25 Jan 2015

A Grey Afternoon at the Sky Garden

Three weeks ago I read on Twitter that a new, free attraction was opening in London - the Sky Garden at the top of the Walkie Talkie building (20 Fenchurch Street is its official name). I'm not a fan of the building at all - I think the design is ugly, and really doesn't fit the evolving London skyline, but I do like the views from high buildings, so was keen to visit to check out the view. I booked tickets to visit with my hubby today, a Sunday afternoon, an hour before sunset. Sadly the weather was grey and uninspiring.

In preparation for my visit I did a little research into what was allowed in terms of photography, and their rules stated that commercial photography was not allowed without permission, and neither was any "specialist" equipment, such as tripods. I emailed to see what I had to do to get a permit and got a reply ten days later telling me that it wasn't possible. I followed up to confirm whether I could pay for a permit, since it stated online that this was possible, but didn't get a response, so gave up on the idea of taking photos with a tripod. I also left my zoom lens at home, not wanting to risk them being a bit funny about it and not letting me in. Before I set off I also read some reviews of the Sky Garden - this one in the Guardian describing the building as "bloated, inelegant, thuggish" did not help my expectations...

On arrival our tickets and picture IDs were checked, bags put through security machines, and then we headed up in the lift to the 35th floor. We walked out into the large atrium, which has a bar/café in the middle, with chairs, tables and sofas dotted around towards the window to the south. The Shard dominates the skyline across the river to the south-east.

To the east and west sides of the building are staircases leading upwards, with shrubs and small trees on the banks beside them. In the middle of the building are two further floors containing restaurants, one of which faces out onto the Sky Garden bar/café area.

We walked around, starting on the west of the building. Through the windows that side St. Paul's Cathedral dominates the view, with a short stretch of the river also visible, and the bones of another skyscraper going up south of Blackfriars Bridge.

At the top of the stairs we reached another wide viewing area, looking north to Tower 42 (which I will always think of as the NatWest Tower), the Cheesegrater (122 Leadenhall Street) and the Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe). The Heron Tower is hidden behind the Cheesegrater. On this side it isn't possible to get close to the window, so definitely no chance of putting the camera against the glass and getting reflection-free shots, which was just about doable on the side windows.

The distant towers of Canary Wharf, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge can be seen to the east, although the full view is annoyingly obscured by the structure of the building. It would have been stunning to see the moat filled with red poppies a few months ago from there.

When we got back to the atrium we had a brief glance at the cocktail menu (reasonably-priced for a London skyscraper), sat down for a while at the window with coffees and had a look around at the other visitors. The crowd was predominantly young, as I guess that's the age-group that read about the "garden" on social media sites. A woman showed off her TK Maxx purchases to her friends at the table next to us. No-one took off their coats, as it was a bit chilly and felt as if we were outside, even though the terrace doors are closed until March. People snapped away on their smartphones.

We wandered around again, and I took a few more photos, but the combination of the concave shape of the windows, reflections from the lights, and the shape and position of the building all conspired to make getting any decent shots tricky. In spite of being so high up I felt very disappointed with the views. If the building had been built with its footprint shifted round 45 degrees, then the views would have been massively improved! The three skyscrapers to the north just looked dull from this angle. St. Paul's was swamped by building sites surrounding it, the London Eye was at the south-west corner and pretty much hidden behind the corner structure, and only a small part of the meandering Thames could be seen east or west. Even when the terrace opens in March, there is eye-level-height glass, so no way to get a glass-free photo without holding your SLR up high and dangling it over the edge. The tripod, it turned out, wouldn't have helped much!

Having worked on the highest floors of one of the towers in Canary Wharf I'm used to great views from a skyscraper, but for some reason the views from this one don't really work, not for me, anyway. The design is bulbous and quite frankly a little dull, and I think it's been built in totally the wrong spot.

Oh well, there is one positive thing about the view - at least this building isn't in it!

1 comment:

  1. I have faced many problems before read this article. Really this is a grate informative article. It is most useful for Newbies Walkie Talkie users. Thanks a lot.