The Best Modern Architecture in the UK

British architecture is an eclectic mix of styles, from Roman and neo-Gothic through to 21st century modern, but there are some truly iconic buildings that everyone should see.

London Architecture

The Gherkin

At the turn of the new millennium, plans were approved for a new landmark building in the City of London, as a celebration of the new century. The Swiss Reinsurance Company submitted a design by the British architect Sir Norman Foster for a medium-level 180-metre-high tower, with contemporary construction and energy-saving measures. Plans were approved and the building became informally known as the Gherkin because of its unusual shape.

Construction was completed in December 2003. The building’s perimeter frame is triangulated for extra strength and to prevent wind sway, while the outer walls are made from glass panels. The domed top mimics the glass dome of the Baltic Exchange Building that originally stood on the site. The glass panels are used to conserve and convect heat from the sun to warm the office space inside. It has become an iconic structure, winning several accolades, including the RIBA Stirling Prize.

Selfridges Birmingham

Plans to redevelop the old concrete structure of the Bull Ring Shopping Centre in Birmingham received a boost when high-end department store Selfridges expressed an interest in opening a new store there. Selfridges commissioned a design from architectural practice Future Systems and construction was completed in 2003. The dramatic structure is an example of the contemporary “Blobitecture” style and is made of a curved steel framework with a sprayed concrete faaade. The design was allegedly inspired by a Paco Rabanne sequinned dress, with the exterior walls being clad with 15,000 shiny aluminium discs. The building has become a recognisable icon for the Selfridges brand and has won several design awards, including the RIBA Award for Architecture in 2004.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

The design of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, by Sir Frederick Gibberd, incorporated the completed crypt of a previous cathedral project. The roof of the crypt forms an elevated platform with the new building at one end. Of Portland-stone-clad concrete construction, the building’s conical shape gives it a tent-like appearance, leading to its local nickname of “Paddy’s Wigwam”.

Millennium Centre

Plans to construct the Millennium Centre as a celebration of the new millennium were on hold until a South African businessman stepped in with the offer of a large donation. Construction of a design by local architect Jonathan Adams began in February 2002. All of the building materials came from Wales, including 1350 tonnes of Welsh slate. The building is clad with layers of multi-coloured slate – with narrow windows built in – to look like the strata of the cliffs at Ogmore and Southerndown beaches. The bronze-coloured dome is actually made of a special steel treated with copper oxide to add colour. Real copper could not be used due to the likelihood of discolouration from the weather on the waterfront. The building is now the centre for a range of art, entertainment and cultural activities and events.

Eden Project

Tim Smitt’s fascination with the relationship between people and plants became the seed for the Eden Project in Cornwall. Construction began in 1998 at an old clay pit. Designed by architect Nicholas Grimshaw, the project is based around two large domed greenhouses which sit in the bottom of the original clay pit. Constructed from steel, with hexagonal thermoplastic panels, these contain a variety of plants from all over the world. Glass could not be used due to its weight and the danger of breakage. The project is now one of the foremost conservation centres in the world.

This article was contributed by Lloyd on behalf of McCormick Architecture Chester.

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