In 1978, the year after architect Richard Rogers’ Pompidou Centre opened in Paris, construction started on his first major London project, The Lloyd’s Building in Lime Street.
Built to house the London Insurance Market, this was the first “high tech” building in the UK and there is still nothing quite like it.
The building is “inside out”, with the service functions placed on the exterior. The pipework and air conditioning ducts wrapped around the outside, the glass lifts scooting up the outside walls, the corner staircases like corkscrew metal are all still a delight to behold. But the concept is not decorative per se: it allows for easy replacement and maintenance of the facilities, and it means the inside can be open and flexible, with uninterrupted activity on each level. Rogers has designed other buildings in London since Lloyd’s, but none provoke the same sense of looking at something otherworldly.
The most satisfying way to approach it is from Gracechurch Street through Leadenhall Market. As you walk through Horace Jones’s magnificent victorian cast iron structure, the steel of Lloyd’s appears in front of you – a wonderful juxtaposition of the (relatively) old and the (relatively) new.
Just 25 years after it was completed, Lloyd’s was granted Grade I listing – the youngest building to receive this status.
Access is limited – tours are run, but mainly for groups – so its internal joys – the 60 metre atrium criss-crossed by escalators, the Adam Room (an 18th century room transplanted from the old Lloyd’s building to the new) – are off limits, so we have to make do with the view from the outside.
Rogers’ old friend and rival, Norman Foster, pays his respects to Lloyd’s in his Willis Building over the road, the glass curves of its front perfectly reflecting its older neighbour.