Britain is full of iconic buildings and landmarks which nearly everyone would recognize and identify with, but most would not know the full story behind their history, construction, or even what they are used for. That is never truer than in the case of ‘the Gherkin’ in London. It’s one of the most recognizable shapes on the capital’s skyline, but it’s a building which many don’t know anything about, including its real name.


The building known by almost everybody as the Gherkin actually has the official address of 30 St Mary Axe within the City of London. Up until the early 1990’s that site was occupied by the Baltic Exchange, which was a headquarters for ship sales and shipping information. In 1992 however, the Provisional IRA detonated a bomb close to the exchange which caused extensive structural damage to the building.

This damage led to a need to redevelop the site at 30 St Mary Axe. After some discussion about restoring the original façade of the exchange, it was eventually decided that a full-scale redevelopment of the site was necessary and appropriate.

The early preparation and design of ‘the Gherkin’. In 1995 the Baltic Exchange land was sold to Trafalgar House and the remaining construction on the site was carefully dismantled. The façade of the exchange and the Exchange Hall were kept intact and were then subsequently moved to Tallinn in Estonia to be reconstructed as part of the city’s commercial sector.

It was in the year 2000 that planning permission was granted by the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, for the construction of what came to be known as ‘the Gherkin’. This came after a more adventurous and much larger tower had its permission denied in 1996, and the eventually accepted design came from the architects Norman Foster and Arup Group.

It is believed that the design was viewed more favorable than the rejected ‘Millennium Tower’ because the street level plan and overall makeup of the building meant it was not too imposing to passers-by in the nearby streets. This aspect combined well with the ‘architecturally significant’ overall appearance of the building which is a prerequisite of new builds within the City of London.

Construction and current use

After planning permission was granted, the construction of the Gherkin was entrusted to construction company Skanska who succeeded in completing the skyscraper by December 2003, ready for its opening in April of 2004.

This rapid construction is particularly impressive when you consider some of the notable construction features of the building, such as its capability of saving energy. The Gherkin actually consumes only around half of the power that towers of its size would normally require thanks to an innovative system of shafts. These shafts that serve as a natural ventilation system, pull warm air out of the building during the summer and warm the building in the winter using passive solar heating.

Today, the Gherkin is mostly taken up by the finance company known as Swiss Re but also includes a bar offering panoramic views of London on the 40th floor, a restaurant for tenants and guests on the 39th floor, and private dining rooms on the 38th. There is also a bar and an entertainment space at the base of the building which is open for public use.

It’s safe to say that this is one of the most iconic modern buildings in London today.