London Places: The Lurkin’ Gherkin

20 years ago, on August 23, 2000, planning permission was granted for the building that became known as London’s ‘Gherkin’. Intruding on the London city skyline like some looming figure from a Terry Gilliam animation, Soul City Wanderer briefs on the Lurkin’ Gherkin.


The Gherkin was built on the site of the old Baltic Exchange which was destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1992. The land was subsequently sold to developers.

The new building opened in 2004. At 180metres (600ft) high, it is one of the tallest buildings in London with 40 floors.

The shape is the unmistakeable work of Sir Norman Foster’s architectural team. Despite its appearance, there is in fact only one piece of curved glass, and that is the cap on top. Each floor is twisted by five degrees on the previous floor which helps airflow and design, as do the outer shafts. The base has been compared to a tethered balloon trying to lift off. In 2005, architects voted it the most admired new building in the world.

The Gherkin nickname was originally hated by the developers who preferred ‘St Mary Axe’ or the ‘Swiss Re building’. St Mary Axe was the name of a nearby church which was demolished in the 1500s. Legend has it that the English Princess Ursula took 11,000 virgins to Germany where they were met by the axe of Attila the Hun. One of the axes was kept in the church. Swiss Re was the name of an insurance and investment firm which rented the building

The Gherkin was the first building in London to be given a nickname that stuck. Today, almost all new London office buildings get a nickname according to their shape. Recent skyline additions include the ‘Shard’, the ‘Cheese Grater’ and the ‘Walkie-Talkie’. Now developers welcome nicknames as a sign of public acceptance.

The Gherkin’s annual rental income was set at £30million and it was scheduled to take 21 years to make a profit. That means next year, 2021, current situation notwithstanding!


Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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