Battersea Power Station
The majestic upside-down table’s legs are still standing despite years of neglect and stalled negotiations – its oil-fired chimneys last choked our skies almost 30 years ago. Far from a white elephant, Giles Glbert Scott's red-brick oddity is every inch an enduring London landmark: forget the pomp of Buckingham Palace. Its Grade-II-listed future now rests with a Malaysian property consortium, but spiritually it still belongs to us.
Despite the Prince of Wales’s bleating, Sir Colin St John Wilson’s epic new-build for the venerable old library finally opened in 1998, after a 30-year battle with planners. Its airy interior, influenced by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto’s famous public buildings, links seamlessly with the graduating steps of the outdoor amphitheatre-style plaza outside. Its lively and undulating red brick facade, rather than being reviled as a carbuncle, should be lauded for its sympathy with its neighbour on Euston Road, the St Pancras station and hotel complex.
The British Museum
One of the world’s greatest and oldest museums wears its new hat well, with Sir Norman Foster’s stunning Great Court addition in 2000 having long ago firmly replaced any lingering nostalgia for the old circular Reading Room. The BM’s imposing Greek revival façade reflects the rest of the building’s function as a repository for civilisation’s many memories and stories, however controversial its wonderful contents might be, especially in the case of the Elgin Marbles.
30 St Mary Axe (The Gherkin)
Colloquially known as the Gherkin and formerly as the Swiss Re Tower, Sir Norman Foster’s glassy and conical skyscraper, opened in 2004, surveys the square mile of the City like no other structure. Bookending, rather than blighting, the horizon line, it is now synonymous with twenty-first-century London.
The Houses of Parliament
The Palace of Westminster and its clock tower (the two should never be considered separately) was Sir Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin’s 1870 masterpiece of gothic revival, sited on King Canute’s 900-year-old medieval seat of power. Its complex sweep of towers, crenellations and steeples is a symbol not just of English architectural ingenuity and eccentricity, but also of the very foundations of parliamentary democracy (even if some of its inhabitants don’t always do it justice).
The Barbican Centre
Built on an ambitious scale, in an area severely damaged during World War II, Chamberlin, Powell and Bon's Barbican complex – comprising the arts centre and well-maintained surrounding housing estate with its concrete tower blocks, and water feature and fountains at its centre – is one of the few examples of idealised, high-rise living as it was intended to be. Its flats are still some of the most sought-after in the capital.
Lloyd's of London
Now more than 25 years old, Richard Rogers designed his famous ‘inside-out’ building as much more than a confrère to his stunning Pompidou Centre in Paris: it’s more like office architecture from outer space and is the antithesis of a smooth skyscraper. The externalisation of the staircases, service ducts and lift shafts was influenced by the traditions of church steeples and gothic towers, and allowed the central atrium to float up through the entire building.
Natural History Museum
Combining renaissance design and romanesque detailing, Alfred Waterhouse’s main Natural History Museum building, opened in 1881, was designed to be a ‘temple to nature’. With its striking, rounded arch entrance, terracotta tiling, grand central staircase and sculptures and painted and relief detailing of plants and animals, both inside and out, it more than fulfils the brief.
Swaminarayan Hindu Temple, Neasden
Opened in 1995 and featuring white marble domes, elaborate carvings and an ornate interior, the Swaminarayan Hindu Temple, constructed to traditional designs by eighth-generation Ahmedebad architect CB Sompura, is not only a striking building but a striking example of community spirit; much of the fundraising and basic building work undertaken to complete the temple was carried out by a team of more than a thousand volunteers.
105-119 Brentfield Road, NW10 8LD
The Royal Courts of Justice
This classic example of cathedral-like, late Victorian Gothic revival architecture was designed by GE Street and opened by Queen Victoria herself in 1882. It's the location of both the High Court and the Appeals Court by day, but in the evening and at weekends it’s one of the capital’s premier events venues, used for fashion shows, private parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs and Frieze Art Fair after-parties.
This elegant ziggurat, currently the library of the University of London, was London’s second skyscraper, designed by Charles Holden in 1937. Perhaps more suited to its WWII tenants, the Ministry of Information (indeed, one employee, George Orwell, set his shadowy novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ there), its strikingly cool air of mystery could only be improved had Holden’s proposed collaboration with sculptor Jacob Epstein not been vetoed.
South Bank Complex
Built for the 1951 Festival of Britain, the Royal Festival Hall (now Grade I-listed) is an elegant example of optimistic postwar modernism. Built from re-enforced concrete, the later additions of the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room (1967) and Hayward Gallery (1968) may be less pretty but, along with the separately run Royal National Theatre next door, completed in 1977, are equally important examples of classic brutalist architecture.
St Pancras Station and Hotel
In architecture, as in any other form of design, fashions can be fickle, and Sir George Gilbert Scott’s St Pancras Station and Hotel was almost demolished in the 1960s (and was later left to fall into disrepair), when the grand, gothic-style Victorian edifice with its red brick towers, and pinnacles and sweeping glass and steel station interior were definitely out of style. Thankfully it’s now been restored to its former glory, providing a suitably stately gateway to London for European rail visitors.
St Paul's Cathedral
A beautiful, hulking presence on London’s skyline since 1710, Sir Christopher Wren’s soaring dome represents not just the pinnacle of his career, but the high point of a short-lived flowering of British baroque too. Before it was spruced up and even while it was temporarily ‘Occupied’ in 2011-12, the cathedral has been and will always remain our answer to world-class classical architecture.
The fifth-most-visited museum in the world only opened just over a decade ago in 2000 after Herzog & de Meuron’s spectacular repurposing of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s second most famous art deco power station. It has retained its exterior dignity and trademark chimney, but also much of its cavernous interior too, ensuring that it continues to exert power over visitors long after it ceased generating.
The original Globe Theatre, where many of William Shakespeare's plays were first staged, may have burned to the ground in 1613 but this unique, fully functional reconstruction, a labour of love initiated by American actor and director Sam Wanamaker, successfully transports an atmosphere of Elizabethan London to the present day.
The Hoover Building
With its Egyptian-inspired detailing, this majestic 1933 white and green art deco masterpiece was designed by Wallis, Gilbert and Partners and originally housed vacuum cleaner company Hoover’s main manufacturing operation. After Hoover moved to new premises the future of the site looked uncertain but the building found an unlikely saviour in supermarket giant Tesco, who worked with English Heritage on its restoration, adding a supermarket at the back. Fans include Elvis Costello, who wrote the song ‘Hoover Factory’ about the building in the 1970s.
Western Avenue, Perivale, Greenford, UB6 8DW
As contentious as it is tall, Renzo Piano's tripod-shaped, glass-clad building is transforming not just London Bridge but almost every panoramic view across London. At 310 metres high, it's the EU's tallest structure and an astonishing feat of cutting-edge engineering: its steel tip has to withstand wind speeds of up to 100mph. A vertical city within a city, the Shard contains offices, apartments, a hotel and, most excitingly, a four-storey observation deck on floors 68 to 72.
The Tower of London
Currently home to the Crown Jewels, ravens and yeoman wardens, London’s fortress tower has been the location of more dramatic scenes from English history than any other building. Its origins date back to William the Conqueror, who first built a tower on the site in 1100, since when it has not only been a royal residence but housed a branch of the Royal Mint, a menagerie, which became the basis for London Zoo, and a prison bearing witness to numerous tortures, executions and imprisonments, including those of Anne Boleyn, Guy Fawkes and Ronnie and Reggie Kray.
Completed in 1972, Ernö Goldfinger's 31-storey Trellick Tower, built as social housing in the style of Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation, is perhaps London's most famous brutalist building, and has gained iconic status among architecture fans. The Grade II-listed block is a desirable address, with the most sought-after of the 200-or-so flats in the upper storeys boasting views as far as the South Downs.
Polo 24 Hour Bar
Immediately opposite the main entrance to Liverpool Street station, this 24-hour café tempts all day and all night. It serves classic breakfast and brunches alongside an evening menu focusing on British favourites. The drinks list ranges from Twinings teas and Italian coffees to local craft beers, English ciders, wines from the new world and champagne. Our most recent visit was on a Sunday morning. The seating on the first floor can be cramped; avoid the corridor perches if you can, as this can feel like dining on a crowded commuter train as customers and waiting staff jostle by. Our breakfasts took a while to arrive, and although the chef might not be a finalist for MasterChef, the meal the job: filling, and competently made. The quality of the maple syrup and the hollandaise sauce could have been a little less like catering pack fare, but with dishes costing under a tenner, you can hardly expect Gregg Wallace and John Torode to be regulating the ingredient quality. Polo is a fast turnaround caff that should set you up for the day ahead, at whatever time of day you’re dropping by.