Burnet Tait & Partners ,1964City Tower
|AKA||40 Basinghall Street|
City Tower, or 40 Basinghall Street as it was once known, is one of the last remaining towers, built as part of one of London’s greatest and most ambitious pieces of post-war urban renewal. It is a straightforward and lightweight building that owes its form to being part of the much greater development of London Wall.
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.”
City Tower or 40 Basinghall Street was completed in 1964. This was the height of the office boom and London Wall did very well. Its position to the south of the scheme and therefore closer to the heart of the City meant it was tendered at vastly more favourable rates. In 1959, developers Wates/Phoenix secured rates at 15s per sq foot. Basinghall’s first tenants were IBM. They paid approximately double the rents north of Route 11. Basinghall is a very plain block with a concrete core finished with a steel and glass curtain wall. Like the other original towers it was designed in a deliberately anonymous manner in order to maintain an architectural unity. In 1985, it was refurbished by GMW Partnership and relaunched as City Tower. At this time it gained its current reflective blue glass skin, marble details around its ground floor and a glass pyramid on the pedestrian deck.
In 1986 London Wall was designated an ‘expansion zone.’ This followed the deregulation of the financial markets, triggering a new office boom. At this time the City’s pre-eminence was no longer assured. In east London the redevelopment of Docklands threatened its dominance. It could provide much larger premises at much more favourable rates. The City reacted in a “Pavlovian,” manner. The development plan was torn up and a rash of buildings hurriedly erected to capitalise upon the boom. Between 1985 and 1989, while Docklands added 2.6 million square feet of office space, the City created 16.5 million. During this time London Wall was subject to drastic modification and disfigurement.
The first building to infringe upon the modernist cityscape was the heavy City Place House by Swanke Hayden Connell. It was built between 1988 and 1992 and extended across a large chunk of public space to ensure a street presence on London Wall. The sacrifice of the public realm for the accommodation of private profit colours much development of the time. The upper level pedestrian was forced into darkened arcades, while the marble clad bulk with vaguely Art Deco details were a threat to the surrounding earlier towers. City Tower suffers from a result of its clumsy and bullish neighbour.