Gherkin serves up new City landmark

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The Independent Online

The building known as "the Gherkin" - the Swiss Re headquarters in the City of London - was officially opened yesterday.

The building known as "the Gherkin" - the Swiss Re headquarters in the City of London - was officially opened yesterday.

The 40-storey building, designed by Lord Foster of Thames Bank, is 180 metres tall and is the second highest structure in the Square Mile after Tower 42, formerly known as the NatWest Tower.

The building at 30 St Mary Axe will be used by 800 employees of the insurance company. Its restaurant and bar on the top two floors offer the highest view in the City.

Built on the site of the Baltic Exchange, which was deemed irreparable after it was damaged by an IRA bomb in 1992, the Gherkin has been dogged by controversy.

Work started in summer 2000 after planning permission was granted by John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister. His decision was welcomed by English Heritage which advises the Government on the listing of buildings. It argued that the Baltic Exchange could not be preserved. The owners of the Baltic Exchange opposed the decision, saying the building represented a unique feature of the City's architectural heritage.

The top of the building tapers into a cone, reducing its visual bulk, in a departure from the 1960s skyscrapers viewed by many as an exercise in corporate self-aggrandisement or symbols of developers' might.

Lord Foster said yesterday: "This is a radical building, environmentally, spatially and socially. It incorporates innovative environmental technology within its distinctive external curvilinear glass and steel clad form."

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