30 St. Mary Axe

Foster + Partners, London, 2003


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Foster's building for Swiss Re is both a simple statement and a building of great complexity 

Nigel Young     Download Original

  • Foster    
  • View from across the Thames    
  • Tall buildings have long been a contentious issue in London, and before the building was given the green light, authorities had to consider the St Paul    
  • The location of the tower in a cluster of tall buildings in the eastern quarter of the City was a strong argument in its favour and helped secure the blessing of English Heritage    
  • The     
  • The relatively small footprint creates a public space. Ground floor cafes add to animation    
  • The atrium balconies, with their semi-outdoor climate and, up at these levels, more spectacular views    
  • A private space with spectacular views near and far    
  • Site plan    
  • Ground foor plan    
  • Level 26    
  • Top floor plan    
  • Typical floor plans    
  • Elevation    
  • Model    
  • Exploring atria. Yellow for balconies. Offices cut off from curved facade by the structure    
  • The 1971 Climatroffice project that Buckminster Fuller, whose thinking has been a perennial source of inspiration for the practice. Both these projects offer the vision of benign, flexible internal spaces within a lightweight envelope    
  • Sketch    
  • Construction    
  • Skyline construction    
  • Skyline render    
  • Visualization of site    
  • Massing models show different ways to achieve the same floor space    
  • Massing models show different ways to achieve the same floor space    
  • Massing models show different ways to achieve the same floor space    
  • Massing models show different ways to achieve the same floor space    
  • There are lower air speeds and little down-draught near the ground around 30 St Mary Axe    
  • Airflow test    
  • Wind model    
  • Anticipated temperature gradient in the dome; the two floors have displacement ventilation    
  • An atrium     
  • Airspeeds on a part partitioned floor    
  • A frames    
  • Floor installation    
  • Construction interior    
  • A-frame construction    
  • Insulation    
  • Structural details    
  • Detail section through apex    
  • Isometric of steel node from interior    
  • Detail of curtain wall cladding and isometric of steel node    

London’s first ecological tall building and an iconic addition to the city’s skyline, 30 St Mary Axe is the London headquarters of insurance company Swiss Re

30 St Mary Axe is generated by a radial plan, its energy-conscious enclosure resolves walls and roof into a continuous triangulated skin, allowing column-free floor space, light and views.

The double-glazed cladding sits outside of the structural gridshell.The offices inside have louvre blinds and a vertical laminated glass screen (convenient for attaching partitions). The void between the two sets of glazing is ventilated. The triangular atria, which have the planning benefit of leaving the office spaces almost rectangular, also provide greater daylight penetration.

Maintaining internal conditions is almost entirely about cooling. While there is little exposed thermal capacity – floors are carpeted and ceilings suspended – there is the facility to flush-through the building at night by natural ventilation.

The design of the 40-storey tower - nicknamed the Gherkin - gives the opportunity to turn most of the site at ground level into valuable public space. The trademark tapered shape of the building gives a small footprint (just under 50m across), and is perceived from the ground as less high than it actually is.


  • Begun: 2001
  • Completed: 2003
  • Floor area: 47,950m2
  • Sector: Office
  • Total cost: £130M
  • Tender date: 1999
  • Address: 30 St Mary Axe, London, EC3A 8EP, United Kingdom

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