26 November 2010
Last updated at 02:20
London Bridge Tower will soon be the UK's tallest building and as is customary for modern skyscrapers, has a nickname based on its shape - the Shard. It will join the Gherkin, the Razor and the Filing Cabinet, with the Cucumber and Cheese Grater to come.
The Shard was conceived on the back of a napkin at a Berlin restaurant in 2000, by architect Renzo Piano. He was inspired by the railway lines next to the site, the London spires of Venetian painter Canaletto and the sailing masts of the capital's past.
Unusually shaped buildings have been around since the Pyramids, but computer technology has propelled us into a new era of innovation, says Ian Latham of Architecture Today. Broadcasting Place in Leeds was this year voted the world's best tall building.
The World Financial Centre in Shanghai and Dubai's Burj Khalifa show building tall and straight has become a rare event. But Mr Latham believes cities need to strike a balance between "look at me" constructions and more discreet, "background" buildings.
“At the moment there’s a tendency for architects to want to try to outdo each other," says Latham. In the 1970s, architectural designs were still being hand-drawn and consequently the landmark constructions were more conventional in nature.
Architect Robin Partington has the Gherkin, the Razor (right), the Armadillo in Glasgow and the Cucumber (above) on his CV. "Nicknames can often reinforce the identity and branding of the building, but can also conflict with the corporate vision."
The Gherkin in London opened in 2004 and was one of the first major buildings to earn a moniker based on its unusual shape, which consigned the names 30 St Mary Axe and the Swiss Re building to the fusty pages of industry journals.
A curious public coined it The Gherkin as it went up, says architecture critic Jonathan Glancey, but it started a trend. "Architects don't like nicknames because they make their buildings seem silly but developers do because they want to maximise profits."
"For them, nicknames get the public on side. Like the Red Nose Day effect, they make the buildings comic and fun. They take the fear out of what are huge behemoths, but it means we turn them into cuddly toys, which they are not."
Fun names are a British trait, says Glancey, because architecture is not taken so seriously. The Chrysler and Empire State buildings haven't got nicknames because New Yorkers are proud of their skyline, he says. But it's a fad and it will pass, he thinks.