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Inside View: Lloyds of London

Last week Boundary Space gained access to one of the most famous City buildings, a skyscraper whose towering status has endured since its unveiling, despite the fact that it has long been overtaken in physical stature by its peers.

A scale model of Lloyds, housed at the top of the building

A scale model of Lloyds, housed at the top of the building

Lloyds of London in its current manifestation was built in 1986 and confirmed architect Richard Rogers’ mounting acclaim. After multiple reincarnations in its 327 year history due to its perennial expansion, Lloyds charged Rogers with the task of designing a building which they would never grow out of, and he responded by designing an archetypal Bowellist building which would be the youngest building ever to receive Grade I listed status.

We were met in the unassuming foyer by our tour guide, the excellent Peter Fletcher, who guided us through the barriers into a magnificent atrium stretching up 14 floors. Faces all round were a little crestfallen when he began by warning us that the tour would be focusing mainly on Lloyds’ insurance history rather than the iconic building we had come to visit (they don’t usually take architects around).

Views of the Atrium, including the roof, the escalators and The atrium and the top of the Rostrum, which houses the Lutine Bell

Views of the Atrium, including the roof, the escalators and The atrium and the top of the Rostrum, which houses the Lutine Bell

However, for anyone who might suspect insurance of being a dull topic, I am here to enlighten you: Lloyds of London, the biggest centre of insurance in the world, had its humble beginnings  in seventeenth-century coffee house culture, set against a dramatic backdrop of piracy and shipwrecks. In 1688 Edward Lloyd set up a coffee house next to the Tower of London, where ship owners , merchants and sailors would gather as the ships came into dock, and rapidly gained a reputation for having the newest and best shipping news and gossip. As British Empire and slave trade rose, so did the need for insurance against disastrous weather and pirates, Lloyd’s quickly became the place to carry out business.

"Boxes" in the Underwriting Room

“Boxes” in the Underwriting Room

The Lutine Bell, recovered from a lost ship in 1858, and traditionally rung when ship's sank.; View of the Lutine Bell in the Underwriting Room

View of the Lutine Bell in the Underwriting Room; The Lutine Bell in the Rostrum, recovered from a lost ship in 1858, and traditionally rung when ships sink.

The coffee house formation of booths for individual meetings, which could be easily passed between, is clearly reflected in the current building’s design: the ground floor and several floors above are all open-plan, filled by the “boxes” (nowadays desks) where the underwriters are waited upon by the brokers bustling up and down the aisles. Combine this with Cold War-esque concrete pillars and light grids, a dazzling glass house roof presiding over the 18th century Lutine Bell, and escalators with exposed innards, and you have an atmosphere that at once breathes history and modernism, both looking back and ever moving forward.

View of the external staircases at Lloyds, and London

View of the external staircases at Lloyds, and London

A view of the City from Lloyds, with Canary Wharf in the distance

A view of the City from Lloyds, with Canary Wharf in the distance

Pipes going from interior to exterior

Pipes going from interior to exterior

A sliver of Gherkin, view from the lift

A sliver of Gherkin, view from the lift

The top of the glass atrium

The top of the glass atrium

Looking down into the centre of Lloyds from the top

Looking down into the centre of Lloyds from the top

View of London and St Paul's Cathedral from the upper floors

View of London and St Paul’s Cathedral from the upper floors

Exposed machinery in escalators at Lloyds

Exposed machinery in escalators at Lloyds

The famous glass lifts on the outside of the building, the first of their kind in London

The famous glass lifts on the outside of the building, the first of their kind in London

 

By Helena Louise Cuss

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