search Jobs

Main Contractor

London’s Iconic Buildings

What is London’s most iconic building and what makes a building iconic?

When you think of any major city, you almost instinctively associate an iconic building residing within its quarters as a kind of visual reminder or representative. 

Think Paris – Eiffel Tower.  Sydney – Opera house.  Rome – Colosseum

That got us to thinking – what is London’s most iconic building and what exactly is it that makes a building so iconic? We asked the good people at Novo Towers to tell us which iconic building instantly came to mind when they thought of London and here is our top 3.

Number 1 -  30 St Mary Axe (The Gherkin) & The Shard

Despite the magnificent historical and cultural landmarks built throughout London’s glorious history including buildings which have literally stood for hundreds of years, the 2 buildings receiving the most ‘nominations’ from the good people of Novo were both opened within the last 15 years. 

What both The Gherkin and The Shard lack in historical importance, they more than makeup for in engineering and architectural design. 

Our Head of Fit Out – Ben Gatt – gave his reasoning for selecting The Gherkin:

“With mezzanine flooring throughout, curved glass facades, brilliant white curved structural beams twisting through to the iconic Searcys restaurant over the top two floors, the Gherkin was well ahead of its time and has been the pace-setter for all modern architecture in London.  A true example of commercial beauty soaring in to London’s dominating skyline”. 

The Shard is simply unmissable and instantly recognisable.  The design was frowned upon - and is still questioned - by traditionalists who fear the modern spike design callously cuts through London’s historic skyline but architect Renzo Piano remained true to his design and the rest is history.  One thing is for sure, love it or loath it, at 310m tall The Shard is, without doubt, the most imposing building either side of the Thames and has certainly stamped its authority as London’s newest emblem.

Number 2- Houses of Parliament (Palace of Westminster)

With a 900 year heritage stemming from Anglo Saxon origins, the Palace of Westminster is, without doubt, one of the most striking pieces of architecture to grace the banks of the river Thames.  Once a Medieval palace, the parliament buildings went through various reformations over the next few hundred years until tragically the vast majority of the buildings were destroyed by fire in 1834.  After much debate, the rebuilding of the Palace commenced in 1840, taking on the neo-gothic style which we see today, incorporating the few structures that survived the Great fire.

With close to 1 million visitors in 2016 and many more admirers from externally – this exceptional structure of historical importance is clearly still one of London’s most symbolic buildings

Number 3 – Big Ben & St Paul’s Cathedral

In joint 3rd we remain with historical landmarks still making an impression on London’s skyline.

Forming part of the Palace of Westminster, Big Ben / the Clock Tower was not part of the original building – only coming in to construction during the rebuild after the great fire in 1834.  Standing at 320ft, the clock tower was also built in the revival gothic style and soars gloriously in to the sky acting as an emblem of parliamentary democracy. 

And whilst on New Year’s Eve the fireworks become more and more elaborate every year and try to steal the show, Big Ben still takes centre stage as the clock strikes 12 and is recognised worldwide for bringing in the New Year to the UK

Designed by Britain’s most famous Architect Sir Christopher Wren, St Paul’s Cathedral is at least the forth version of the church to have stood on this site.  Built between 1675 and 1710, this imposing architectural feat was designed in stages as the project progressed.

The distinctive St Paul’s dome was actually remodelled and modified several times during construction – something incomprehensible in today’s architectural / building practices.  

“In that dome, Wren used all his engineering know-how to maximise beauty, while concealing the practical workings that supported the whole thing.” wrote Harry Mount in his “Lovers Guide to British Buildings from Portcullis to Pebbledash”  He goes on to say:

“Wren's dome is still the silhouette that your eye settles on whenever you cross the Thames; the robust, swelling silhouette that signified London's resistance against Nazi terror during the Blitz.”

So there you have it – our top 3 picks for London’s most iconic buildings.

As for what makes a building iconic, I think this research has produced more questions than answers which we will delve in to another time.  Can a modern building really be more iconic than a building steeped in history?  Does it depend on what demographic of people you ask?  Does the idea of being iconic change depending on nationality/culture /religion?