City Hall 
110 The Queens Walk 
London SE1 2AA
United Kingdom

Norman Foster and Ken Shuttleworth 2002

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 representatives.

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).

City Hall is open to the public, but with restricted access and opening times. For details see the Greater London Authority web site at

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 ( 

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