O. Campbell-Jones & Sons ,1958Bucklersbury House & Temple Court
|Borough||City of London|
|Processes||Concrete frame, Steel Frame|
Bucklersbury House represents a significant landmark in the architectural history of the City of London. It was the first to smash the centuries old 100ft height limit and rejected the historic pattern of the street in favour of a freer, more dynamic and modern composition of building elements. Its completion marked a ‘breakthrough’ in the Square Mile’s acceptance of a new commercial style long advocated by planners and architects.
Following the Second World War, the initial rebuilding of the City of London was coloured by an instinctive return to the traditional building styles of Classicism and Neo-Georgian. Despite the wartime clamour surrounding continental modernism and recommendations from within its own planning department (see “The City of London; A Record of Destruction and Survival” of 1947 by C. Holden and W.G. Holford), the City with its commercial partners threw up numerous rigidly formal structures. Examples of these include St Swithins Court; a well finished, but essentially Edwardian building and New Change; a giant and absurdist red-bricked behemoth. Although some made concessions to new ideas surrounding day-lighting principles, they were characterised by the use of heavy materials and historic architectural detailing. Of this old hat style of timidity, Pevsner concluded they introduced, “...just enough of the twentieth century to avoid being ridiculous and keeping enough giant columns and other paraphernalia of Empire to stake the claim of remaining a great nation.”
The design of Bucklersbury House was subject to numerous interventions between 1953 and its completion in 1958. An initial street-line scheme, favoured by developer Aynsley Bridgland, was rejected by the LCC in favour of a more progressive design. This reflected growing disappointment in the quality of commercial architecture being built at the time. The role of the LCC was crucial in advancing building design in the post-war years. The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, rather remarkably, granted the LLC planning control over the City Corporation, “much to the city’s disgust,” and, in a rare exercising of its powers, it pushed for a much bolder design for Bucklersbury.
The revised building made use of the new free plot-ratio formula. This permitted architects to produce any combination of unit massing to provide the maximum square-footage of office space allowed. Bucklersbury’s architects, Owen Campbell-Jones and Sons, chose to set the main 14-storey block back from the street and turn 45 degrees to Queen Victoria Street with three 6-storey wings coming off it to St Swithins Lane. This design created a great amount of occasional space at street level and ensured all offices would be naturally lit. In 1953, the Royal Fine Art Commission raised objections to the building’s light-weight façade treatment and the impact of an unfinished looking roof profile. A suggestion, put forward by Sir Giles Scott for an all-over, rather heavy looking, Portland stone curtain wall, was thankfully turned down in favour of more or less the architect’s original conception. The final design incorporates a uniform roofline, as desired, and a combination of light-weight olive coloured spandrels and Portland ashlar on its facades. This arrangement became a, “much imitated compromise between London tradition and the asperities of advanced modernism,” it also marked a planning compromise between the architectural will of the LCC and developer Bridgland.
During construction in 1954, the remains of the Roman Temple of Mithras were discovered and incorporated into a raised public terrace above the open space adjacent to Queen Victoria Street. In 1962 the development was completed with the erection of Temple Court. Finished in a similar manner, the block sits at a right angle to Bucklersbury and frames the large, perhaps too large, triangular forecourt around Mithras. Temple Court extends down to Cannon Street with a series of projecting and parallel wings, lower in height, sadly dominated by delivery entrances, car-parking and incorporating a small shopping route called Budge Row. Iain Nairn described it blankly as a building with, “…a lot of storeys, a lot of windows, freedom from pointlessly applied period detail, freedom from obvious gracelessness, freedom from aesthetic megalomania. It is the null point of architecture.” The site has been home to Legal and General since its completion.
In June 2006, owners Legal and General submitted plans for the redevelopment of the entire site. The hugely ambitious proposals are the result of a collaboration between Norman Foster and French architect Jean Nouvel (collectively known as Atelier Foster Nouvel). The new development to be known as ‘Walbrook Square,’ will provide four distinct office buildings, to be read as a rough cluster, with retail centred on a new civic square and network of pedestrian thoroughfares. The design is characterised by so-called “clouds” at the roofline of the buildings. These abstract and rather bulbous features are intended as ‘solar collectors.’ As well as providing striking landmark pieces of architecture, the design claims be one of several components to make a sustainable and energy efficient workplace. Its bold design makes it one of the more exciting redevelopment proposals in the City today.
Sustainability is now a crucial component of any new development. Developers and architects are keen to demonstrate a sensitivity to the environment, but also particularly in the case of central London, a consideration of historic context. Sensitivity of place has won ‘Walbrook Square’ many fans, not least those in the Ancient Monuments sector. A key part of the marketing of the plans has been the promise to realign the Temple of Mithras to somewhere near its original, and therefore sacred, site close to the underground Walbrook River. It makes the 1950s Bucklersbury terrace above a car-park seem like willful desecretion. The Atelier Foster Nouvel scheme provides a permanent exhibition space for the Roman remains and aims to ‘rediscover a network of historic pedestrian routes.’ For the City Corporation, such promises fulfil a whole raft of planning and place-making goals. For the Greater London Authority, its simply world class.
Although the ‘Walbrook Square’ scheme is still in planning stages, Bucklersbury House will be demolished. There seems little doubt. The Atelier Foster Nouvel scheme is simply brilliant. It takes office design in the City to an abstracted high. To achieve its own goals, one hopes it is not watered down. Despite its heroic scale, its striking geometry and dynamic relationship to the street, the failings of Bucklersbury and Temple House are there to see. It is simply huge. Its bulk is still challenging the street it refused to form any relationship with. It values car park provision at its ground level over pedestrians, while its finish is without flair. It rubbished Roman remains. When proposed it seemed radical, but now belongs to an era of rather dashed hopes whose ‘landmark’ commercial monuments now seem impotent to the demands and vigour of the new City. It is now upon these that the new City will rise, providing ample opportunities for the property market to thrive.