Up on the roof (again): the ‘Beast’

the view from Horizon 22 - the viewing gallery at 22 Bishopsgate

At 278m (912’) and 63 storeys, the new(ish) office block at 22 Bishopsgate is the tallest building in the City of London, and second only to the Shard (309m) as the tallest in the UK.

Dubbed either ‘The Slab’ or (my favourite) ‘The Beast’, it stands on Bishopsgate (the Roman Ermine Street) and just to the north of the site of the Roman forum.

But going up into the clouds rather than down into the archaeology, the Beast gives us ‘Horizon 22’, the highest public viewing gallery in the country. At 254m (833’) this 58th floor space is above the ‘View from the Shard’ which offers a mere 244m.

Moreover, Horizon 22 is free, whereas zooming up to the Shard’s viewing floors sets you back a pretty whopping £28.50. (Although the Shard does give you a full 360º vista; the Beast’s view is blocked to the north giving only 300º).

I’m a big fan of views, and still love to visit the Sky Garden and even the comparatively low level roof terrace at 120 Fenchurch Street, but the extra height at Horizon 22 makes a seriously impressive difference.

When I came to London in the 1980s the tallest building was Tower 42 (perhaps better known as the Natwest Tower), Richard Seifert’s 600’ skyscraper, so it is strange to be literally looking down onto the roof of that from Horizon 22. Similarly, one can see the clientele of the Sky Garden looking up towards the Beast, and one is on nodding terms with the top of the Shard.

London stretches away East, South and West, distances shrinking and the familiar made strange because of the perspective – is that hollow square by our feet really the Bank of England?

However, despite the incredible views, the rest of the experience feels a bit under powered because the building owners seem to be downplaying the whole thing; one steps out into, essentially, and empty office floor. There is a little coffee cart and a few folding chairs, but compare it to the Sky Garden’s foliage, or the plush seats and champagne bar at the Shard, and it all feels a bit spartan and unfinished. There’s not even any images or colour on the walls.

I wonder if it’s because the viewing gallery was mandated by the City’s planners as a condition for going high and the building owners don’t want to encourage visitors. They really could, and they really ought, to do more.

Do go. It’s free, and although the bookings seem to be a couple of months hence, they do do walk-ups if they have capacity (and when I went the place seemed half-empty). I intend to go back frequently (different times of the day or the year will hugely alter what and how one sees), and perhaps if a lot of us do then the rest of the experience will match the majesty of the views.