David du R. Aberdeen & Partners ,1966The Swiss Centre


See map: Google Maps
10 Wardour Street


BoroughCity of Westminster
Usagecommercial, public
ProcessesConcrete frame, Steel Frame
Materialsglass, steel


Swiss Centre Exterior




David du R. Aberdeen & PartnersArchitect19611966
London County CouncilPromoter19611966
Government of SwitzerlandDeveloper19611966
British LandOwner2004
McAleer & RusheRedeveloper2004
Jesticoes & WhilesRedevelopment Architect2004



Despite being a landmark of the West End and Leicester Square for over 40 years, the Swiss Centre still seems like a slightly odd concept. The celebration of all things Swiss seemed to come out of nowhere, while the light alpine air of its street furniture, seems at odds with the heady mix of its immediate context. The stocky building never quite lived up to its brief and has been successively refitted to suit a range of commercial tenants and tastes. The site is now subject to redevelopment and its demolition is imminent.


Completed in 1968, the development was touted as a showcase for Switzerland and conceived as a trade centre for industry and commerce. It received generous planning support from the London County Council, who were keen to see this important site redeveloped as part of wider commercial plans to rejuvenate the area as a leisure destination. Originally the complex contained a Swiss bank, shops, restaurant and businesses, and remains the home of the Swiss National Tourist Board.


The building is a fairly straightforward affair. It is made up of a rather bulky 14-storey tower on a two-storey podium, which occupies the full extent of the site. The frame is made up of reinforced concrete and steel, with external cladding in steel and glass. The rhythm of the tower is broken at the 13th floor by a single projecting balcony and a shift in finish to disguise service elements at the roofline. On the podium there is freestanding-stacked column, or totem, displaying illuminated Swiss insignia and adverts. The Swiss motifs were extended in various forms onwards from its completion. On the podia’s curving front to Leicester Square there is a Carillon (musical instrument composed of at least 23 bells) set in a frieze of animated Helvetic figures carved by Fritz Fuchs in 1968.[1] In 1977 this was joined by a traditional Swiss Inn sign and was extended further in 1984 with the installation of the popular glockenspiel, the flagpole displaying the Confederation’s 26 state flags, and the re-naming of New Coventry Street as Swiss Court.[2] One wonders whether, amidst this Swiss-mania, anyone thought of introducing a giant fondue to replace the fountains at the heart of the area?

Between 1986 and 1992, Westminster Council carried out a £3.9 million refurbishment of Leicester Square.[3] This programme sought to re-establish the area as a vibrant commercial district after some years of decline and closed the Square to traffic providing a newly pedestrianised public space at its heart. During this time the podium level of the Swiss Centre was reclad in a heavy bronze. Despite these efforts and numerous commercial tenants including an Odeon and art house cinema, bars and nightclubs, recording studios and retail, the building continued to suffer from its various refits and its dour office bulk.


A report from October 2002 from Westminster City Councils planning department identified the Swiss Centre as a failing building and as an opportunity for complete redevelopment. The building was highly criticised for failing to relate to its neighbours in terms of scale and material and condemned for earlier re-cladding and service distribution, which had damaged the street level environment. At Lisle and Leicester Street the building presents a series of deliveries and service facilities, an underground car park entrance and banks of ventilation outlets. Its layout and dated interiors no longer appeal to high profile companies and many of the offices are vacant. The Swiss connection made much of in 1968 and 1992 has been lost. The clocks still chime and the flags fly, but below are empty shops, run down souvenir stalls and bewildered tourists. Put simply, the building conveys a negative image for Leicester Square and its demolition would provide an opportunity for a lower structure in keeping the rest of the area.

In 2005, Leicester Square became part of the ‘Heart of London Business Improvement District.[4] Modelled on the American format that turned around Times Square in New York, the Heart of London BID is charged with developing and implementing a strategy to masterplan future development around the West End. At the Heart of London Business Alliance website it declares ‘From Circus to Square a World Class destination.’ It promotes five maxims. They are the Champions, the Catalysts, the Operators, the Promoters and the leaders. They aim, “to deliver additional services and to create improved trading environments for business and make the area a more pleasant place in which to shop, visit, work and live.”[5] Essentially, the BID picks up on the report of 2002 and gives it much needed financial assistance, relieving Westminster City Council of some of its responsibilities. As part of these efforts, the redevelopment of the Swiss Centre has become a rare opportunity to provide new and large-scale commercial premises in the area, but also an architectural opportunity to create a new landmark.

In 2006, Westminster City Council agreed to the demolition of the Swiss Centre in order to make way for a new mixed-use development by developers McAleer & Rushe. McAleer & Rushe gained the site from Britsh Land in 2004 for an estimated £40 million[6] and, with architects Jestico and Whiles, have commissioned a landmark 200 000 square foot property. The new building will include a 230-bedroom four star Jurys Inn hotel, as well as 16 000 square feet of ‘signature life-style brand’[7] retail space and ten penthouse apartments. In the basement below the shops and accommodation there will be three more levels, containing restaurants and a casino. The 9-storey building is clad in ‘a veil of variegated glass, frosted and cool by day and stained by coloured light at night.’[8]

Construction on the new development is due to begin in 2007 and will prove crucial to the wider economic revival of the area. Leicester Square is itself subject to a new plan of refurbishment by Gillespies, Pinniger and Partners that will remove that of the 1992 scheme. The new proposals aim to establish a more contemporary look and utilize new technologies to provide a functional and flexible space.[9]

One might ask how a glockenspiel clock fits in to all this? The answer is it doesn’t. It seems Leicester Square’s absurd flirtation with all things Swiss will come to an end in 2009 with completion of both projects. What will become of the paraphernalia the area has spent 40-years accumulating?

Syndicate content