Two highly flexible 1960s buildings - Centre Point and the Economist building – are being reimagined for the 21st century under new ownerships.
Completed just one year apart, Seifert’s Centre Point and the Smithsons’ Economist Plaza have been reworked under Almacantar and Tishman Speyer respectively, and were both the subjects of an NLA breakfast talk last week.
Centre Point was Almacantar’s first scheme, said its communications director Daniel Ritterband, when every other plan at the time was to knock it down. ‘We wanted our first project to be one that everyone thought it was impossible to do’, he said, pointing to Crossrail’s arrival as one of the office-to-residential scheme’s main catalysts.
Mike Hitchens, divisional director of the original engineers Pell Frischmann, brought back to work on the refurbishment, said the ‘amazing’ building represented a major challenge at the time, building so tall on soft clay. The solution was to make it as light as possible, with Seifert able to convince the planners to build a scheme of 34 storeys tall that was half the weight of what it should have been, using an early example of modern methods of construction. The building has been ‘lovingly repaired’, said Hitchens. ‘This is the highest façade retention I think anyone has ever done.’
Conran and Partners’ senior partner and CEO Tim Bowder-Ridger said the brief had been to work with the spirit of the building and ‘give it a life for at least the next two generations, and make it look natural.’ The new-look building includes 82 apartments, in situ terrazzo, requisitioned staircases, a new entrance and two extra floors at its peak, with a swimming pool, ground floor retail designed by Rick Mather Architects (now MICA) and a new envelope to stop it ‘leaking energy like nobody’s business’.
The brutalist Economist Plaza in St James’, said Tishman Speyer acquisitions and development director, Philippe Le Fort, was an investment opportunity his family-owned business was interested in for a simple reason – that it was for sale. Completed in 1964, the building was home to the Economist Magazine, which later had to restructure, so had to sell its ‘crown jewels’ to maintain its editorial independence. Tishman Speyer started looking at it in 2015, with the company CEO visiting and saying ‘this is a building that you want to keep forever’. TS selected Deborah Saunt following a competition, as someone who could ‘take on the masters’, getting the views of Westminster and Historic England before they began any designs. The Grade II* listed complex comprises a raised pedestrian plaza around which three buildings are: the 15-storey Economist Tower, the 5-storey Bank Building and the 8-storey Residential Building. The unique opportunity in the project is the plaza space, Le Fort said, Saunt adding that the new-look scheme will include key improvements to the public realm including a pocket park, a new entrance, retail and the replacement of a basement car park with a new art gallery spacer. ‘But the engine for this is the office space’, said Saunt. ‘We’re not making radical changes here. It’s very much in sympathy.’ The trick was ‘keeping it simple’, Saunt added, retaining the Smithsons scheme’s ‘inherent flexibility.’
By David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly