Walkie Talkie review – bloated, inelegant, thuggish

Despite grand claims to design excellence and public benefit, the 37-storey London skyscraper known as the Walkie Talkie seems to bear no meaningful relationship to its surroundings

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20 Fenchurch Street seen from an adjacent street
20 Fenchurch Street seen from an adjacent street / © Antonio Zazueta Olmos/Observer
20 Fenchurch Street seen from an adjacent street
20 Fenchurch Street seen from an adjacent street / © Antonio Zazueta Olmos/Observer

When, for the love of God, will the word “iconic” finally die? It is more than a decade since the architect Graham Morrison questioned the way each new building strives “to be more extraordinary and shocking in order to eclipse the last. Each new design has to be instantly memorable – more iconic. This one-upmanship was, and is, a fatuous and self-indulgent game.” Yet again and again, in the planning pitch for the Garden Bridge, or the sales blurbs of buildings such as 20 Fenchurch Street (“take your place at this iconic address”), the word is wielded as one which permits no further argument.

Could this usage please end in 2015? And with it, could we also see the end of the habit of calling places “public” when they are not? Again, 20 Fenchurch Street, better known as the Walkie Talkie, is at the top of the game: the “Sky Garden” at its summit is “the UK’s tallest public park”, you are told, when you ring its booking line. I don’t think they mean “tallest” – this would mean that the park was exceptionally vertical – but “highest”, meaning a long way off the ground. But then they might have faced rival claims from Snowdonia or the Cairngorms, so they need some linguistic fudge. ….

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