The Tulip, Foster’s strange proposal for a Mini-Me Gherkin on a stick, is a parody of architectural hubris he’s hoping will get the billionaire owner out of a pickle
Once the cheeky darling of the London skyline, the Gherkin has become increasingly crowded by a dense thicket of chunky towers and steroidal slabs. Hemmed in and overshadowed, the mischievous silhouette of 30 St Mary Axe now barely registers on most views of the city, merging into a lumpen glass heap of financial capital.
Now its architect wants to put that right. In one of the most extraordinary planning applications the City of London has ever seen, Norman Foster has proposed to build a Mini-Me version of the Gherkin right next to it, hoisted up on a great pole above the city for all to see.
Like a cocktail cornichon raised aloft on its own Nelson’s Column, this proposed observation tower would be the tallest structure in the City, rising to 305.3 metres, almost twice the height of its 40-storey parent. It would be less than half a metre taller than the proposed 1 Undershaft nearby, although around five metres shorter than the Shard across the river. Dubbed the Tulip, the project would see a 12-storey glass bubble erected on top of a concrete stem, filled with bars, restaurants and a viewing gallery, along with a free educational facility to help lubricate it through the planning system.
The proposal was submitted on Monday by the Safra Group, the company controlled by Brazilian billionaire banker Joseph Safra, which bought the Gherkin in 2014 for £726m (shortly after acquiring the Chiquita banana empire, cementing a penchant for phallic fruit). Safra initially asked Foster to convert the Gherkin’s conical summit into a visitor attraction, but the space was deemed too tight, so the architect came back with an idea for a free-standing appendage, jacked-up higher than anything around. It is a parody of architectural hubris, a cloned miniature of his original icon, poking up above the ….