Pickles and Crystals
Late last month it was announced that the 30 St. Mary Axe tower in London—also affectionately known as the Gherkin—had gone into receivership. The reason was a mismatch of assets and liabilities, specifically currency losses:
A fund managed by IVG Immobilien AG, once Germany's biggest real estate company, and London-based Evans Randall Ltd. bought the Foster + Partners-designed tower from reinsurer Swiss Re Ltd. for 600 million pounds ($1 billion) in 2007. Part of the IVG fund's loan was in Swiss francs, which have gained about 63 percent against the pound over the last seven years, increasing the amount owed to the point that it breached rules on how much debt could be held against the property.
But what I found interesting while reading Bloomberg and Monocle, and learning about the loan default, is that there seems to be a lot of people in London that really don't like this tower. Shaped like a giant pickle, it's been the brunt of many lewd jokes, I'm sure.
However, within the architectural community, the Gherkin tower is generally revered as a pretty awesome piece of architecture. It's a highly sustainable building that employs a number of natural ventilation and passive heating and cool techniques. It's estimated to consume half the energy of a "typical" office building.
At the same time, the mixed feelings surrounding the Gherkin tower reminded me of all the controversy surrounding the Royal Ontario Museum's Crystal addition here in Toronto. In fact, I just read somewhere that somebody rated it one of the top 10 ugliest buildings in the world.
And certainly, I hear lots of people criticize the building here in the city. Often, they mention how much wasted space the angular walls generate, which makes me wonder why we have so many people living in the suburbs when there are so many space conservationists among us.
Personally, I love the Crystal. And I also love the Gherkin. They're big and bold and they piss a lot of people off. Good, I say.