110 The Queens Walk
London SE1 2AA
Norman Foster and Ken Shuttleworth
City Hall is the
purpose-built home of the Greater London Authority, London's local
government. When the previous local government was dissolved by the Thatcher
government in the 1980s, with power transferred to the center, its building
became a hotel and aquarium. When London acquired a mayor and local
government once more, it needed a new home.
The Foster design, on
the south bank of the Thames near Tower Bridge, is a deliberately iconic
building. Its form - a distorted glass sphere, sometimes seen as head-shaped
- is justified in terms of two sorts of function: environmental, reducing
the total glass surface area of the building; and democratic, with the whole
building designed around a magnificent interior ramp down which the people
can symbolically walk above the debating chamber of their elected
The imagery of this
ramp is so powerful Foster has used it twice: the London version is a
development of his earlier ramp with similar symbolism in Berlin's Reichstag.
Here the geometry of the spiral ramp, and the views out over the Thames
through the glass walls, are quite brilliant. (Rightly or wrongly the ramp
has been likened to Lubetkin's 1930s Penguin
Pool in London Zoo.)
The imagery of the
people above their representatives, it must be said, is slightly contrived. Councilors
meet for debate in the chamber only monthly, when the public is not allowed
on the ramp anyway. And the real power-house of the building - the Mayor's
office - is, conventionally, on the top floor.
Despite these small
gripes, the building is an exciting place to be in, from the 10th floor
reception area and balcony, via the spiral ramp down to the debating
chamber, to the lower ramp down to the lobby and exhibition hall.
Simon Glynn 2004
How to visit
City Hall is on the south bank of
the Thames between Tower Bridge and London Bridge. Nearest tube stations are
London Bridge (10 minutes' walk) and Tower Hill (15 minutes' walk, including
crossing Tower Bridge).
To visit as much of the interior
as possible, including the ramp down to the debating chamber, look out for
opportunities in London's annual late-September 'open house' weekend (www.londonopenhouse.org).
Books and other web
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