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.
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.
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.
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