It was August Bank Holiday Sunday and, being lovers of the big city, we decided to take a trip into central London and do a bit of our serendipic sight-seeing. As I’ve said before, a little bit of relatively aimless walking will always reap rewards. Today was no exception.
After a walk along the South Bank, a visit to the brand new Blackfriars Station on its bridge over the Thames, a one station ride on the First Capital Connect train to Farringdon to have a look at the new stations and a walk through the streets to St Paul’s passing Smithfield Market and the Old Bailey – both closed, we stopped in the gardens on the south east corner of the cathedral.
Beside us there was a very new building on a short street that has the unusual name of New Change. The building, some seven stories high, is clad in glass that has been cleverly tinted to make the angular shapes of the building appear to dissolve.
[As I read later this is the signature style of the building’s French architect Jean Nouvel, being space and light, not form. The most common material in his buildings is glass and he works on the effects that can be achieved with it. Nouvel is one of the world’s great modernist architects and recognised for his artistic integrity in employing challenging, original architecture for highly sensitive sites – the right man for a site immediately next door to St Paul’s. This architecture really does work.]
Being a very nosey person, I had to go and explore whilst Margaret, who felt like a rest, found a park bench to sit and read.
The building has a very original feature, in my experience, in that there are no doors
leading from the street to the interior rather there are openings some one or two stories high whilst the main opening is the whole height of the building. The main way in is wedge-shaped and draws you into the inner atrium – very clever. Once inside it becomes obvious that the lower three levels, which includes a basement, of the building were home to well known brands – Banana Republic, North Face, etc – plus numerous eating places. Rising through the atrium were two glass-walled lifts heading for the upper floors which were occupied by offices.
Being glass-walled it was possible to see the people who were travelling in the lifts. At first I assumed they were people going up to the offices but it didn’t take the brain of Sherlock Holmes to work out that these passengers didn’t look like office workers and, anyway, it was a Sunday. So, nothing ventured nothing gained, I got in to one of the lifts and pressed the button for the top floor half-expecting it to deny access without a passkey or security code. But no, the doors shut and up it went. The view from the lift was out through the entrance glass wedge and straight across to St Paul’s Cathedral with the dome perfectly framed in the line of sight.
On reaching the top, the doors opened onto a terrace with a bar and restaurant. A few steps round a corner and there was a vast open terrace gently sloping away and round the top of the building. The view was stunning – a panorama of London – from the recently completed Shard via the London Eye to The Barbican tower block.
The panorama is dominated by the dome of St Pauls which is so close that it feels that you can almost touch it. In no particular order, some of the sights to be seen include :-
- Tate Modern
- Guys Hospital – a slightly dated skyscraper which is the tallest hospital building in the world
- Big Ben – framed in the London Eye wheel
- Waterloo and Hungerford bridges
- The OXO Tower and it’s neighbouring Sea Containers House currently being converted into an hotel and wrapped in a picture of the Royal Family taken at the time of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee
- Charing Cross and Cannon Street railway stations
- The new Blackfriars Station spanning the Thames and with it’s solar panelled roof
- The Shell Building and Unilever House
- Strata the modern housing skyscraper known as “The Razor”
- Southwark Cathedral
- Hay Wharf
- Centre Point
- The Old Bailey
In the middle distance you can see the well-known chimneys of Battersea Power Station and the three-sided Empress State Building at Earls Court. The one important tall building that can’t be seen is the BT Tower which is hidden behind the dome of St Pauls.
In the far distance, to the south, there is the distinctive Crystal Palace TV Mast once the tallest structure in London when it was built in the mid 1950’s. Beyond the mast is the ridge of the North Downs.
There are a few tantalising glimpses of the City skyline. The most obvious is the building known as The Gherkin and next to it the building that used to be called The NatWest Tower now rather prosaically renamed Tower 42 after the number of floors in the building. You can also see the top half of a new, unfinished building which has been dubbed the Walkie Talkie on account of the bulge at the top. And last but not least the spire of St Mary le Bow which is the next door neighbour to One New Change.
Getting all of this view for free is fantastic – but – you may be tempted by to try the Madison Bar. There are a wide range of beers, wines and spirits, a cocktail menu and a tapas menu. Beware the prices are geared to the City business market but it’s worth a little indulgence just to sit and take a lingering look at the view.
The One New Change web site gives information about the stores and restaurants but makes little mention of the rooftop viewing terrace.
Jean Nouvel‘s site is in French and English. There are some good photos of the One New Change development.