The following morning my stomach was feeling better, but my voice was getting hoarser as a consequence of me literally coughing all night long. So as one ailment ends another one starts. Why can’t I catch a break? At least I’m able to start eating real food again which was a big relief. Then again, we are in England, so perhaps it doesn’t really matter food-wise…
The initial plan was to wake up super early and somehow find my way down to Wimbledon to stand in the queue, but instead I enjoyed a couple more hours of desperately needed sleep. I was a little bummed that I couldn’t try to go for a Centre Court or any other show court ticket, but I figured even visiting the grounds and watching the matches from Henman Hill (now christened Murray Mound) would be a great experience. So after finishing off the dinner rolls I had bought, it was off to the first stop of the day – The Shard.
The Shard is a skyscraper by Renzo Piano on London’s South Bank near the London Bridge station. Because of London’s relatively low skyline, this building stands out even from afar, accentuated by the fact that there are no tall buildings on the south bank of the Thames. I suppose The Shard earned its name from its distinctive shape and all-glass cladding. Having been working in the tall building industry for over two years now, it always fascinates me to determine how other companies design tall buildings. A building with a shape like The Shard makes me wonder: do the exterior columns slope or do they transfer? Those are the only two options to accommodate a tapering shape, and sloping columns have always caused us headaches in our designs. I guess only Arup (you’ll be hearing that name a lot) knows…
Architecturally, I do like the design in that it isn’t simply a glass box (even though glass boxes can be beautiful – SOM basically invented the glass box). There is enough variety in its massing and facade detailing but it still sports clean lines. There is an observation deck at the top, but the entrance fee is 25 pounds. Yes, you heard me right – equivalent to 40 USD. That is way too expensive! Sears is about $25 to go up to an observation deck nearly 400 feet higher than The Shard. Granted, Empire State Building commands $40, but that is for both of its observation decks, also at higher elevations than The Shard, and at least it has the historical grandeur to justify that price. Needless-to-say, I didn’t go up.
Someone did tell me that the bar in The Shard on the 31st floor is quite decent and still provides a decent view of the city. Perhaps next time…
A short walk across London Bridge (no, not the original – that resides at Lake Havasu in Arizona) and I enter the area known as The City. While Canary Wharf (SOM masterplan) is the new financial center of London (and arguably the world), The City came before it, and even today it is still humming with activity from busy financiers dressed in their pin-striped suits. Like New York City’s Midtown and Lower Manhattan, London has enough economic clout to warrant two financial districts.
On my way to the Monument tube stop, I had to stop by to see what this tall building was about because it just looked…bizarre. Almost like a walkie-talkie. Later this summer, the building became notorious for essentially melting a car parked at its base. This was because the glass panels on its concave face were reflecting the sunlight for about two hours and basically turned into a giant laser beam. Funnily enough, the architect is Rafael Viñoly who also designed the Aria Center in Las Vegas which – surprise! – also suffered from a death ray mishap. These silly architects…
Now why was I in The City when I’m not even in the financial services industry? Well, some people in the office suggested that I stop by our London office to check it out and say hi to the people there, so I arranged a time to meet with the head guy there to see what it’s like. Getting there, though, was really confusing. Coming out of the Old Street Tube stop, I faced not one but EIGHT exits because lo-and-behold, the Tube stop was underneath a roundabout. And to further exacerbate things, none of the streets in London are on a grid. At least in Chicago, most streets are linear and orthogonal (ahem, Lincoln, Clybourn, and Milwaukee, why you have to mess up the grid system?) so you can find your bearings pretty quickly. In London, streets have been growing more organically over the past couple hundred years a la Boston, so unless there’s a known landmark or the weather decides to not be cloudy and you can locate the sun, you’re stuck in a maze. But I digress…
Our London office isn’t as gargantuan as Chicago or even San Francisco, but they still have about 100 employees. The structures group is only three people (two engineers, one drafter), so they do rely on help from Chicago when things get very busy. Even though we are one company, we operate rather independently of each other, and it was neat to see what projects the London office tends to feature vs. Chicago and San Francisco. After chatting for a bit, I let them get back to work (hey, I’m on vacation – don’t put me to work) and we agreed to meet up the following night when several current and former SOM structural engineers meet up once a month. It also coincided with July 4th, so perfect opportunity to flaunt my American patriotism against their Royalist tyranny.
The City is full of modern architecture, and two of SOM’s most important buildings are located just a stone’s throw away from the office. The first one that I always hear mentioned around the Chicago office is Broadgate Tower.
The courtyard between the podium and the tower is punctuated by these braces that seem to form in arc in placement. I later found out it was because there is a set of train tracks running underneath the site that curves, hence the placement.
Directly across the street from Broadgate is Exchange House, probably Bill Baker’s favorite SOM building after Burj. Why? Well, the building spans across the tracks leading to Liverpool Station further south, so the building is essentially a giant bridge. Arch bridge, to be exact.
Bill is obsessed with optimization, and Exchange House is an example of how the material needed in the compression arch is equivalent to the material needed in the tension ties supporting the floors. It’s really beyond my comprehension, so let’s just say they saved a bunch of material…or so they claim.
With the SOM buildings out of the way, it was time to explore the other famous structures in The City. First up: Lloyds of London.
Richard Rodgers designed this as the concrete equivalent to the Centre Pompidou in Paris where he brought all of the building’s services to the outside. To be honest, I didn’t really like the building because the windows aren’t very big. Perhaps there’s a central atrium that I can’t see, but imagine working in a building where all your views are obstructed by pipes and stairs and etc.
Across the street is another Richard Rodgers oeuvre, Leadenhall.
It’s hard to tell from these pictures, but Leadenhall is basically a glass wedge, meaning its north face is vertical while it’s south face is sloping. Since Londoners love giving their buildings nicknames, this one has been christened the Cheesegrater. SOM Chicago actually did a peer review of the engineering work Arup did for this building, and from what I could remember there were some major points of contention with regards to Arup’s design.
This building caught my eye because of all the shear tabs sticking out of the concrete core, meaning they are for the connections of the gravity infill beams to the wall. But it didn’t look like there was a lot of construction going on. Later on I found out that this was The Pinnacle, a tower that was bankrolled by some Saudi investment groups and has been put on hold.
Somewhere along the way, I had to snicker at this sight:
The last building I wanted to see was 30 St. Mary Axe, more appropriately called The Gherkin.
A Norman Foster product, this building is unique in that it utilizes a diagrid structure on the perimeter. Diagrids are basically giant braces that run across a building’s facade with no vertical columns. Together they form a sort of tube that is very stiff against lateral loads. Excellent in high-wind areas, but a disaster to design for in high-seismic zones.
While every floor plate is circular, there is a notch every 60 degrees that forms an atrium, and with each floor plate rotated to be offset from each other, these spaces form atria that spiral along the height of the building, adding to the natural ventilation of the building. Pretty innovative design, if you ask me.
With my skyscraper hunger sated, I crossed Tower Bridge and walked along the South Bank back to the London Bridge station.
Along the way, I made a brief stop at the London City Hall, yet another Foster product.
Right around the corner from the London Bridge station is Borough Market, recommended by my friends and co-workers as a must-see destination. Well, they weren’t wrong. The stalls at Borough Market carried some of the most scrumptious looking food I had seen so far. Notice I said “looking” because even though I really wanted to sample a lot of things I still didn’t want to risk upsetting my stomach. Alas, for my next London excursion…
I suddenly noticed a long line of people in front of this shop called “Monmouth”. Well well well, looks like I’ve stumbled upon a gourmet coffee shop! Being that I was already here, I joined the masses in line and got an iced coffee. Here’s the barista performing his art:
I thought it was equivalent to Blue Bottle Coffee back here in the States, and as I’m not a huge coffee connoisseur, it tasted fine to me. Also slaked my thirst as it was starting to get a little muggy…
At this point, I figured it was time to head to Wimbledon and see what pans out at SW19. I went back to my hotel to rest a bit, then headed straight back out to the Westminster Tube stop to catch the Wimbledon line.
The ride itself took about 40 minutes, and as we got closer to Wimbledon (or rather Southfields station), more and more people got on the train. What really impressed me was that several school boys had just gotten out of classes, and instead of going home and duking it out on the Xbox or PlayStation, they elected to head to Wimbledon to try to catch some tennis matches. And they knew what they were talking about too, analyzing Federer and Murray’s techniques. On my last visit to Flushing Meadows, the people on the 7 train were primarily preppy 30-year-olds who probably worked in finance, real estate, or marketing/advertising – and had absolutely no clue what they were talking about with regards to tennis. They were just going because hey, it’s in New York and we should go. In general, I found the British public to be much more knowledgeable in their tennis than us Americans. We’re waaaay too focused on football – sorry, I mean “American football”…
After a short shuttle bus ride, I got off when the driver told us non-ticket holders to get off. I had thought that to get a grounds pass in the late afternoon when most of the matches had ended would be simple and fast, but instead I was confronted by this:
Ah yes, the infamous Queue. Even at 4 pm, there was a huge line that snaked across the grassy parking lot leading up to the main gate. I was incredulous when I asked them if I had to queue for just a grounds pass and they responded, “Yeah, should take about an hour to two hours.” Then I remembered something: Murray was still in the tournament! I had come during the men’s quarterfinals and Murray was last on court, so of course everybody was going to try to come and see him play. So I obediently got in line and picked up my queue card.
While I was waiting, the people around me started to strike up some conversations. A grandmother with her grandson were behind me and they were nervously checking the scores of the Murray match. In front of me were some Australians talking to some Polish guy who claims he’s been to every single session of play at Wimbledon this year. The Pole then sees that I have a cell phone and starts talking to me and the grandma behind me, saying that he volunteered during the Olympics and met many famous athletes. He then insisted on using my phone so that he could show us the photos on his Facebook account. Now, I’m fine with making friends with the people in the queue, but when you’re eating into my expensive data plan by showing photos and forcing me to friend you on Facebook, you’ve sort of crossed the line. But being passive-aggressive, I didn’t tell him that and just waited for him to finish up as I feigned interest. It sounded like he has never really had a permanent occupation, just working in restaurants and etc. to fund his “expensive” hobby. He then mentioned that after 5 pm, the grounds pass prices actually drop by about 5 pounds or so. Another reason why this line was so long…
The line started moving after about an hour, and once I whizzed through the security check, I crossed over to the main entrance and got my grounds pass for 12 pounds. Yes, I was finally here at historic Wimbledon.
By the time I got past the main entrance, Murray was actually down two sets to love. That might suck for Murray fans, but I was secretly praying for this result – not because I think he looks like a gargoyle (what is with the horrible British teeth) but because I wanted to prolong the chances of me seeing him in action! As you can see, Henman Hill (which has now been christened Murray Mound) was absolutely packed with spectators watching the Centre Court match on the Jumbotron. The police wouldn’t even let me walk around the back as they were enforcing crowd control. It was absolutely bonkers!
I eventually made my way to the top of Murray Mound where the ticket resale booths are located. Wimbledon has this policy where if actual ticket holders leave early, they can drop their tickets off at the ticket booth and the box office will resell them for 10 pounds and donate the proceeds to charity. So that increases the number of people who get a chance to see a main court match and also benefits charities – a win-win situation! I hurriedly got in line for the Centre Court line with not much hope because it wasn’t moving at all. Murray was slowly clawing his way back into the match, and ever so slowly he won the third set. The crowd went crazy when he finished that set, and I slowly inched forward in line.
Everybody in line was beseeching the gods for Murray to take it to a fifth set, and deep down I had a feeling that he would. As he took the fourth set, you could feel the excitement in the air as everybody jumped up with joy. And by the beginning of the fifth set…
I got a ticket for Centre Court!!!! Without having to wait overnight in the Queue!!!! I immediately raced towards Centre Court and waited for the third game of the fifth set to finish up before we were let into the stadium.
The first thing I noticed about Centre Court was just how small it was compared to Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows. It’s a more intimate setting, and even in the row furthest up, you are still quite close to the court. Not like in Arthur Ashe where you could be way up in the rafters and need binocs to see the match aside from the Jumbotron. But the crowd was just electric. Every time Murray won a point (against Feliciano Lopez, so not an easy opponent), everyone cheered and waived the Union Jack (and some Saint Andrew’s Crosses). And in the end, Murray came through, sending the crowd into a frenzy. It was truly a sight to behold.
Afterwards, I made my way out of Centre Court and got my strawberries and cream.
I also stormed into the shop and splurged on some Wimbledon paraphernalia, like the coveted Wimbledon towel and a T-shirt. And with my purchases in hand, it was a short walk back to Southfields station to head for my comfy bed…
…but not before some dinner! By the time I got out of Wimbledon, it was already past 8 pm. There was a fish and chips place near Waterloo station that I wanted to try, and thankfully they were open till 10. I arrived back at Waterloo at 9 and set off to find this restaurant.
Yes, this place is called Masters Super Fish. Plenty of locals frequenting this establishment, and nothing high brow about it. I got the cod special to take back to the hotel and yes, it was indeed super.
Never in my mind did I think that I would actually get to sit in Centre Court at Wimbledon and watch the eventual winner play a match. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.