LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II gave the royal seal of approval today to the avant-garde headquarters of the Lloyd's of London insurance market, a new building praised as a marvel of high-tech architecture and denounced as a monstrosity.
Made of metal and glass, with pipes and ducts and glass-sided elevators on the outside and a 241-foot-high atrium interior, the silver-colored structure has been compared to an oil refinery and a building turned inside out.
The $240-million building, which has been controversial since plans were set forth five years ago, rises abruptly in the densely packed financial district where Lloyd's has a 298-year history.
Architecture commentators had wondered whether the royal family, with its distaste for modern architecture, would officiate at the opening of a building with plumbing on the outside and construction cranes on top for maintenance and eventual demolition.
But the queen, who in 1952 laid the cornerstone of the outgrown Lloyd's building next door, not only came herself but brought her husband, Prince Philip. She appeared to enjoy her tour of the ground floor and three open galleries where as many as 5,000 insurance professionals work at one time.
"The building is without doubt a landmark both in terms of the skyline of the city and in the history of Lloyd's," the monarch said.
The queen also made a glancing reference to scandals that caused Lloyd's to delay the dedication ceremony six months to allow the controversy to subside before royalty stepped under the barrel-vaulted glass entrance canopy on Leadenhall Street.
She noted that Lloyd's has had "some major problems" in recent years but said progress has been made in regulating the market, "and, I am sure, will continue to be made towards a better-supervised market."
The building was designed by British architect Richard Rogers, the co-designer of the Pompidou Center in Paris, which also puts the pipes outdoors to leave an uncluttered and flexible interior.
The Lloyd's building centers on a trading area where as many as 3,000 insurance brokers offer risks on anything from supertankers to space satellites, and about 2,000 underwriters say how much they will accept and at what premium. The business handles more than $9 billion worth of premiums a year.
The trading area--The Room, in Lloyd's parlance--covers the ground floor and three galleries above, with daylight streaming down through the atrium from the vaulted glass roof. Higher galleries, now rented as offices, can be made into trading areas if the market expands, and Lloyd's management believes that it has a building it can occupy for 50 years.
Traditionalists find everything wrong with the building. "Rogers' architecture is a naive, romantic obsession with the imagery of machinery," architecture critic Gavin Stamp wrote in the conservative Daily Telegraph, who contends that maintenance costs will be huge because all the joints, crevices and pipes are exposed to the weather.
Stamp says the building is "astonishingly crude," and the trouble with it is that it is a skeleton: "There is no flesh to hold and to love."