After a decade of outlandish proposals for the City, Parry has come up with a refreshingly blunt stick of a building for the centrepiece of the district’s “cluster” of office blocks. It takes a square footprint and shoots it up 73 storeys, trussing the slender shaft up with gigantic red cross-gartered bracing. Between these will run horizontal lines of white louvres, so that when you look up from the street the soaring obelisk will appear as a solid white mass.
Parry’s plans for 1 Undershaft – which will be the same height as the Shard, that being the maximum height allowed – may come as something of a surprise, given that just a few months ago he published a book called Context in which he warned: “An orgy of tall buildings will transform and arguably overwhelm London.” This flood of towers, he added, is swiftly turning the city from one with a skyline dotted with white stone buildings, to one of “green glass envelopes imported from far afield, representing the Faustian pact of national commerce and real estate”.
The matte Cor-Ten steel will absorb light, he says, while the white gloss will glint all the way to the top, using colour-changing paint at the upper levels to cap the tower with a sparkly rainbow headband. With its simple form, exposed structure and whiff of industrial engineering, 1 Undershaft has the air of a no-nonsense skyscraper more commonly found in Chicago or New York, only dressed up in a slightly prissy costume – or with extra English refinement, depending on how you see Parry’s penchant for decorative dressings.
Its silhouette is subtly tapered, he says, so its facades converge at an imaginary focal point 10 times its height – a learned nod to Edwin Lutyens’ Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall, whose planes meet at a projected spot 1,000ft in the air. In the middle of this space, in front of his tower, Parry proposes a sunken plaza, lined with cafes and shops, to create “a convivial space for meeting”, like the excavated piazza in front of New York’s Rockefeller Center. It too could play host to a market or skating rink. “It is in the heart of the insurance district,” he adds, “which is all about loitering. It’s slightly conspiratorial.”