Powell and Moya ,1976Bastion House
|Borough||City of London|
|Materials||concrete, smoked glass|
Bastion House was the last component in one of London’s greatest and most ambitious pieces of post-war urban renewal. The office block, together with Museum of London, forms the western flank of the London Wall development and is easily the most distinctive of the six towers constructed between 1957 and 1976.
London Wall was part of a movement of amazing optimism and faith in the ideology of architectural modernism and its promise of a new built form for the city following the devastation of the blitz. It demonstrates what was possible within the breadth of vision following the Second World War and the new powers of centralised planning control. The London that emerged from the ruins of war was to be the remedy to the haphazard milieu of previous. London Wall emerged as a segment of architectural clarity, symbolic of the efforts of the public body to exercise control over the built environment and crucially attempts on the private sector.
London Wall owes its conception to longstanding calls for a northern traffic bypass for the City of London. The first concrete proposals were put forward in the 1947 Town Planning Committee publication, “The City of London; A Record of Destruction and Survival” by C. Holden and W.G. Holford. In the document London Wall is referred to as Route 11 and shown as a dual carriageway running from Aldgate (east) to Ludgate Circus (west). The Holden/Holford plan espoused the virtues of new building forms in the city. It is a landscape characterised by the separation of traffic and pedestrian. New roads are lifted above new and intimate public spaces mimicking the City’s ancient lanes and courtyards. The plan suggests a continuity where people would relax and socialise amid gardens, shopping precincts and cafes. Crucially it also makes rather thorough recommendations on providing adequate daylight for workers through the reorganisation of the office building. This call was, “for something of an architectural revolution in the City.”
In 1944 a Town and Country Planning Act granted power for local authorities to acquire land through compulsory purchase to create a, “simpler and more expedious procedure for redevelopment of areas of extensive bomb damage.” In this year the City of London Corporation gained by compulsory purchase the 40 acre site north of St Paul's , which was to become London Wall and later the Barbican. In 1947 a further act nationalised the planning process and crucially granted the LLC planning control over the City Corporation, “much to the city’s disgust.”
In 1954, frustrated at the contemporary efforts of largely piecemeal reconstruction, a group calling itself ‘The New Barbican Committee,’ headed by architect Sergei Kadleigh, unveiled a plan of comprehensive redevelopment on the long derelict site north of St Paul's. The scheme proposed a vast network of interlocking hexagonal structures of towers and decks over the 40-acre site owned by the City Corporation. This utopian mega structure proved hugely influential and by 1955 a collaborative scheme of comprehensive redevelopment was unveiled by the City’s head of planning H.A. Mealand and the LCC’s Leslie Martin.
The roadway ‘Route 11’was central to the expression of the ‘Martin-Mealand’ scheme as built. Six towers of identical proportion, sit at equal distance from one another at 45 degrees to the street on a raised pedestrian deck with lower slab blocks at right angles. It was a monumental scheme and owed much to Le Corbusier’s 1933 ‘La Ville Radieuse’ in its geometric vision. It was characterised by generous public spaces and the complete segregation of traffic and pedestrian flows of circulation. It was anticipated that these ‘ped-ways,’ would eventually be expanded to provide a City-wide network.
To ensure this vision remained intact, strict guidelines were put in place for potential developers to follow. London Wall is a unique example of the application of planning controls to maintain an architectural unity. The LCC was keen that lightness and modern materials were encouraged and the City Corporation, as free holder, provided the paperwork and leases accordingly. The 28-acre site (the remaining 12 acres were given over to the Barbican development) was divided up into plots of land and sold speculatively. Developers would be responsible for adhering to rules on day lighting, density and car parking, but crucially were given a three dimensional architectural envelope as a precondition of the lease to work within. It was a type of control unseen in London since the Georgian Estates of the 18th century.
Developers would each be responsible for a portion of the continuous pedestrian deck and, while architectural treatment could vary, were to work within a set of rigid plans.
The towers were each to be of 16 floors (11 feet each) above the podium level and not exceed 140 feet in length or 58 feet in width. The finish was to be of a continuous curtain wall without interruption to be carried for two further floors to mask a variety of penthouse objects. This is to be finished with an upturned brim. The lower level meeting the podium should be set in by 3 feet 4 inches, while the podium itself be 20 feet high from street level. Additionally spandrel colours were to be selected from an approved range of twelve. One might expect this range of restrictive elements to deter potential developers, but building was swift and the scheme received critical acclaim as “architecture of the highest common factor.”
Although built within the same design envelope as the original five towers, Bastion House makes some clear and distinct claims to be its own building. The 12 years between its completion and that of 40 Basinghall Street (City Tower) in 1964 meant that stylistically it embraced a new set of architectural details. Development was held up at the site by a combination of factors. The site is the furthest geographically from the Bank, this meant it never attracted quite the same commercial frenzy as elsewhere. There was also some conflict as to the longstanding desire to provide an additional cultural institution as part of the Barbican and some discussion as to how this would be financed. In the end it was the City Corporation who built and occupied the block.
Bastion House with the Museum of London is the link between the commercial scheme of London Wall and the massive residential complex of the Barbican by the same architects. It is a more robust looking building that employs some trademark features of Powell and Moya’s adjacent scheme. A surviving section of Roman Wall meant that the tower and museum was severed slightly from the main bulk of the earlier towers and podium. A narrow pedestrian bridge on slim columns, running parallel to the dual carriageway connects the two phases of the development. This means that it is open at street level and appears much more dramatic than the others. The main bulk of the tower is held up several storeys onto an exposed concrete frame, which is articulated down to street level and with a bevelled finish. This detailing is also carried through to ancilliary features such as the car park entrance and access stairs. The office itself has a dark curtain wall of smoked glass and bronze panels.
In 1986 London Wall was designated an ‘expansion zone.’ This followed the deregulation of the financial markets, triggering a new office boom. In 1992 Bastion House was isolated from the rest of London Wall, with the completion of Terry Farrell’s Alban Gate. Alban Gate was the result of the redevelopment of Lee House, one of London Wall’s 6 towers, and extended over the street destroying sight lines and severing forever any unity of the scheme.
In 1999, plans commissioned by the City Corporation by Pringle Richards Sharratt architects for redevelopment of both Bastion House and the Museum of London were unveiled. The speculative proposals were for the commercial reuse of the site. Architects drawings showed a heavily re-clad tower, extended and curved at the edges and articulated by service components topped by twin aerial masts. The fussy plans were abandoned by the City and scaled back to a simple interior refurbishment by a developer. This had maintained the original look of the block with the museum. At about this time, the ‘Bastion House’ letters were removed and ‘140 London Wall’ emerged. Happily, through weathering and lack of cleaning, it is still possible to make out their outline.
In 2003, a refurbishment of the Museum of London was completed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects.