It is no coincidence that the vast majority of the world’s most famous buildings are used as offices. Governments and multinational companies that commission and inhabit such buildings are the only organisations with the power and money necessary to create constructions that are large, cutting-edge and ultimately impressive enough to become famous.
The list presented below includes examples of striking office buildings built from the mid 18th century, right up to 2004 and incorporates a range of styles (from neo-classical to high-tech modern) and materials (from sandstone to steel, concrete and glass.) Each building has one or more feature or function that is so unique; it has led to it being known the world over.
10 Downing Street [London]
10 Downing Street, perhaps the most famous office in London, began its association with the Prime Minister in 1732, when King George II offered it as a gift to Sir Robert Walpole. Generations of subsequent Prime Ministers have either refused to live in the building outright, due to its dilapidated condition over the centuries, or used it occasionally for a range of purposes, from Cabinet meetings to entertaining guests. It wasn’t until Arthur Balfour’s tenure (1902-05) that it became the office and residence for all Prime Ministers.
Major renovations to the building followed extensive damage during World War II. The attic was turned into a flat for the Prime Minister to live in, with its own sitting room, dining room, study and a number of bedrooms. It continues to be used by Gordon Brown today. Margaret Thatcher still refers to her stay in the flat as “living above the shop”.
The White House [Washington DC]
The White House, designed by Irish-born architect James Hoban, is perhaps the most famous office building of all. It stands as a symbol of the American Presidency and Western politics in general, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It was previously known as the “President’s Palace”, “The President’s House” and the “Executive Mansion”, before being given its current name by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1901.
Its construction began in 1792 and was completed in 1800. Sandstone walls, covered in lime, rice glue, casein, and lead give the building its signature colour. The White House, as it currently stands after numerous extensions and renovations, has 132 rooms and 412 potentially closed doors behind which to do business. There is even a tennis court, a cinema, a jogging track, a swimming pool, a putting green and a bowling alley.
Chrysler Building [New York]
The 77-storey, 319m tall Chrysler Building was designed by architect William van Alen for Walter P Chrysler, of the Chrysler Automobile Corporation. Upon its completion in 1930, it overtook the Eiffel Tower to become the tallest building in the world, but held the top spot for less than a year before the Empire State Building stole its thunder.
The Chrysler Building has a wonderful art deco design, decorated with automobile-inspired gargoyles and dazzling stainless steel. Critics were initially unimpressed by its brash and brazen aesthetic, but it has since become one of world’s most loved architectural creations and remains the world’s tallest steel-supported brick building.
Taipei 101 [Taipei]
Taipei 101, situated in Xinyi District, Taipei, Taiwan (mailing code 101), is the world’s tallest building, but not for long. The Burj Dubai will overtake it when it is completed in September this year. From then on, Taipei 101 will have to make do with far less impressive records: like having the world’s fastest ascending elevator (16.83m/sec), the world’s tallest sundial and the world’s largest countdown clock.
The 101-storey, 508m tall structure, completed in 2004, was designed by C.Y. Lee and Partners, and constructed by KTRT Joint Venture and Samsung Engineering & Construction. It is supported by 36 steel columns and eight ‘mega-columns’, filled with 10,000-psi concrete.
Sears Tower [Chicago]
442m tall, with 110 stories, Chicago’s Sears Tower, completed in May 1973, held the record for the world’s tallest building for 25 years, until the arrival of the Petronas Towers and their ludicrously large ornamental spires. If measured from the ground at its main entrance to the top of its antenna, the Sears Tower is still the tallest building on Earth, providing 353,031 square metres of office and retail space.
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill designed the Tower for Sears, Roebuck & Co, then the world’s largest retailer. In 2009, it was sold to a group of New York investors for $840 million, with $825 million left in a mortgage. The naming rights were bought by London-based insurance broker Willis Group Holdings Ltd, and the building will be renamed the Willis Tower this summer, and quite possibly, be painted silver too!
Bank of China Tower [Hong Kong]
The 72-storey, 367.4m tall (if you count the masts) Bank of China Tower is located at 1 Garden Road, in the Central and Western District of Hong Kong Island, near Central MTR station. Upon its completion in 1990, it ranked as the tallest building outside of the USA, but has since been relegated to just the 3rd tallest in Hong Kong.
The building’s triangular structure has been designed by architect I.M. Pei to withstand the force of typhoon-strength winds. Its towering, incrementally diminishing design is said to resemble bamboo shoots, hence symbolising life and prosperity. However, I can’t see the similarity myself!
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (Tokyo City Hall for short, or Tocho for even shorter) serves as the offices for the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and several other commercial companies. It was completed in 1991 for a total sum of 157 billion yen, which is equivalent to about $1 billion in today’s money.
The complex consists of 3 buildings, the largest of which was successfully designed by architect Kenzo Tange to resemble a microchip. It is 243m tall, with 48 storeys overground and three below. At the 33rd floor, it splits into two large towers.
Petronas Twin Towers [Kuala Lumpur]
The Petronas Twin Towers, built in 1998, were once the world’s tallest buildings, thanks in large part to their huge architectural spires, which account for 73.3m of their total 451.9m in height. Although Taipei 101 surpassed the Towers in size, they remain the world’s tallest twin buildings.
Designed by Argentine-American architect Cesar Pelli, the Towers are made from reinforced concrete, making the building strong, but incredibly heavy. Massive, 120m foundations are necessary to support its crushing weight. The Towers are connected by a sky-bridge on the 41st and 42nd floors, 170m above ground level. The building’s steel and glass facade, which has been designed in an Islamic style befitting of Malaysia’s Muslim faith, contains 32,000 windows.
The Gherkin [London]
This strangely beautiful office building, at 30 St Mary Axe, London, has been nicknamed ‘The Gherkin’ for obvious reasons. The 40-storey building, opened on 28th April 2004, is 180m tall, making it the City of London’s 2nd tallest building. It was designed by Lord Foster, Ken Shuttleworth and Arup Engineers, and constructed by Swedish company Skanska.
It is currently home to a number of financial, insurance and professional companies, including Deutsche Bank, RBS, AVIVA, Equitas and Accenture. There is a restaurant and lounge bar on the top floor and five private dining rooms on the 38th. The building, which has the potential to generate its owner an income of £27 million per year, was sold to IVG Immobilien AG and Evans Randall for £630 million in February 2007.
Somerset House [London]
Somerset House is a large, mainly neoclassical building, situated between the Strand and the River Thames in London. It was built in 1755, on the site of a once decadent Tudor palace, with classical Victorian wings added later. The Stamp Office, which later became the Inland Revenue and then Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), came to occupy Somerset House in 1789, and remains there to this day in the east and west wings.
Much of the rest of the building has been turned over to the arts, and now acts as a venue for regular exhibitions, film screenings, outdoor concerts and even an ice rink in the winter.