I’ve tried hard to like the Walkie Talkie, Rafael Vinoly’s skyscraper at 20 Fenchurch Street, but so far I’ve been unsuccessful. The thing dominates the surrounding streets, blocking out the whole sky from the narrow cobbled alleyways that lead up to Eastcheap, and its solitary position away from the cluster of tall glass and steel buildings that form the new vertical City means it intrudes into views from Waterloo Bridge and along the south bank, as well as seeming to loom over the Tower of London.
It is blessed, though, with a wonderful, free viewing gallery – a couple of floors of space some 150m up – higher than the London Eye – and with a 360 degree view of the capital.
This is the Sky Garden. The architect’s plans (of course) were for a mini-Kew, a verdant ‘public park’ accessible to all; it hasn’t quite worked out like that (of course). The accessibility involves navigating a clunky website to book tickets (which are released every other Monday), queuing to get through ticket barriers, trudging through airport-style security, and then queuing for the lift.
Those lifts though, are fab, whishing you up 35 floors in seconds, with no sensation of movement save a slight pressure in the ears.
You step out to a simply stunning view, the building’s solitary position meaning that the view south is completely open. The entire bowl of London is set out before you, clear to the broadcast masts at Crystal Palace.
To the east is Canary Wharf and the Olympic Park, but you can see beyond into Essex and Kent; St Paul’s is underneath you to the west, the the rest of the capital un folds to the horizon – there’s Wembley, All Pally, Hampstead Heath, Parliament, Battersea Power Station and on and on.
Go up to the next level and look north and you’re in touching distance of the City’s skyscraper cluster – the Cheesegrater is in front of your eyes, the Scalpel and the Gherkin looking wonderful in the sunlight.
If you can navigate the website and find a free slot it’s well worth a visit (you can also book a table in one of the restaurants, or get ‘walk up’ entrance to the cafe for breakfasts). It’s not what was sold to us when planning permission was granted; the booking process is dreadful; the waiting in line is tedious – but the views!
And there’s a final added bonus – it’s one of the only places in London where you don’t see the Walkie Talkie itself.