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Business embraces Euro-skyscraper

By Nick Easen for CNN

Among the building's most striking features are lightwells that span two to six stories.
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(CNN) -- Like other European metropolises, London has relatively few high-rise office buildings compared to cities in the U.S. and Asia. But it is catching up.

The latest addition is a prominent 40-story tower built for the reinsurance company Swiss Re.

The company moved in last month and the building has quickly become a landmark on the London skyline.

Affectionately known as the "erotic gherkin" for its curved shape, the 180-meter (590-foot) creation by architect Sir Norman Foster also has raised the profile of the company that commissioned it.

"Five years ago if you had asked a man on a bus who Swiss Re was they would have gone, 'What?'" Sara Fox from Swiss Re told CNN.

"Now, many people may not be able to tell you exactly what we do, but they sure know who we are. People say, 'Oh yes, Swiss Re is that new building'."

The owners occupy eight office floors half way up the tower, which means the company can charge higher rents to those firms interested in taking the upper floors with better views.

First green skyscraper

The building at 30 St Mary Axe, in the heart of the City, is not just a commercial symbol -- it is London's first green skyscraper.

Low energy consumption and a reduction in carbon emissions formed a central part of the designer's brief.

"The spaces that spiral around the building act as the lungs," says Foster, whose Foster and Partners was the architectural firm behind the design.

The company also is responsible for such well-known structures as the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank tower in Hong Kong, the renovation of the Reichstag in Berlin and the Millennium Bridge in London.

"It is not a sealed building. It delivers a lot of fresh air -- 40 times the amount of fresh air. That is good in terms of carbon emissions. It is also good in terms of energy," Foster says.

The tower incorporates innovative environmental technology and a sophisticated building management system that balances external weather conditions with internal office needs.

Windows up to the 32nd floor open to admit natural ventilation when the external temperature is above 20 C (68 F) and wind speeds are below 16 km/h (10 mph).

Its aerodynamic gherkin-like shape also causes wind pressure changes that help ventilate the building naturally, reducing the need for conventional air conditioning.

CNN's Andrew Carey contributed to this report

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