The Top 10: Nicknames for British Buildings

Popular labels from familiar objects have often been adopted as the official names of skyscrapers and other modern architecture

John Rentoul@JohnRentoul
Saturday 06 February 2021 13:43

Most of these are in London. I love London’s new skyline (with one exception, below) and these names are the beacons of my cycling around the greatest city in the world. Click on the gallery to see all the photos.

1. The Armadillo, SEC (Scottish Event Campus), Glasgow. My second favourite city in the UK. It’s as if the Sydney Opera House hunkered down defensively. 

2. The Cheesegrater, Leadenhall Building, London. Leans to the north to avoid filling the space behind St Paul’s Cathedral when viewed from Fleet Street. 

3. The Gherkin, St Mary Axe, London. A lot of people were sniffy about it when it was new, but it just looks better and better as the towers around it grow. 

4. The Mummy, 1 Blackfriars, London. I hated the plans, and disapproved in principle of a building that got wider as it got higher (see no 10, and also 30 Cannon Street, one of my unfavourite City office blocks near St Paul’s). But as it went up I grew to love it. Other people call it the Sarcophagus or the Sky Remote; Wikipedia says it is called The Vase, The Boomerang or The Tummy. 

5. The Pringle, Lee Valley VeloPark (Olympic Velodrome), London. Elegant enough as a building, but the nickname is droll. 

6. The Scalpel, 52 Lime Street, London. Leans to the south, for the same reason no 2 leans north. The most beautiful building on this list, I think. 

7. The Shard, London Bridge Tower. Sublime building. And the name is just wonderful, too, as it was how English Heritage hoped to kill Renzo Piano’s plan, saying it would “tear through historic London like a shard of glass”. 

8. The Toast Rack, Hollings Building, Manchester. Terrible 1960s university architecture, with a suitably dismissive name. I like the Beetham Tower in Manchester, with the sticking-out slab high up, but it doesn’t have a nickname that I know of. 

9. The Typewriter, at Christ’s College, Cambridge. Nominated by David Bertram. Another nickname bestowed in a derogatory sense, in this case on a ghastly folly of brutalism. Painful to the eyes. 

10. The Walkie-Talkie, 20 Fenchurch Street, London. Finally, the Great Eyesore, the one that spoils it for everyone unless you’re actually in its “sky garden”, when you can’t see it. Doesn’t even look like a walkie-talkie. 

What is striking is that the newest and most majestic of all London’s skyscrapers, 22 Bishopsgate, which I think completes the set, doesn’t have a nickname. 

Thanks to Philip Downer for pointing out that one of the early examples of a popular name being adopted as the official one was the Crystal Palace, named by Punch magazine when it was built in Hyde Park for the Great Exhibition in 1851 (it was moved to Sydenham, south London, before being destroyed in a fire in 1936). 

Next week: Shocking falsehoods in historical dramas, inspired by the fuss over The Crown

Coming soon: Epanadiplosis – sentences that begin and end with the same word, such as: “Nice to see you, to see you nice!”

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to

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