open areas look like sterile concrete bus stops. I think a bit of greenery needs to set off and the bland open spaces allowing the customers a bit of privacy. Eating there would be like taking your girl to the school lunchroom. Hardly conducive to intimate dining or private conversation.
Thanks for reading our articles. Please consider subscribing to New Atlas Plus.
By doing so you will be supporting independent journalism, plus you will get the benefits of a faster, ad-free experience.