London’s Surprisingly Graceful New Skyscraper, Revealed

The upcoming 1 Undershaft tower won’t look like the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater, or the Walkie-Talkie buildings. In fact, it’s kind of modest.

DBOX / Eric Parry Architects

Rising over 1,000 feet in the air, 1 Undershaft will one day be London’s tallest skyscraper. The project will take its place among the Shard, the Cheesegrater, and the Gherkin as buildings that have utterly transformed the city’s skyline in recent years—to mixed reviews.

Eric Parry Architects, a London-based architecture firm, debuted plans Tuesday for 1 Undershaft in the City, London’s financial district. The building will take up residence between Norman Foster’s Gherkin and Richard Rogers’s Cheesegrater. But while it will stand head over shoulders above those towers, it’s considerably less flashy. In fact, 1 Undershaft is one understated property.

DBOX / Eric Parry Architects

Olly Wainwright, who spoke with Parry about the tower, writes in The Guardian that the architect took a deliberately non-confrontational approach with this project. Parry describes the design as “calm,” something it accomplishes in part through horizontal white louvres running up the side of the building. From street level, the tower will appear to be white.

At the top of the tower, color-changing paint will make the upper levels appear rainbow colored, while the cross bracing that ties the building together in diagonals will be red. “Our tower aims to combine the autumnal beauty of rust red with the bright white of spring,” Parry told The Guardian.

Parry’s design for 1 Undershaft may be just what London needs. Another archimorphic building (such as the Can of Ham) might turn the city into a cartoon. Imagine the next building in the City of London to follow in the way of the Gherkin or the Cheesegrater—perhaps a Peppergrinder, or a Sprig of Rosemary, or maybe a Slotted Spoon to complete the Square-Mile Pantry. This project, by contrast, looks like a luminescent stick of butter.

Joking aside, the design is surprising in two ways. The first is the firm that made it: Eric Parry Architects’s portfolio boasts mostly smaller office and residential projects, such as 4 Pancras Square or 5 Aldermanbury Square. This is no knock against the firm; Parry beat out David Chipperfield,David Walker, and PLP (once part of Kohn Pedersen Fox) for the commission.

The other eyebrow-raising element—judging from just a few renderings, mind you—is the cross bracing. In this respect, the design of 1 Undershaft strongly resembles the look of NEO Bankside, the Stirling Prize–shortlisted luxury residential project designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners just across the Thames. Outside the Stirling jury, nobody seems to like these condo buildings, which is all the more reason to avoid echoing that façade.

PLP Architecture

Maybe 1 Undershaft will undercut any comparison: The City of London has other things to worry about—namely 22 Bishopsgate. This project, designed by PLP, is utterly enormous, like several individual skyscrapers glued together into one. Wainwright reports that the project will have more floor area than the Cheesegrater and the Walkie-Talkie combined, and suggests larger changes coming to the city’s skyline in the future.