The Open House programme usually includes one big new City office block the owners want to show off, then never open to the public again. This year the flashy newcomer is Bloomberg, whose nine-storey groundscraper opened last October near Bank station. And if you got in quickly with the pre-booking, they were only too happy to show you round. My thanks to the Bloomberg guide who dumped their Tour Route cribsheet in the Metro bin at Cannon Street, and made writing the following a bit easier.
Signs that Bloomberg were taking Open House extremely seriously included a) checking ID on the way in b) issuing everyone with a pre-printed nametag on a lanyard c) handing out a deluxe full colour 50 page booklet detailing the vision behind the new building d) providing free drinks and biscuits while waiting for each tour to kick off. To be fair, the tea wasn't great, and the biscuits were the standardly average assortment served in church halls across the country, but on a miserably damp day I had no complaints.
The ground floor of the main building is strikinglyunusual, centred around a three-way lobby with swirling wooden walls, a bit like walking into the Ark. They call it the Vortex. Artist Olafur Eliasson has added a silvery metallic triangle at the apex of the ceiling, because the building's big on art and architectural statements. Our group's guide was a smart and enthusiastic employee, probably from the American side of the pond, and she rattled through "Intro to Building", "Intro to Company", "History" and "Art" with excitable vigour.
The correct exit takes you to a bank of glass-walled lifts, these unusual for being located around the perimeter of the building rather than up a central core, leaving plenty of room for enormous open plan spaces on the upper floors. The heart of the building is the 6th floor, nicknamed the Pantry, where employees socialise, nab coffee, grab free fruit and watch big video screens. The atmosphere is beneficent rather than commercial. Europe's largest commercial aquarium graces the space in front of the lifts, for maximum aaaah, and one large breakout zone has a splendid almost-unobstructed view of St Paul's.
Our second guide was from Foster and Partners, the architects responsible, and he got to point at the sustainable sandstone, the aluminium petal ceilings, the bronze ventilation fins and the Green Wall. But it was left to the company employee to do most of the talking, exclaiming how excellent everything was and repeatedly evangelising the man behind it all. Mike Bloomberg opened up the public realm, Mike Bloomberg restored Londinium's Roman heart, Mike Bloomberg single-handedly saved the business who provided the wall fabrics, Mike Bloomberg even rescued the fish... or so it sounded from the number of times she namechecked the blessed chief executive.
She led us into the Executive Dining Room to see some more art, some supposedly ground-breaking microphones and the big table where the fattest cats meet. Their view is of City rooftops, including a Wren church, the terrace at 1 Poultry and the flagpole on the top of the Bank of England, not to mention most of the skyscrapers in the central cluster. Unfortunately the bland tower at 22 Bishopsgate now dominates, and it's barely possible to see the Gherkin any more except as a thin sliver. Still, I bet the wine's good.
The building's most exhilarating internal feature is the ramp which spirals from top to not quite bottom, and which has been included to encourage employees to mix and mingle. It's angled at approximately three strides per step, and links up intriguingly asymmetrically on the way down. It also takes up a heck of lot of space which could otherwise be given over to desks, but given there are over 2000 desks in the building, that's not a problem. Oh to work in a modern office where your worktop adjusts up and down electronically, rather than having to fiddle with some awkwardly placed knob and never quite getting the height right.
It was only when we reached the 5th floor that I realised our guide had never once told us what Bloomberg actually do. We'd heard much of architecture, values and vision, but nothing of core work, not even that this was a financial company. Only when we reached the central studio did she suddenly gush about the daily TV livecast, the almost-automated cameras and the green room "where world leaders wait". My strongest memory of Bloomberg TV is being abroad and discovering it was the only English language channel, and preferring a blank screen to its unctuous diet of market data and investment updates.
Whatever, the building certainly has the wow factor, from the arty internal voids to the Roman temple concealed in its basement. Working conditions are light years away from what the average Londoner currently endures, in this ergonomic hotbed of economic analysis. I'd even go so far as to say it's less office block and more micro-neighbourhood. Hurrah for Open House allowing a few of us inside to sample precisely what state-of-the-art looks like in the City in 2018. And if you weren't fortunate enough to get a peek, ah well, Bloomberg HQ will just have to remain that chunky behemoth with the restaurants underneath you occasionally walk past. [13 photos]