The Gherkin Building, London

The Gherkin London, Nickname, Architect, Swiss Re Tower Building, British Design, Photo

The Gherkin Building

30 St Mary’s Axe London – Nickname: British Skyscraper, England, UK

9 Jul 2015

The Gherkin – building nickname of the century

British Building Nickname of the Century

The Gherkin” is “nickname of the century”: poll on building nicknames

8th July 1015 – News Release – Embargoed Until 00:01 am Thursday, 9th July 2015

“The Gherkin” is “nickname of the century”: poll on building nicknames

It beats “The Cheese-Grater” and “The Walkie-Talkie” as
best-known nickname of any new UK building this century: YouGov poll

“It may be the greatest nickname since Big Ben”
(Was Big Ben The Gherkin of its day?)

“The Armadillo” (Wales Millennium Centre) is top non-London nickname
“The Armadillo” (London’s City Hall) is top nickname of non-skyscraper

British Building Nickname of the Century

LONDON – Thursday 8th July 1015. The Gherkin is the “nickname of the century”, suggests a poll to find the best-known nickname of any new building in Britain since the year 2000.

The Gherkin building in London:
Gherkin building Gherkin building
photographs © Adrian Welch

The Cheese-Grater and the Walkie-Talkie, the nicknames of two other London skyscrapers, rank second and third respectively in the poll of 2,141 Britons conducted by YouGov on behalf of Skanska, the Swedish construction company which built The Gherkin.

Nicknames for high profile new buildings, and skyscrapers in particular, are all the modern rage, to the point where no smart new edifice seems complete without one.

The Gherkin, however, emerges from the YouGov poll as by far the most widely known such name. Over three times as many Britons (72%) have heard of it as The Cheese-Grater in second place (23%) and the Walkie-Talkie in third (19%).

“The Gherkin may be the most successful such nickname since Big Ben was completed in 1858”, says Paul Heather, Managing Director for Skanska’s London and South-East building business. (And even Big Ben, strictly speaking, was the nickname of the clock bell rather than the tower housing it.)

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of Britons have heard of The Gherkin, while nearly nine in 10 (86%) of Londoners have done so. This also makes The Gherkin the only new UK building that is nearly as famous nationally as locally.

“The Gherkin has become the famous name of a famous building”, says Heather. “The Gherkin itself is an icon not just of the London skyline but of modern Britain, if not of modern architecture itself.”

The YouGov poll was restricted to buildings to have opened in the UK this century and to their nicknames rather than official or formal ones.

The official name of the Gherkin is 30 St Mary Axe, which is also its address in the City of London. It, however, is far less used than the Gherkin nickname, which derives from the building’s alleged resemblance to a variety of pickled cucumber.

The Gherkin was designed by architect Norman Foster, constructed by Skanska and opened in 2004. In its early days it was known as the Swiss Re Building after its primary occupant, the insurance company Swiss Re, but the Gherkin nickname has long since overtaken it.

The Gherkin in London:
Swiss Re Building Swiss Re Building Swiss Re Building
photographs © Nick Weall

The Shard is another London skyscraper and landmark, with a widely known name. The fact, however, that the Shard is the building’s official name rather than its nickname ruled it out of contention for the YouGov poll. The best known of its various nicknames is The Salt Cellar, which ranks sixth in the YouGov poll. .

The fact that the three best-known nicknames of new buildings all belong to London skyscrapers may be no surprise, given that such buildings tend to be higher profile, both literally and figuratively.

The best-known nickname of any new building outside London, finds the poll, is The Armadillo, moniker of the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay. It ranks fifth nationally (despite the fact that even in Wales, only 25% of people have heard of it).

The best-known nickname of any London building that is not a skyscraper also happens to be The Armadillo (known by 10% of Britons), as in the best known of various nicknames for London’s City Hall. By further coincidence, London’s Armadillo ranks fourth in the national rankings, one place above its Cardiff namesake (9%).

While some nicknames catch the imagination and enter our shared vocabulary, others struggle for acceptance.

So, the Rust-Bucket (alias the Broadcasting Tower in Leeds), the Filing Cabinet (The Civil Justice Centre, Manchester) and The Pregnant Pin (Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth) all seem reasonable efforts at memorable nicknames but, in the event, rank joint last in YouGov’s poll, as names recognised by just one per cent of Britons.

Nothing New About Nicknames for New Buildings

Attaching nicknames to high profile new buildings might seem like a modern vogue but the practice was also common in the nineteenth century, even if nicknames in those days were more likely to come from the press or public rather than PR consultants.

So, the National Gallery, much criticised on its completion in 1838, was nicknamed “The National Cruet Stand” or just “The Cruet Stand”, because of its “mustard pot” cupola and “salt and pepper” towers. The nickname Crystal Palace was coined by Punch magazine for the giant glass construction erected in Hyde Park during the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Then there was the 16-ton bell and the Gothic clock tower housing it, which were together nicknamed “Big Ben”, in honour, reported The Times in 1856, of Sir Benjamin Hall, the Government’s Commissioner of Works.

The name, what’s more, caught on and entered the language as the unofficial but accepted name of a London landmark and national symbol. “Might we even say”, asks Paul Heather of Skanska, “that Big Ben was The Gherkin of its day?”

TABLE 1: Top 10 Nicknames of New Buildings UK-Wide

Best-Known Nicknames of New Buildings UK-Wide:
% Who Know Them, Both Nationally And Locally
Nickname Official Name Known UK (%) Known in own region (%)
1 The Gherkin 30 St Mary Axe 72 86
2 The Cheese-Grater The Leadenhall Building 23 50
3 The Walkie-Talkie 20 Fenchurch St 19 47
4 The Armadillo London City Hall 10 16
5. The Armadillo Wales Millennium Centre 9 25
6. The Salt Cellar The Shard 8 10
7. The Razor The Tower 7 10
8= The Slug (Sage, Gateshead) 5 30
8= The Iceberg Titanic Belfast 5 26
8= The Pringle Lee Valley Velo Park 5 9
None of these (of list of 10 London buildings) 23%
None of these
(of list of 10 buildings outside London) 78%
KEY: Table shows the % of respondents familiar with each nickname, both nationally and locally/in the building’s own region.

TABLE 2: Top 10 Nicknames of New London Buildings

Best-Known Nicknames for New London Buildings:
% Who Know Them, Both Nationally And Locally
Nickname Official Name Known UK (%) Known in London (%)
1. The Gherkin 30 St Mary Axe 72 86
2. The Cheese-Grater The Leadenhall Building 23 50
3. The Walkie-Talkie 20 Fenchurch St 19 47
4. The Armadillo London City Hall 10 16
5. The Salt Cellar The Shard 8 10
6. The Razor The Tower 7 10
7. The Pringle Lee Valley Velo Park 5 9
8. The Landmark 22 Marsh Wall 2 4
9. The Prawn The Willis Building 2 1
10. The Stealth Bomber One New Change 1 0

None of these 23% 11%

KEY: Table shows the % of respondents familiar with each nickname, both nationally and in London.

TABLE 3: Top 10 Nicknames of New Buildings Outside London

Best-Known Nicknames of New Buildings Outside London:
% Who Know Them, Both Nationally And Locally
Nickname Official Name Known UK (%) Known own region (%)

1. The Armadillo – Wales Millennium Centre 9 25
2= The Slug – (Sage, Gateshead) 5 30
2= The Iceberg – Titanic Belfast 5 26
4= The Dalek – Bridgewater Place, Leeds 3 12
4= The Hat Box – Library of Birmingham 3 9
6= The SHAG – Scottish Hydro Arena Glasgow 2 12
6= The Portacabin – Unity Building, Liverpool 2 4
8= The Rust-Bucket – Broadcaster Tower, Leeds 1 6
8= The Filing Cabinet – Civil Justice Centre Manchester 1 5
8= The Pregnant Pin – Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth 1 0

None of these 78%

KEY: Table shows the % of respondents familiar with each nickname, both nationally and locally/in the building’s own region.

Methodology: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2141 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 6th-7th May, 2015. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

We have 4 pages of British Architecture selections.

British Architecture : cities – A-K

British Architecture Designs : cities – L

British Buildings : cities – M

British Building Developments : cities – N-Z

Famous British building : The Shard, London
The Shard Tower
photo © Nick Weall
At a height of 309.6 metres (1,016 feet) and with a total 72 occupied floors reaching skyward into a breathtaking 15 story spire, the Shard London Bridge Quarter is set to be the tallest building in Western Europe.

page updated 30 Jul 2014

The Gherkin – Put up for Sale

London’s Gherkin skyscraper has been put up for sale, with interest expected from Chinese, other Asian, and US buyers, estate agency Savills has said.

The Gherkin London
Gherkin photographs © Adrian Welch

The Gherkin London

Address: 30 St Mary’s Axe, City of London, England, UK
Date: 2004
Design: Foster + Partners – UK Architects led by Norman Foster

The Gherkin wins CTBUH 10 Year Award

The Gherkin Building London Gherkin The Gherkin Tower 30 St Mary Axe Building
Gherkin photographs © Adrian Welch

Address: 30 St Mary Axe, London, EC3A 8EP
Phone: 020 7071 5029


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