The weirdest buildings in London, 2018 – 2019


07 Feb 2020


Simon McAuliffe

London is a pretty amazing city. It’s a cultural melting pot; a thriving hub of music, art, business and design. Many of the city’s offerings are remarkable, and inspiring, but it has to be said that some are downright strange.

This is particularly true when it comes to architecture. The buildings that make the city what it is have changed a lot over the last 2000 or so years (Houses of Parliament notwithstanding), and while the modern London skyline might be iconic, there are a few buildings that stand out for other reasons.

This isn’t to suggest the structures outlined below are bad – in fact, far from it. Architecture is a creative, expressive profession, and in many ways, the ‘weirder’ or more unusual a building, the better. A few of the following examples may not necessarily be for everyone, but whatever you or I might think, it’s important that architects continue to push the boundaries of our taste and understanding.

Here then are a few of the weirdest buildings in London:

20 Fenchurch Street

Also known as the ‘Walkie Talkie Tower’, 20 Fenchurch Street – designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly – is one of the most recognisable examples of postmodern architecture in the city. What makes this building particularly ‘weird’ is the fact the it is essentially top heavy, being noticeably wider at its top than at its bottom. It’s this design feature that earned the building its affectionately retro nickname.

The structure, which at 38 stories and 525 feet tall is the 6th highest building in the city, isn’t just well known for its unusual shape. Marred by controversy since its completion in 2014, 20 Fenchurch Street was awarded the 2015 Carbuncle Cup for the worst new building in the UK over the preceding 12 months.

This is probably at least due in part to the fact that only after its completion did anyone realise that for 2 hours of the day, the building acts as a concave mirror, refracting a beam of light 6 times the intensity of direct sunlight down onto the streets below.

A permanent awning was installed to rectify this, but not before the press managed to coin the inspired (if somewhat cruel) secondary nicknames ‘walkie scorchie’ and ‘fryscraper’. Whether you like it or loathe it, 20 Fenchurch St has proved to be a ‘hot topic’ in the world of architecture.

M by Montcalm

One of the most exciting things about architecture is its ability to distort and challenge perception, and London’s M by Montcalm is undoubtedly one of the finest examples of this. Situated in the beating heart of East London Tech City (a technology district formed around Old Street Roundabout), the building is the embodiment of the futuristic and innovative spirit of the area – and it’s rather confusing to look at to say the least…

Designed by award-winning architects Squire and Partners, the building seems to change shape before your very eyes as you approach; it appears flat and square from the front, and reveals its true, triangular form as the viewer gets closer.

The diamond-shaped building serves as a luxury hotel, with over 260 rooms offering clientele a taste of the technology-driven lifestyle of the future, with fully integrated smart controls allowing control over everything from temperature to how the room smells…

Senate House Library

We couldn’t resist including at least one of our own projects, and as we’re talking about the weird and wonderful, it simply had to be the Senate House Library at the University of London. The building itself might not be all that unusual (although the 19-storey art deco marvel is impressive enough in its own right), but the glass roof we constructed in 2018, in collaboration with SpaceLab, is another story.

Made from an array of individually designed and uniquely crafted glass panels, the roof had to be built piece-by-piece and in a specific order. The result is one of the strangest but most visually-impressive glazed installations we’ve put together in recent years, and resembles something close to a lattice sausage roll made of glass.

Chinese Garage Beckenham

It’s not always the most elaborate, largest, or most expensive buildings that make it to lists such as these. When taking into account the weirdness of a building, sometimes it’s the structures that simply stand out the most, and the Chinese Garage, in Beckenham certainly ticks that box.

Functionally speaking, the Chinese Garage has a humble pedigree. Originally constructed in the late 1920s to serve as a petrol station, this eye-catching building takes the form of a Japanese Pagoda. This might not be in any way weird in and of itself, but considering the fact that the building is nestled just off a roundabout in Bromley, the aesthetic choice does seem a little strange.

The garage was officially titled Langley Park Garage until 1989, but its distinctly Eastern aesthetic earned it the (somewhat ignorant) nickname ‘The Chinese Garage’. Voted the ‘most unusual garage in England’ in 2001, The Grade II listed building still retains all of its original charm, despite now functioning as a car showroom, and plans are currently being discussed to turn the structure into a Tesco Express.

Victorian Bath House Bishopsgate

Another cultural anomaly, the Victorian Bath House (officially names Nevill’s New Broad Street Turkish Baths) in Bishopsgate is a beautiful Turkish structure designed by architect G Harold Elphick, and constructed in 1895. For over two centuries the structure has stood as a testament to this unique architectural style, with tesselating Arabic motifs, unique mosaics and tiles designed by Elphick himself.

Weird only in the sense, like the Chinese Garage, that its aesthetic style is in sharp contrast to the surrounding area, the Victorian Bath House really did serve as an men’s bathhouse until 1954. Having survived the blitz, the post war economy led to the closure of the baths, and despite an unsuccessful stint as a nightclub, the structure remained closed for some years.

After an extensive and respectful renovation project, the building now serves as an exclusive private venue for hire, retaining all of its original charm – and even one of the original baths. Albeit one that now serves as a champagne cooler.

Thin House, South Kensington

While the Chinese Garage and the Victorian Bath House may be weird for their anachronistic and culturally juxtaposed aesthetics, the Thin House in South Kensington is weird purely because it looks so strange.

Described as one of London’s most unusual residences, the thin house is precisely as its name suggests – thin. Very thin, in fact. With one end of the structure stretching to barely 6 feet wide, the thin house is thought to be the narrowest home in the capital. The building, which is actually titled no.5 Thurloe Square, catches the attention of passers by for its squashed, flat appearance.

This is something of an optical illusion though, as the structure actually widens as it progresses down the road, but the initial impression is nonetheless striking. Operating, remarkably, as a block of flats (one of which was put on the market for a massive £895,000 in 2016), the property is often regarded as one of the strangest in the capital, and it’s become a talking point among visitors and local residents alike.