It was a glorious day in London yesterday, a perfect excuse to have a wander through the City. There are few places in which architecture ancient and modern is so jumbled together.
I stumbled across a little space that I never knew existed. St Dunstan in the East is a church originally built in the eleventh century, and rebuilt by Christopher Wren after it had been damaged in the Great Fire of London. It was bombed and almost destroyed during the Second World War. The church remains today in ruins but within and around it has been created a wild and wonderful garden. The remaining windows are draped with Virginia creeper and ornamental vine. Inside the roofless walls thrive such exotic plants as Moroccan broom, New Zealand flax and Japanese snowball. The effect is quite enchanting.
St Dunstan lies in the shadow of two of London’s most iconic modernist buildings – Richard Roger’s Lloyd’s building and Norman Foster’s Gherkin (officially known as 30 St Mary’s Axe). And through the paneless windows can be seen the Shard. The Lloyd’s building, completed in 1986, is the granddaddy of contemporary City skyscrapers and its style has become something of a cliché – but it remains in my eyes still the most architecturally striking of modern City buildings. I have never particularly liked the Gherkin, but the distorted reflections of surrounding buildings in its curved panes are quite painterly and magical.
St Dunstan lies also in the shadow of one of London’s most talked-about new buildings – The ‘Walkie Talkie’ at 20 Fenchurch Street, designed by Rafael Viñoly. There is little becoming about its aesthetics. But it has become famous – or rather infamous – because its convex shape helps focus the sun’s rays and has apparently melted parts of cars parked beneath. Journalists have even claimed to have cooked an egg on the pavement in its heat.