Llewellyn Davies, Weeks, Forestier-Walker and Bar ,1969The Stock Exchange
|Borough||City of London|
|AKA||The London Stock Exchange|
The former Stock Exchange building was a rare example of what one might call a brutalist office tower. Now subject to extensive reconstruction, its massive bulk and heavy form sat like some geological outcrop amid its lighter commercial neighbours. It was a confidently executed building, but not one that was readily embraced.
The building was purpose-built to house one of the City’s proudest and most crucial establishments. The Stock Exchange was the central meeting and trading floor for the square mile and replaced chaotic Victorian premises of 1853-4. Since its foundation by Government in 1774, it had become the centre of the square mile’s activity; it was The City. If some metaphor for the Stock Exchange can be inferred from the building’s heavy 1960’s architecture, then it is one of continual longevity and permanence. It was not going anywhere. Such was its igneous appearance, that on a wet day it was as if it had been forced up out of the London clay.
The Stock Exchange was officially opened, amid predictable pomp, by the Queen in 1972. The complex was made up of a bulky irregular heptagonal tower with adjoining lower blocks linked by a podium area accessed by stairs. It was constructed around two service cores and faced in pre-cast concrete panels. The facades of the tower were characterised by small windows placed between heavy mullions, chamfered at the corners, which ran the height of the tower and at ground level formed supporting piers concealing a recessed entrance. A more delicate handling of this can be seen at the Smithson’s Economist buildings. The vertical effect of these great mullions from street level was almost gothic or rather ‘Gotham’ in feeling.
At ground level the lower buildings mimicked the tower in detail and provided the bulk of the trading floor space. The irregular site was fully utilised with the podium filling in the space between the buildings and wrapping around the tower, rising up quite elegantly from street level from Old Broad Street and also via a discreet alleyway in Bartholomew Lane, to meet a raised-level open space. This was defined by some interwar sculptures of St George and St Michael (together symbols of authority and chivalrous order) of 1922 by Sir Thomas Brock, but also by a rather fine (and regrettably un-photographed) bank of stainless steel telephone booths. The raised pedestrian deck anticipated the expansion of the City’s ped-way system, a vast network of traffic free access routes in the sky, but after it was abandoned in the late 1970’s such provision left the podium arrangement redundant.
On the 27th October 1986, the Stock Exchange as a building was further undermined by the advent of the Big Bang. The deregulation of its activities meant that computerized dealing rooms could replace face-to-face trading floors. Though the London Stock Exchange (LSE) as an institution flourished, the physical emptying of the trading spaces meant the building lost its core reason for being. In 1990, an IRA bomb destroyed the public viewing areas and they were permanently closed in 1992. The exciting workings of the City had moved elsewhere. There was nothing to see anymore. In 1993, the building was modestly converted to provide open-plan office accommodation. Its site at the heart of the City ensured that, for a while, any aesthetic misgivings could be overcome.
In 2003, the LSE sold the entire Stock Exchange site to Hammerson for complete redevelopment anticipating a move in 2004 to the newly built Paternoster Square development. The freehold purchase was estimated at £68 million. Construction work on the new scheme began in February 2006 and is well advanced. The plans by architects Nicholas Grimshaw & Partners, will provide a total of 500,000 sq ft of new commercial floorspace, including 28,000 sq ft of retail. The existing footprint of the tower will be retained, but stripped of its offensive concrete panels and re-clad in glass. At the foot of the tower two other buildings will frame a new retail thoroughfare linking Old Broad Street and Throgmorton Street with a pedestrian concourse at street level.
It would be foolish to propose that at a time of unprecedented and sustained economic growth a brutal and rather unloved building could have survived redevelopment. There was no popular will against it; the Stock Exchange was after all a difficult thing to like. A colossal beast sitting meanly on the skyline, it was more often than not coloured a dirty brown under London’s grey skies. However, with every new re-development the City is losing yet another piece of its post-war architectural diversity and one is bound to question the ubiquity of glass as the developers’ material of choice in the 21st century.