Affectionate Nicknames for Some of London's Buildings and Landmarks
It may be part of the famous British sense of humour, or a clever marketing ploy by the developers, but Londoners like to use nicknames when referring to some of the buildings and landmarks that form part of their city.
This article provides you with an overview of the most famous ones. It was inspired by a Japanese tourist who once asked me what the building in the picture above is was called. I hesitated for a moment as I was not sure whether I should give her the real name, or the nickname. I decided to provide her with the latter, which led to some confusion as I tried to explain what a gherkin is in sign-language!
The origins of the nicknames cannot always be explained, with one notable exception: in a speech in 2003 Prince Charles said: "At the moment it looks as though London seems to be turning into an absurdist picnic table - we already have a giant gherkin, now it looks as if we are going to have an enormous salt cellar." (note: this is ironic as this particular building is designed by the Sellar Group).
Can of Ham aka 60-70 St Mary's Axe
60-70 St Mary's Axe is a 24-storey (295ft / 90m) building which has been designed by Foggo Associates and construction was due to kick-off in 2013, but like other planned buildings it has been delayed by economy-related constraints. Planning permission for it was granted in 2008 but so far the idea has remained on the drawing table.
This has not stopped it from earning itself the nickname "can of ham" due to its unique looks. The proposed building, which will include 18 floors of office space, is supposed to be assembled with the usual mix of steel and glass, and will have a healthy measure of enivornmentally-friendly features, such as solar panels and energy recycling systems.
All in all, it sounds like a perfect accompaniment to the neighbouring building: The Gherkin!
Cheesegrater aka Leadenhall Building
The Leadenhall Building is currently under construction and is due to be completed in 2014, at which point it will have reached a height of 224m, giving it 47 floors of office, retail and dining space. The base of the building will include 7 storeys of landscape open spaces, unique to London.
The shape of the building is also quite distinctive as it slants, or tapers as it goes up. This causes each storey to vary in floor size, ranging from 550 to 6000 square metres. The special shape was also chosen to ensure that the structure would not intrude into the sight-line of St. Paul's Cathedral when viewed along Fleet Street and up Ludgate Hill.
The wedge-shape of the building has earned it the nickname of Cheesegrater. It is certainly quite a change from the old P&O Building that used to be on the site. It was demolished from the ground up as can be seen from this picture on Flickr.
See also: 'Cheesegrater' project revived as London office market recovers - The Guardian, 25th October 2010
Gherkin aka 30 St Mary Axe
The Gherkin, originally known as the Swiss Re Tower, was built in 3 years on the site of the Baltic Exchange, which was destroyed by the IRA in 1992. It was renamed 30 St. Mary Axe after it was sold by Swiss Re to Trafalgar House in 1995.
The curved shapes of the building can be seen from far away, and they provide a clear contrast to the more traditional buildings and famous landmarks such as Tower Bridge, the London Eye and St Paul's Cathedral. It often features in backdrop of TV news programs, films such as Love Actually and is .sometimes as a point of reference in weather reports on local radio stations such as LBC 97.3.
The structure features innovative designs, especially from an eco-friendly perspective. The design makes great use of daylight and natural ventilation so that it uses half the energy typically required by an office block.
Pringle aka Olympics Cycle Track
The 6,000 seat Olympic Velopark hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Track Cycling events in 2012. It featured a lower tier of 3,500 seats and an upper tier of 2,500 seats with the seating tiers divided by a 360 degree concourse level offering views over the Olympic Park and out to the London skyline.
Construction work, which came under budget, includes 2,500 sections of steelwork forming the roof structure and upper tier of the Velodrome. The steelwork sections rise in height by 12 metres from the shallowest point to the highest part of the structure, helping form the distinct double-curved roof structure which has been designed to reflect the geometry of the cycling track.
The unusual shape of the roof have led Londoner's to give it the nickname of "Pringle", after the famous crisp brand.
The building is now owned and managed by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority and is known as the Lee Valley VeloPark.
Helter-Skelter aka The Pinnacle
When complete, the Pinnacle Tower, aka the Helter-Skelter will wind its way up to around 287m ( 60 floors) in the midst of other tall buildings that make up London's financial district.
The tower is made up of a series of complex geometrical shapes (hence the nickname) but incorporates more down-to-earth features such as the restoration of an ancient public right-of-way which will link it to other notable landmarks along Bishopsgate and St. Mary Axe.
Further up there will be around 90,000 square metres of office space along with some retail amenities.
The building was due for completion in 2013 but is currently on hold due to finance issues. There are rumours that the project will re-start with new backers and a re-design from the original plans.
Salt Cellar aka The Shard
The Shard, previously known as London Bridge Tower, the Shard of Glass and 32 London Bridge is a skyscraper in Southwark, London. It is the tallest building in the European Union and the 45th tallest building in the world. It is the second tallest free-standing structure in the United Kingdom after the 1,084 ft (330.4m) Emley Moor transmitting station.
The tower stands 1,017 ft (310 m) tall and has 72 floors, plus 15 further radiator floors in the roof. The building has been designed with an irregular triangular shape from the base to the top. It is clad entirely in glass. The viewing gallery and open-air observation deck is on the top floor. It is located on top of London Bridge station as can clearly be seen on this picture taken by a Police helicopter.
The building replaces Southwark Towers, a 24-storey office building of 1976. Renzo Piano, the building's architect, worked together with architectural firm Broadway Malyan during the planning stage of the project.
Stealth Bomber aka One New Change
One New Change is an office and retail development in the City of London. It cost £500 million to build and was completed in October 2010. The complex is located on New Change, a road linking Cannon Street with Cheapside,
It is located very close to St. Paul's Cathedral and, inevitably attracted criticism due to its modern design and distinctive appearance. Due to strict planning laws the design had to be adapted so as not to disturb the line of sight to the Cathedral, hence it acquired the nickname "the stealth bomber".
Walkie-Talkie aka 20 Fenchurch Street
When completed at a cost of over Â£200m (approx $325m), 20 Fenchurch Street will be 160m high and incorporate 36 floors of office space and a bespoke indoor aerial garden which will open to the public.
It is currently under construction in the City of London though it has reportedly suffered from the economic climate woes which has delayed completion from 2011 to 2014.
Nevertheless, it has already been nicknamed The Walkie Talkie. It has been designed by the Uruguayan born architect Rafael ViÃ±oly and will feature a highly distinctive, top-heavy form which appears to burst upward and outward.
The tower was originally proposed at nearly 200 metres tall, but was scaled down after concerns about its impact on St Paul's Cathedral. It was subsequently approved in November 2006. Even after this reduction, however, there were continued concerns from heritage groups about its impact on the surrounding area. The project subsequently went to a public inquiry. In July 2007, this ruled in the developers' favour, and the tower was granted full planning permission.
As the building is being erected the curved shape of the glass has caused sun rays to be reflected on to the pavement below, causing discomfort to pedestrians. On 2nd September 2013 the BBC reported that a car was allegedly damaged by the heat generated by the reflected glass. Further reported incidents include damage to shop fronts and scorched paintwork.
As a result the media promptly renamed the building Walkie-Scorchie, while the owners have since erected some scaffolding to reduce the effects of the problem. Predictably enough, the weather has since returned to its' normal September pattern, aka cloudy and rainy...
More London Nicknames
- "The Drain"
aka the Waterloo and City underground railway line: it has two stops and carries an average of 37,000 commuters a day between Waterloo Station and Bank in the City of London.
- "The Tube"
aka the London underground railway system. It travels through narrow tubes obviously!. As an aside, if you are interested in disused railway stations you should check out this comprehensive website.
- "The Square Mile"
aka The City of London, where the financial district is located. It covers an area of approximately 1 square mile, hence the nickname.
- "The Smoke"
aka London itself. This refers to the period from the 19th to the first half of the 20th century when Londoners used coal to heat their homes. The resulting smoke, associated with local climate conditions, often caused a thick fog to descend on the capital.
This effect peaked during a period known as the Great Smog of 1952; the "fog" lasted 5 days and 4,000 people lost their life as a result. The government responded by passing the Clean Air Act 1956 which required the creation of zones where only smokeless fuels could be used. This restriction is still in force today.
- "Big Ben"
aka Westminster Clock Tower or Elizabeth Tower. The main tower of the Palace of Westminster which houses the UK's Houses of Parliament is often referred to as Big Ben. This is in fact the name of the bell situated at the top of the tower. Naturally it has it's own Twitter account!
- "Boris Bikes"
aka the Cycle Hire Scheme which allows anyone to hire a bicycle located at more than 300 sites around central London. The nickname refers to Mayor of London Boris Johnson (also known as BoJo!),who oversaw the launch of the service, though it was the previous mayor Ken Livingstone who initiated the project.
- "Wobbly Bridge"
aka The Miillenium Bridge - it was nicknamed the "Wobbly Bridge" after it started swaying on the first two days after the bridge was first opened. The bridge was subsequently closed for almost two years while modifications were made to eradicate the problem.
- London information service
This site contains an impressive amount of information covering tourist attractions, shops, restaurants and events that the capital has to offer.
- Visit London
Promotes London as the world's most exciting city to domestic and overseas leisure and business visitors, as well as Londoners.
A Penny for your Thoughts...
Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on September 12, 2014:
I've never been a fan of Prince Charles, but he and I do agree on the odd shapes popping up all over London in the last few years. "Absurdist picnic table" is spot on, although I'm glad the common nickname for the Swiss Re Tower settled on "the Gherkin" and not the male body part I heard used several times when it was being erected! ;D
randallplant on December 03, 2012:
Cool lens with great images and a fantastic video of the London skyline! We did some work on Battersea Dogs Home and saw the power station everyday - we called it the 'Flying Pig' after the Pink Floyd cover - anyone else heard of this?
jillbrowne lm on July 14, 2012:
What a great idea for a lens! I love London but I never knew so many buildings had such good nicknames. Thanks for including the map too. Your lens has information I enjoy reading, you've obviously put some work into researching the buildings and their names. Nicely done ;-)
Ram Ramakrishnan on February 08, 2012:
Once a nickname becomes comman usage the formal appellation sounds so alien, unfamiliar, and non-represntative. It is so with names of people too, isn't it?! Enjoyable lens.
Lindrus on February 06, 2012:
Thanks for a great and informative lens!
lovetouring on June 08, 2011:
Some of the above listed, even we had not heard before in the office. So nice one.
Nancy Carol Brown Hardin from Las Vegas, NV on May 23, 2011:
I've always wanted to travel to England...I really enjoyed this lens,and thank you so much for sharing.
Jennifer P Tanabe from Red Hook, NY on May 12, 2011:
That was fun - thanks for sharing these nicknames. They do make up quite a picnic table!
SandyPeaks on May 08, 2011:
Thanks for explaining all these - I knew some but not all! Blessed by a SquidAngel.
UKGhostwriter on April 24, 2011:
Fantastic lens! - great fun, well done!
anonymous on April 22, 2011:
What fun that you shared this, I had never heard any of the nicknames before.
Charles Nullens (author) from London on April 16, 2011:
@Stazjia: Thank you very much ;-)
Carol Fisher from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK on April 16, 2011:
I didn't know all these nicknames especially of the newest buildings so I found the page very interesting. Lensrolled.
NYThroughTheLens on April 15, 2011:
Hah, what a great lens. I had never heard of many of these nicknames!
ChrisDay LM on April 14, 2011:
Nice lens - good local insight put to advantage and very interesting/enjoyable.
Charles Nullens (author) from London on April 11, 2011:
@Ramkitten2000: Thank you, and I have been enjoying your SAR and trekking lenses ;-)
Charles Nullens (author) from London on April 11, 2011:
@jaimepuxxle: Thank you for your comment. Since writing the introduction I have come across some articles that seem to suggest that some nicknames may not be as spontaneous as I may have thought: the developers themselves sometimes suggest the names and it is the media that has been picking them up and publicising them. The public then assumes the name came about organically, though it is actually just good PR.
Charles Nullens (author) from London on April 11, 2011:
@CruiseReady: Thank you. I've been reading more about it - it looks like it has also something to do with "interested parties" being upset at having so many modern glass and steel buildings popping up among the more traditional and older structures such as St. Paul's.
jaimepuxxle on April 05, 2011:
I must admit that one of the most fascinating things I found on my last trip to london was it's modern architecture... wish I'd of known these nicknames beforehand! I'd have had a right laugh!
CruiseReady from East Central Florida on April 03, 2011:
Very enjoyable lens. Interesting about the one that had to slant so as not to block the view of the cathedral.
Deb Kingsbury from Flagstaff, Arizona on March 31, 2011:
That was a fun read. Very interesting stuff, and good trivia to know when I get over to your side of the pond again.
grannysage on March 23, 2011:
How interesting and funny. I'd love to go on a tour with you. Those are some interesting buildings. No one can say that Londoners are not creative. Great lens.