200 years of London

Events & Construction

As the seat of the UK government, London has always been a hub of activity and historical relevance. The city has experienced many changes in the past 200 years, and many events have significantly shaped its history and build - as we will soon discover below.

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Burlington Arcade opens on Bond Street, Picadilly, London

Burlington arcade opened on 20th March 1819 by the order of George Cavendish, 1st Earl of Burlington and was one of the first shopping experiences of its kind, contributing the the rise of the modern shopping mall. Immediately offering itself as a venue for luxury goods and upmarket shops, it was one of a few covered shopping arcades built in the West in the 18th-century. As well as serving those wanting to buy jewellery and high-end fashion, it was also rumoured that the order of construction was so that the Lord's wife could shop in safety among other wealthy people, away from the busy and dirty London streets.

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London University founded

Established in 1836 - at a time when many London medical schools offered degrees only to members of the established Church of England - the University of London was incorporated as a “Metropolitan University” with the power to grant secular degrees without imposing religious tests. Ongoing expansion of the university led to the construction of the Senate House building adjacent to the British Museum, which Adolf Hitler would later plan to use as his London Headquarters. Rumour has it that this is why the building survived mostly unscathed by bombing during WW2.

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Victoria becomes queen The Euston Arch is built

Constructed from sandstone in the same year in which Victoria became Queen, The Euston Arch was the original entrance to Euston Station. Designed by architect Philip Hardwick - who produced many notable London railway station designs in his time - he was inspired by the Roman architecture he was exposed to whilst studying in Italy. The arch was removed in 1960 when Euston Station was rebuilt, but calls for the Arch to be reconstructed for the HS2 line gateway at London Euston are being considered.

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Waterloo Station built

Despite being known as a terminus, Waterloo Station was never originally intended to be such a complex hub. Continued expansion of the station eventually resulted in 16 platforms. Interestingly, only 10 numbers were allocated to platforms, some of which were duplicated and located on different levels. As you might imagine, the haphazardous layout and quirkiness of the station led to much confusion and frustration amongst its commuters! By 1899 the station would finally be given permission for a rebuild following increased pressure from the public.

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Crystal Palace constructed

Designed by architect Joseph Paxton to host the Great Exhibition of 1851, The Crystal Palace was a marvel of engineering, boasting a modular design of wood, glass and iron. Paxton’s design led to many architectural breakthroughs that would inspire future builds, unmatched as it was by no other conventional building of its time. A perfect embodiment of the industrial greatness for which the Great Exhibition was intended, the Crystal Palace would sadly be destroyed by fire some forty years later.

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London Underground: construction begins

The world’s first underground railway, London Underground opened in January 1863 between Paddington and Farringdon. The first trains comprised steam locomotives, which hauled gas-lit wooden carriages. The first deep-level tube lines would open in 1890, marking the world’s first underground use of an electric-powered train.

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Palace of Westminster completed

More commonly known as the Houses of Parliament, the Palace of Westminster was originally erected in 1016 and is thought to have been used as a royal residence during the reign of King Canute the Great. The original palace was destroyed by fire in 1834, and reconstruction commenced in 1840 with a gothic-inspired design by architect Charles Barry. Barry’s newer design, which was inspired by the neo-classical principle of symmetry, was completed in 1870. The Palace sports three main towers, the tallest of which is 323ft.

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Royal Albert Hall construction completed

The Royal Albert Hall was originally proposed by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, following the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Designed by civil engineers Major-General Henry Y. D. and Captain Francis Fowke, the two designers were heavily inspired by ancient amphitheatres and the work of German architect Gottfriend Semper. Unfortunately Prince Albert would never live long enough to see the construction of his Royal Albert Hall, as he passed away in 1861 before the Hall was finished.

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Tower Bridge construction completed

One of the most iconic symbols of London, Tower Bridge was specifically designed so that it would not block sailing ships from accessing port facilities between the Tower of London and London Bridge. The final design was by architect Sir Horace Jones and Sir John Wolfe Barry was appointed engineer for the project. Construction of Tower Bridge commenced in 1886. Over 70,000 tons of concrete were submerged into the riverbed to support the structure, along with 11,000 tons of steel comprising the framework for the walkways and towers. The bridge was completed and opened in 1894 by the then Prince of Wales (future King Edward VII).

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Queen Victoria dies, Edward VII succeeds her

Following the death of her beloved Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria spent the remainder of her life dressed in black. By 1896 she had become the longest-reigning monarch in British history (surpassing her grandfather, George III). Towards the end of 1900, Victoria’s eyesight was clouded by cataracts while rheumatism in her legs prevented her from walking. By January, she fell into a state of confusion and died on Tuesday 22nd January 1901. She was buried in white with her favourite pet Pomeranian, Turi. The reign of Victoria would see a time of significant expansion of the British Empire, as well as cultural, industrial, political, scientific, and military revolution.

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Westminster Cathedral construction completed

Construction of Westminster Cathedral - the largest Catholic church building in England and Wales - commenced in 1895. Designed by architect John Francis Bentley, the build was heavily influenced by the Byzantine style, the most obvious elements of which are its nave and the campanile bell tower, which is 273ft high. The cathedral was opened in 1903, but Bentley would not live to see it finished (he died the year before it was finished).

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Edward VII dies, succeeded by George V

The eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Edward VII’s reign lasted from 22nd January 1901 until his death in 1910 as a result of ongoing health issues (he was a heavy smoker and had received treatment for cancer several years prior). His eldest son, George V, succeeded his father as king. Many major changes to the political landscape would take place during George’s rein, including the rise of fascism, communism, socialism, the Indian independence movement and Irish republicanism.

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The Great War begins

On 28th June 1914, the Austro-Hungarian heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip - a Bosnian Serb Yugoslav nationalist. A series of diplomatic and military escalations soon ensued, ultimately leading to the outbreak of World War I. On 31st May 1915, London fell victim to its first aerial bombing raid, which was carried out by a zeppelin. Explosives were dropped from the zeppelin over the East End and docks, and Germany would carry out a further ten such raids over London between 1915 and 1917.

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The Great War ends

The Great War led to a revolution in modernised weaponry and warfare tactics, including the use of chemical weapons, aircraft and armoured tank warfare. The Allied Powers would eventually defeat Germany (although the latter did not formally surrender). On 'the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month' a ceasefire was declared. The Great War would finally come to an end on 28th June 1919 following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, but at unimaginable cost: as one the deadliest conflicts in history, it led to an estimated 16 million deaths, not all of which were on the battlefield, but many from infection epidemics that flourished in the wartime conditions.

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Wembley Stadium opened

Originally known as the British Empire Exhibition Stadium, Wembley Stadium was opened by King George V on 28th April 1923. Designed by architects Maxwell Ayrton and Sir John Simpson, alongside head engineer Sir Owen Williams, the stadium earned the nickname “Twin Towers” due to its distinctive towers. Despite becoming grade II listed buildings in 1976, its iconic towers were demolished in 2003 to make way for the construction of the new Wembley Stadium.

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The Wall Street Crash sparks the Great Depression

The Roaring Twenties, the ten-year period following World War 1, was a time of economic prosperity and excesses built on post-war optimism. It was widely believed that the market would continue to prosper indefinitely, but on 25th March 1929, the Federal Reserve issued a warning on the dangers of excessive speculation, instantly prompting investors to start selling stocks at a rapid pace. Starting on 24th October 1929, share prices on the New York Stock Exchange began falling and collapsed by 29th October. The Crash was the most devastating stock market crash in American history, and marked the beginning of The Great Depression, which would last for 12 years and affect much all industrialised western countries, including London.

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Battersea Power Station A construction complete

This iconic London structure was designed by a team of architects headed by Dr. Leonard Pearce, chief engineer of the London Power Company, although other notable engineers were also involved in the project. Designed in the brick-cathedral style, Battersea is one of only several such UK power stations that are still in existence to this day. The station’s appearance has always been popular, and in 1939 was ranked second best modern building by a celebrity panel in The Architectural Review. In addition to its iconic exterior, the station is also renowned for its lavish Art Deco interior decor. However, its iconic four-chimney appearance would not be completed until some twenty years later.

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George V dies, Crystal Palace destroyed by fire, Senate House construction completed

Injury during the First World War and heavy smoking took a toll on George V’s health. By 20th January 1936, George was close to death - his physicians administered euthanasia to hasten his passing. George’s eldest son, Edward VIII, succeeded his father as King of the United Kingdom. Edward would subsequently abdicate the throne in November - less than a year after succeeding his father as King. That same month, The Crystal Palace was destroyed in a fire and the construction of the Senate House was completed.

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George VI crowned king

Following the abdication of Edward VIII, his brother Albert (or Bertie, as he was known by family) took his place as King. Initiated as George VI in December 1936, his reign lasted until his death in 1952. George’s reign would see many changes to the British Empire, including decolonisation, the ultimate end of the Empire and its subsequent transition into the Commonwealth; as well as the outbreak of World War 2. His eldest daughter, Elizabeth, would become Queen after his death.

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World War II begins

The Great Depression had plunged the world into recession. Resentment amongst the German people over what was widely believed to be unfair terms in the Treaty of Versailles also led to growing Nationalism. Adolf Hitler took advantage of his country’s economic decline and growing resentment. He seized power in Germany in 1933 and abolished democracy, espousing a racially-motivated new order. By 1935, Hitler violated the terms of the 1919 peace treaty by establishing the Luftwaffe and remilitarising the Rhineland. On 1st September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand declared war on Germany on 3rd September after Germany ignored ultimatums to cease military operations.

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Winston Churchill becomes prime minister, Battle of Britain, The Blitz

On 10th May 1940, an imminent German invasion of France was the final straw for many in the British government, who had little confidence in Prime Minister Chamberlain’s contribution to the war effort. Winston Churchill was sworn in as the new Prime Minister. Under Churchill’s leadership, Britain successfully defend itself during The Battle Of Britain, which took place between 10th July and 31st October 1940. The battle was the first major military campaign fought entirely by air forces, with immense German evening raids against London (commonly referred to as The Blitz). Through these dark times, Churchill’s masterful oratory inspired and gripped the nation.

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World War II ends

By 1945, the war had taken its toll across the globe. By the New Year, the Soviet Union liberated Auschwitz, revealing the sickening scale of Hitler’s Holocaust. Meanwhile, the Western Allies raced the Soviets to Berlin. Hitler killed himself 9 days later, and Germany formally surrendered on 7th May. The following day, Europe celebrated Victory in Europe (VE) - war in Europe was over! But war raged on in The Pacific. On the 6th August, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and three days later another was dropped in Nagasaki. Unable to defend themselves against such destruction, Japan surrendered 5 days later. World War 2 was the deadliest conflict in human history, out surpassing the death toll of WW1. It is estimated that up to 85 million people lost their lives during the conflict, many of whom were civilians in China and the Soviet Union.

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Elizabeth II becomes queen

King George VI’s health had deteriorated during the war, exacerbated by his heavy smoking. George developed lung cancer and other health issues, prompting him to allocate many of his royal duties to his eldest daughter and heir apparent, Elizabeth. On the morning of 6th February, the king was found dead in his bed at Sandringham House in Norfolk - he was 56 years old. His daughter, Elizabeth, was on tour in Kenya at the time of his death; she travelled back to Britain as Queen Elizabeth II. She would go on to become the longest-reigning British monarch in history, outspurpassing her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria’s, reign.

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Battersea Power Station B construction complete

While Battersea Power Station is renowned for its four-chimneys, prior to 1953 the power station didn’t boast its iconic appearance until station ‘B’ was completed. Construction of the Battersea ‘B’ station took place several months after World War 2, in order to increase the station’s capacity to 590 megawatts, making it the third-largest power station in the UK. ‘B’ station was completed and began operating in 1953, generating one fifth of all of London’s electricity (it took 28 other stations to generate the rest).

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Bomb explodes at the top of the Post Office Tower, damaging three floors.

On 19th May 1971, a bomb was detonated in the roof of the Post Office Tower (now known as the BT Tower). The bombing was originally blamed on the Provisional IRA, but was later found to have been planted there by The Angry Brigade - a left-wing revolutionary group. The incident led to the tower being mostly closed off to the public, but it is occasionally used for corporate events and is perhaps best known for playing host to a call centre for Children in Need.

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Margaret Thatcher becomes prime minister

On 4th May 1978, Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first female Prime Minister. Her Conservative premiership saw her battle a country in recession by raising interest rates to control inflation. A controversial prime minister, she is probably best known for pulling apart Britain’s traditional industries through her attacks on the miner’s union and her privatisation of public transport and social housing. She would go on to serve three terms as Prime Minister, before resigning in 1990 after losing much of the support from her own party.

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Princess Diana is killed in a car crash, Tony Blair becomes prime minister

Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party in 1994 and, 3 years later, his party won the general election and he became Prime Minister. The youngest Labour Party leader in history, his “New Labour” government advocated tax cuts, fighting crime and boosting trade ties with other countries. On 31st August 1997, Blair would have to address a bereaved Britain: Princess Diana - who was visiting Paris with her lover, Dodi Fayed - was involved in a car crash after trying to escape from the paparazzi. Diana, Fayed and their driver died from the collision, and Diana’s death shocked the world. Her funeral ceremony took place at Westminster Abbey.

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Shakespeare's Globe construction completed

The Globe Theatre, situated in the London Borough of Southwark, was originally constructed in 1599 by the Lord Chamberlain's Men and was destroyed by fire on 29 June 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII due to a misfired theatrical cannon which ignited some of the timber beams and thatching. 1997 saw the completion of a modern reconstruction of the Globe following the dedication and determination of American actor and director Sam Wanamaker, who spent 23 years fundraising for the reconstruction following his first visit to London in 1949. It has since been named Shakespeare’s Globe.

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The London Eye construction completed

Taking pride of place on the South Bank of the Thames, The London Eye is the world’s tallest observation wheel. Standing an impressive 135 meters high and weighing in at 1700 tons, the wheel can carry 800 passengers at any one time. The Eye was formerly opened by Tony Blair on 31st December 1999, although it was not open to the public until March 2000.

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The Millennium Dome construction completed

Originally designed to house an exhibition to for the millennium celebrations, the Millennium Dome was an impressive construction project. Its central structure is in fact the largest dome in the world, boasting almost twice the area of the former record holder (the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, USA). Despite the dome’s eventual success as a venue, its construction and management was heavily criticised in the press at the time leading up to its opening.

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30 St Mary Axe (The Gherkin) construction completes

This seemingly innocuous address is in fact home to The Gherkin - one of London’s most well-known skyscrapers. Designed by architect Ken Shuttleworth (who also helped design The Millenium Bridge), the tower’s unique design has made it the recipient of many awards, including the Emporis Skyscraper Award and the Stirling Prize. The building even featured in the movie Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Construction of The Gherkin started in 2001 and was completed in 2003.

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7/7 suicide bomb attacks on London's transport system

During the morning rush hour of 7th July 2005, a series of terrorist suicide attacks shook London, targeting commuters on the city’s public transport system. The incident involved three separate bombs on London Underground trains, plus a fourth which detonated on the top deck of a double decker bus. The incident claimed the lives of 52 innocent commuters.

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New Wembley Stadium: Construction completed in time for the 2007 FA Cup Final

Bulit on the site of the original Wembley Stadium (which was demolished between 2002-2003), the new Wembley Stadium boasts 90,000 seats, a retractable roof, and a 133 metre-high arch in place of its predecessors iconic twin towers. The new Wembley Stadium is the largest football stadium in the world, as well as the second-largest stadium in Europe (the largest stadium being Camp Nou in Barcelona).

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Crossrail construction begins

This high frequency, high capacity railway line for London and the South East commenced construction in May 2009. The project comprises the Elizabeth Line, providing a 10% increase in rail capacity in central London. Involving the construction of 10 new stations, 42 kilometers of new tunnels, over 50 kilometres of new track, as well as significant upgrades across the existing rail infrastructure, the crossrail project is projected to generate a £42bn boost to the UK economy.

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Westfield Stratford City completed and opened

Boasting 1,905,542 square feet of space, 350 stores and 3 floors; Westfield in Stratford is one of the largest shopping centres in Europe. In terms of retail space, it is the fourth-largest shopping centre in the UK. When including the surrounding shopping area, it is the second largest urban shopping centre in the EU. Westfield Stratford City opened in September 2011.

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Queens Jubilee Celebration

Queen Elizabeth II began celebrating her Diamond Jubilee on 6th February 2012 (the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne). The international celebrations took place across the 16 sovereign states in which she is head of state. The only other British monarch in history to have celebrated a diamond jubilee is Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.

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London Olympic Games, The Shard construction is completed

Also in 2012, The Shard - a 1, 016 ft high skyscraper - was opened on 5th July 2012 in Southwark, London. It is the tallest building in the UK, the tallest in the EU, and the 96th-tallest building in the world. On 27th July 2012, London hosted the Olympic Games for a third time (having previously hosted them in 1948 and 1908). Preparations for the games required significant redevelopment in parts of London, with sustainability being a key focus. The crowning achievement was a 490-acre Olympic Park, developed on a former industrial site in Stratford.

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122 Leadenhall / Cheesegrater building completed

122 Leadenhall Street, also referred to informally as The Cheesegrater due to its distinctive shape, was designed by Richard Rogers (famous for his high-tech, modernist architecture). Construction was completed in July 2013, and the building’s unique, tapered facade exposes a set of steel bracings and a ladder frame. Unlike other skyscrapers which rely on a concrete core for stability, The Cheesegrater boats the world’s tallest steel “Megaframe” to provide stability.

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Walkie Talkie Building completed

It’s no wonder why 20 Fenchurch Street is commonly referred to as the “Walkie-Talkie”: its distinctive. post-modern shape designed by Rafael Viñoly is often likened to the communications device. This 38-storey building, with its own public “skypark” at the top of the building, is the sixth-tallest building in the City of London. It has unfortunately been the subject of controversy over its appearance and location, particularly on the visual impact of nearby Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral.

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Tottenham hotspur stadium demolished

White Hart Lane - the original Tottenham Hotspur football stadium - was demolished at the end of the 2016-2017 season (it was the club’s 25th season in the Premier League). Known nostalgically amongst Spurs fans as The Lane, its 118-year history saw the stadium play host to over 2,500 Spurs games. Its bowl-shaped successor is currently under construction at the time of writing and is set to open in 2019, with a capacity of 62,062.

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Beetham Tower (One Blackfriars / The Vase) construction complete

The quirky nickname “The Vase” is certainly appropriate for the distinctive shape of One Blackfriars. Designed by architect Ian Simpson, this 52-storey tower comprises retail space, residential flats and even a hotel. Due to its slope-like shape, some have proposed that One Blackfriars should instead be called “The Tummy”.

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Carillion goes into liquidation with debts of £1,500,000,000

Construction services company Carillion employed over 43,000 staff across the globe, half of which were based in the UK where most of its business was conducted. After experiencing financial difficulties in 2017, on the 15th January 2018 Carillion entered compulsory liquidation with some £7 billion in liabilities. The total cost to the UK taxpayer has been estimated at up to £180 million, with the insolvency causing delays and shutdowns in major construction projects, job losses (over 3,000 redundancies in Carillion plus its many affected suppliers), financial losses to suppliers, lenders and partners; and to the 27,000 workers and ex-workers who held a Carillion pension.

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Bracken House completed

Originally the former home of the Financial Times newspaper in the 1950s before it relocated to Southwark in 1989, Bracken House has recently undergone a major makeover. New Bracken House was designed by John Robertson Architects, with construction completed in 2018. Its original occupants, the Financial Times, have since moved back in to their (now refitted) former headquarters.

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Rotherhithe bridge - Mayor targets 'ambitious' 2024 opening date

The Rotherhithe bridge is a proposed pedestrian and cyclist bridge that is currently in the planning stage. First proposed in 2008, the construction contract was awarded to Atkins in 2018. The final bridge design is yet to be agreed. One such design is the RefForm design - a bascule bridge described by the designers as “highly efficient, requiring only £10 of energy to open”.

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22 Bishopsgate

Currently under construction at the time of writing, 22 Bishopsgate (originally nicknamed The Pinnacle), was originally supposed to boast a “helter skelter” style exterior. However, development had stalled and the building has since been redesigned. Originally planned to be the tallest skyscraper in London, at 262m tall it will instead become the tallest building in the financial district.