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City Giants

City Giants

Posted on 20 Oct 2023

“A skyscraper is a boast in glass and steel.” Mason Cooley

While OpenWeather products reach around the globe, we are physically located in one of the most iconic and recognizable of London’s buildings, namely 30 St Mary’s Axe. The building was completed in December 2003, spans 41 floors, and is 180 meters tall. The skyscraper that was designed by Norman Foster has a distinctive elliptical shape which has given it the nickname "The Gherkin".

The Skyscraper Phenomenon

The term ‘skyscraper’ can be seen to be a metaphor for progress, technical ingenuity, and the ability to create enormous buildings that seem to often defy the laws of nature. The word Skyscraper originally referred to tall sailing ships of the 19th century, but was later used to describe the sky-scraping buildings that were being constructed in Chicago and New York in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

 The Home Insurance Building (1885) located in Chicago was designed by William Le Baron Jenney. This 10-story structure is generally regarded as the first skyscraper. Using a steel frame allowed it to reach heights previously thought impossible for commercial buildings. Later in 1902, New York’s wedge-shaped Flatiron Building became one of the most recognized and famous of early skyscrapers, even though it stood at just 20 stories.

The Chrysler Building was completed in 1930. A 77-story Art Deco masterpiece in New York City was the world's tallest building briefly before being surpassed by the Empire State Building that held this title for nearly 40 years.

Fast-forward to 2010, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa stands at a staggering 828 meters with 163 floors, and is currently the world's tallest skyscraper. It showcases the fusion of cutting-edge engineering with aesthetic design.

Building the Gherkin

The construction of The Gherkin was an enormous logistical and technical challenge. The building’s site is in a densely populated area of central London, with the construction team having to work carefully to minimize disruption to traffic and businesses. Officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 12 April 2004, the Gherkin has quickly become one of the most iconic buildings in London, and it has won numerous awards for its design and construction.

The foundations of The Gherkin are made of concrete and steel. The concrete foundations are 11 meters deep and are supported by 1,000 steel piles. The steel piles are driven deep into the ground to ensure that the building is stable in all weather conditions.

Once the foundations were complete, the construction team began work on the steel frame of the building. Made of 35 kilometers of steel and weighing over 10,000 tonnes, the frame was constructed in sections that were carefully lifted into place by crane.

The external cladding of The Gherkin is made almost entirely of glass. Made up of 24,000 triangular panels arranged in a diamond pattern, which gives the building its distinctive elliptical shape.

The interior of The Gherkin is divided into 41 floors. The ground floor contains a reception area and a number of shops and restaurants. The upper floors contain office space. The building also has a restaurant on the 41st floor, which offers panoramic views of London.

The Weather and The Gherkin

The Gherkin combines innovative architecture and cutting-edge engineering. Its cylindrical shape, spiraling atria, and glass facade make it an architectural wonder. However, like other large buildings, the weather played a significant role in the way that it was constructed and designed. 

The Gherkin's distinctive design meant that wind dynamics around the structure are different to conventional buildings. The aerodynamic shape had the effect of actually reducing wind loads, though at the same time created unique challenges, especially during construction when the building's protective elements were not yet in place.

Being able to predict wind gust patterns kept crane operations safe. It also helped in making informed decisions about worker safety at higher levels, especially during the installation of glass panels and other exterior components. Decisions on when to lift heavy components, and when to pause work, relied heavily on wind forecasts.

Rain, or even heavy moisture could slow the installation of the external glass panels significantly, potentially affecting the high-tech sealants and the nuanced positioning of panels. The Gherkin's construction relied on a variety of materials, each with unique properties. Concrete curing, metalwork, and even the behavior of certain insulating materials were affected by ambient temperature. 

London has always been known for its foggy conditions. Although even with the significant reduction of airborne pollutants over the years, fog still has an effect on the construction industry. For high-rise projects, fog can drastically reduce visibility, making crane operations and high-altitude work hazardous.

How OpenWeather can help

It is important for the safety and efficiency of all construction sites that any extreme weather events are closely monitored. The OpenWeather Global Weather Alerts product supplies timely and uniform weather alert push information, no matter the location of the building. Our One Call API 3.0 provides a convenient and easy to use way to obtain historic, current and forecast (minute, daily and hourly) weather information, including the daily aggregation of weather data for 40+ years archive and 1.5 years ahead forecast.

Not all buildings reach the dizzy heights of the Gherkin, however construction projects around the world can benefit from a deep understanding of the prevailing weather conditions, both historical, current and forecast. 

Towers to the sky,

Reaching for the clouds above,

City giants stand.

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