Richard Seifert & Partners ,1967Draper's Gardens
|Borough||City of London|
|Materials||glass, mosaic, re-inforced concrete|
|AKA||National Westminster Bank|
|Richard Seifert & Partners||Architect||1962||1967|
|Foggo Associates||Redevelopment Architect||2003|
|Royal Bank of Scotland||Redeveloper||2001||2005|
|Royal Bank of Scotland||Owner||2001||2005|
|National Westminster Bank||Client||1962||1967|
|National Westminster Bank||Owner||1967||2001|
The wilful destruction of Drapers’ Gardens is perhaps the greatest loss to befall the cause of post-war architecture in recent years. Seifert’s elegant concrete office tower, contemporary with, and in many ways superior to the West End’s Centre Point, struck a dynamic pose on the City’s skyline and yet sat unobtrusively within the City’s distinctive network of lanes and courtyards.
Drapers’ Gardens was built for the National Westminster Bank by the prolific developer Harry Hyams and covered a one acre site. It was noted for its technically sophisticated construction which was the result of a collaboration with F. Norman James.
The building was made up of two commonly employed components; a tower and a podium. The tower may have risen to a modest height of 336 feet, but each of its 28 floors was dramatically cantilevered out at the second level from a central core. The reinforced concrete core absorbed the lateral forces of each floor, which were expressed externally through strong convex horizontal bands with indentations at the sides. The whole was finished in mosaic tiles and green tinted glass and topped by an open balcony strip followed by a solid penthouse storey containing services. The result of such a dramatic, but restrained design created a sense of lightness and elegance. Its structural engineering was central to its architectural form and this was most apparent at ground and podium level.
The podium around the base of the tower was supported by a steel columned reception area opening onto Copthall Avenue and a smoked glass façade at street level on Throgmorton Avenue. An opening in the façade led to a landscaped deck with more steps that took one to an L-shaped area extending to the rear of the building. From this vantage point one could clearly appreciate the openness created by the cantilever. The deck level was free of columns and one could look up at the ribbed underbelly of the tower expanding out from its core, with its convex profile tapering to a shark-like fin.
The open podium was so designed to accommodate the City’s contemporary desire to provide an upper level pedestrian network of walkways. These so-called ‘pedways’ aimed at establishing the vertical separation of traffic and people and would have extended all over the city from the Barbican via a network at London Wall down to the Thames. All new commercial developments were obliged to provide a provision for the scheme from 1963 onwards. Drapers’ Gardens’ was eventually connected to its neighbour Angel Court by a bridge over Copthall Avenue and provision made for connection to an unrealised development to the west. The ‘pedways’ scheme was abandoned during the late 1970’s. The dark opening held up by concrete trusses facing down Swan Alley is a remnant of the City’s dashed hopes.
Demolition of Drapers’ Gardens began early in 2006 and is proceeding at great speed. By October 2007 it will be completely gone. This follows years of legal battles between the developers Royal Bank of Scotland, its friends in the Corporation of London, English Heritage and the best efforts of the Twentieth Century Society to save it. Such efforts may have bought some time, but its location within the club-like square mile meant it was doomed.
A vigourous campaign was launched by the Twentieth Century Society early in 2001 to have the building listed by English Heritage. It won a planning reprieve in 2002, but faced an uphill battle on numerous fronts. Despite its prolific and widely celebrated architect, Richard Seifert, (whose other great 1960’s tower Centre Point had been granted Grade II protection) the Society failed to convince a group keen on enhancing strategic views of St Paul’s Cathedral. Drapers’ Gardens undoing was its proximity to the cathedral in the protected view from Waterloo Bridge. The developers fought the battle on this front and on the issue of energy consumption. It touted a design by Foggo Associates that made much of low energy consumption and apparently intelligent design in fitting with the character of the area. Drapers’ Gardens was portrayed as some dangerous concrete monolith incapable of rehabilitation.
The new development by Foggo Associates is due to be completed by 2009. It will be a stepped low-rise scheme growing from five to sixteen storeys over three blocks. It will utilise the usual façade gimmicks of an articulated service core of steel and glass and, to prove its green credentials, it will incorporate natural stone and timber.