"Office buildings tend to be very
boring" - Richard Rogers


In the next movie in our series focussing on the work of Richard Rogers, the British architect talks exclusively to Dezeen about the challenges of designing an interesting office building and explains how the new Leadenhall building in London, dubbed "the Cheesegrater", got its distinctive shape. Update: this interview is featured in Dezeen Book of Interviews, which is on sale now for £12.

"Office buildings tend to be very boring" - Richard Rogers
Richard Rogers of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. Photo copyright: Dezeen

The Leadenhall building is a new 225-metre skyscraper by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners in the City of London, which topped out in June and is due to be completed in 2014.

Positioned opposite Richard Rogers' famous Lloyd's building, the 50-storey office building features a glazed body that is tapered on one side - hence its popular nickname.

Watch a time-lapse movie documenting the construction of the Leadenhall building »

"Office buildings tend to be very boring" - Richard Rogers
Render showing Leadenhall building as it will look when completed in 2014

Office buildings, Rogers admits, "tend to be very boring". The key to creating the Leadenhall building's distinctive angular form, he says, was creatively working with the constraints of the site.

"One of the arts of architecture is to use constraints, turn them upside down and see whether they can help you to design the building," he explains.

"Office buildings tend to be very boring" - Richard Rogers
The Leadenhall building's tapered shape is designed to preserve views of St Paul's Cathedral

"The main constraint on Leadenhall was the view to St Paul's [Cathedral]. London is unique in being partly controlled by views; you have to leave certain views open to St Paul's and we were on one of those views. So we made use of this and we cut it back at an angle and that gave us that prominent section and profile, [which can be seen] from all over London."

"Office buildings tend to be very boring" - Richard Rogers
Leadenhall building under construction. Photograph by Dan Lowe

The Leadenhall building's criss-crossing steel frame will be displayed prominently through the external glazing. Rogers claims that this has an important role to play in giving the building scale.

"The building itself expresses its system of construction because it’s one of the things in which we get scale," he says. "Scale is critical. Height and length have limited use. You can make a building immensely large and overbearing, which is basically a single storey, or you can make a building which is very light and it's got fifty storeys. How you break it down is critical."

"Office buildings tend to be very boring" - Richard Rogers
Leadenhall building under construction. Photograph by Paul Raftery

Rogers claims that many of the ideas that informed his earlier buildings, such as placing the mechanical services on the outside of the building, are also present in the Leadenhall building. However, the nature of changing technology means that they are implemented in different ways.

"The elements which we’ve got to know well we're using here," he says, pointing out the banks of elevators located on the back of the building. "We are using a lot of flexibility obviously. So we're using that but in a way that, more or less forty years after Pompidou, is very much machine-made."

"Office buildings tend to be very boring" - Richard Rogers
Leadenhall building under construction. Photograph by Paul Raftery

He adds: "We thought Lloyd’s was the absolute ultimate in the art of technology. When I look at it now, it’s handmade practically. We had [a few] pieces [built] off-site. Leadenhall is all built off-site."

Rogers says he enjoys the contrast between the two buildings, which stand in such close proximity to each other but were built nearly 30 years apart.

"Office buildings tend to be very boring" - Richard Rogers
Render showing how the banks of elevators at the rear of the building will look

"It’s very exciting to see the dialogue between these two, and actually, I think it’s really exciting to see the dialogue between Lloyds of London, Leadenhall and the dome of St Paul's in the background, of a totally different period," he says.

"To me that’s what architecture is all about. It’s not about fitting in, it’s setting up these dialogues. The enjoyment of St Paul's was that it was seen against a very low and rather poor medieval background. That was a flourish. It's exactly the same with any form of architecture. It’s a dialogue, it’s a beauty that comes from contrast."

"Office buildings tend to be very boring" - Richard Rogers
Render showing Leadenhall building as it will look when completed in 2014

Rogers was speaking to Dezeen to mark the opening of an exhibition called Richard Rogers RA: Inside Out at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

Watch our previous interview with Rogers about the exhibition »
See our earlier story about the exhibition »

  • Robert Johnston

    The problem with Rogers’ building is that it is proving very hard to let. It may not be boring, but it isn’t particularly fit for purpose. The new building in the City that is a success is Viñoly’s Walkie-Talkie. Scale may not be critical after all.

    • Petr

      The Vinoly’s Walkie-Talkie is a horror. It’s abhorrent. A niche moment of wondrous splurge masquerading as a icon for London. It delivers not only draw dropping faces, but also a gag reflex so compelling that even the most accepting of us cup our hands in expectation to catch the physical rejection spewing from our innards in bewilderment at what plays an unfavorably confident part in London’s skyline.

      • frank from miami!

        Wow, I can’t tell if you are kidding or not, but i enjoyed it.

        • Petr

          I was being somewhat facetious, but still have a certain degree of loathing for it.

      • Tyler

        Oh, god yes, I completely agree. And the comparison of these two towers presents a great opportunity to discuss two very different aesthetic strategies.

        Seeing de Moura’s Cultural center for the first time today was a breath of fresh air for me. And before I read this post, and the comments, I was already thinking about the relationship between de Moura’s project and Rogers’ legacy, and Hadid’s new tower in Miami and her legacy.

        It just seems to me that, even in renderings, these projects typical of the period of high-formalism are already dated. We can already put them in a category and set them aside. But this new project by Rogers looks completely fresh, even though it’s relationship to his work from 40 years ago is abundantly clear.

        This comparison, for me at least, proves that high-formalism is already over. And I, for one, am so thankful.

    • Tyler

      You must be closely related to the project to speak confidently about its leasing status. Why don’t you provide a bit more in the way of facts and figures to back up your assertion?

      • Enrico

        I can give you the answer to that, of which is contray to the assertions made by our dear friend Mr Johnston.

        Unfortunately for him it seems AON have taken favourably to the wide open spans and wonderful vistas afforded by the Leadenhall development and employed Gensler to design their interiors.

        Amlin have also taken a further 9 floors and by the 21st of may this year it was already over 50% pre-let.

  • laurent

    Gensler as interiors specialist – very optimistic or very poor vision.

    • Adam

      Having one of the leading architectural firms in the world for workplace design create your new HQ in London – I’d say that’s very good vision.

  • Very disappointed that views of the Gherkin, which was a wonderful addition to London’s skyline, have now been obliterated from my home by this. However, I and everybody else I know am absolutely horrified by that monstrosity the ‘”Walkie Talkie”. I can only assume corruption allowed this thing to be built. More akin to China than London.

  • Gregory Pavell

    Mr. Rogers certainly covered the bases through thinking design phases and justifying actions taken. I like the fact of his comparative analysis of a city’s fabric as ‘contrast’ as I think far too many ‘signature’ architects design to parallels, to make a one-up statement as to what’s newly expressed there.

    As long as he is safeguarding design with priorities of light, shade and function… the structural speak of this as sculptural is just fine and may be an exhilarating experience to workers and passers-bye.