Northern powerhouse law firm stands by London’s ‘ugliest’ building

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By Judge John Hack on

“Walkie Talkie” is now officially the City’s biggest eyesore, but DWF lawyers still love it


Trying to find a Londoner with something good to say about the lump of lard, steel and glass monstrosity at 20 Fenchurch Street is about as easy as putting your hand to a real Cockney these days.

Colloquially known as the “Walkie Talkie”, the 37-storey, 525 ft office block has had a chequered history since its doors were flung open about a year ago.

The building’s bizarre concave design has reflected dangerous levels of heat onto the pavements below; it has been blamed for creating hurricane-style gusts throughout the Square Mile; and its rooftop Sky Garden has been pilloried for being little more than a marketing wheeze that it open to the public in the same way as is the Ritz Hotel.

And now the WT has won Building Design magazine’s Carbuncle Cup award. As the name suggests, it is not a prize that the architect, Uruguayan Rafael Viñoly, will be proudly displaying on his mantelpiece.

Instead, the Carbuncle Cup effectively goes to London’s ugliest building. A distinction that will undoubtedly trigger bemusement round the management committee table at northern powerhouse law firm DWF.

So far, the Mancunian firm — which has 13 outposts across Britain and Ireland — is the only legal practice to move into the Walkie Talkie, although the London office of Houston-based Vinson & Elkins is understood to be taking space shortly.

DWF moved its London mob into the Walkie T last September. A year ago, the firm’s big-wigs had nothing but praise for what has since become one of the capital’s most hated landmarks.

The building “offers unrivalled panoramic views across London,” gushed a DWF statement at the time. Indeed, managing partner and chief executive Andrew Leaitherland went further. The skyscraper provided, he said:

An exceptional working environment. It’s a flexible space designed to encourage agile working, teamwork and great client interaction.

Fast-forward a year and Leaitherland’s mob is housed in a building about which one Building Design commentator lamented:

I now have a new personal goal: to live long enough to see this building demolished.

The notoriety of the Walkie Talkie makes the Manchester firm look a bit like over-excited provincial visitors to “The Smoke”, paying touts over the odds for restricted view tickets to “Mama Mia”, when they could have picked them up at the half-price box.

Having said that, it is far more likely that the canny northerners actually bagged a deal. Media reports indicate that rents in London’s biggest eyesore go for about £69 per square foot — at least six quid more than the City average.

However, while the firm itself will not comment, City scuttlebutt suggests that DWF negotiated a very favourable tenancy deal. So perhaps the partners were not simply dazzled by the hype.

And on the aesthetic point, a firm spokeswoman quipped:

It’s such a shame those outside of the building don’t like it, because for us it’s an incredible location and space and the views over the City are stunning.


To prove the point, she sent Legal Cheek a snap shot photo from her office (pictured above). But does it beat the firm’s HQ in Scott Place in Manchester’s Hardman Street?