16 October 2014

Building a name

Every year a new tower bursts onto the London skyline. More than just an office or a place to live, buildings of this scale instantly become an element in the mental silhouette we all hold of our city. They are ever present, and so, like a new neighbour or workmate, we need to know what to call them.

Sometimes a developer or architect can make that introduction. "London, meet The Shard, The Shard, these are the people of London, I think you are going to get on." A name just sticks.

But sometimes, it does not. How do you feel about 20 Fenchurch St or the Leadenhall Building, for example? No strong opinion perhaps. But what about the Walkie Talkie (possibly even the Walkie Scorchie or Taser Towers) or the Cheesegrater - perhaps more to say? These are not titles given and promoted by the buildings' owners, but nicknames, picked up and used as descriptive shorthand, so we know where and what we are talking about.

Where nicknames stick, for buildings or for people, they are rooted in our shared experience, drawn from what we know of that building or that friend or teacher or teammate. Sometimes they are affectionate, sometimes ironic. But we nearly always use the name because there is a sense of belonging, a type of ownership - they are part of our life.

Maybe then to make sure a tower's given name is one that sticks there needs to be self awareness and authenticity. An honest reflection of how the building will be perceived and understood by the people that live and work alongside it. If that happens, it is more likely to endure.

The Millennium Bridge opened in 2000 as part of London's celebration of the start of the third millennium, that year it became known to us all as 'The Wobbly Bridge.' Nearly fifteen years on, it is much more often called by its original name, perhaps because despite the early glitches its success as an elegant piece of public sculpture, and the ultimate triumph of its engineering solution are a fitting celebration of the new millennium. Its original name worked, and it has been reclaimed.