These massive stainless steel sculptural artworks near St Paul’s Cathedral are both art and function – for they are also ventilation shafts for an electricity substation in the basement underneath.
When the offices were being redeveloped in the late 1990s, with the controversy of the intervention by the Prince of Wales behind them, what modern offices need is lots more electricity.
That calls for additional substations to be built in the City, and one is located here, underneath the pavement.
The original plan would have seen the ventilation needed to cool the substation as a large block adjacent to the offices, essentially filling the space and turning an open square into an alley.
What the Heatherwick Studio found was that they could split the ventilation into three separate units. Two, the massive steel vents are quite obvious, and by splitting them into two it created a more interesting space for the rest of the square.
The third is harder to spot, but of equal necessity — the air intakes, and if you wander around the square, you’ll find grills in the floor. These are the “hidden in plain sight” air intakes, which suck cool air down, to be heated and then vented away by the artwork.
So while the end product is art, it’s also very clever engineering.