Burnet Tait & Partners ,1966Westminster City Hall & Kingsgate Parade
|Borough||City of Westminster|
At some point in the late 1950s, it was decided that the best thing to do with Victoria Street was to completely devastate it with some of the largest and most banal uniform facades in London. Westminster City Hall with Kingsgate Parade is a massive block of a kind described by Pevsner as, ‘utterly mute in civic expression.’
The redevelopment of Victoria Street was suggested in numerous war-time publications. Its dour Victorian buildings had few admirers, while the role of the street was thought to be deserving of special treatment. It connects the historic and Imperial grandeur of Westminster and the point of entry into the metropolis by rail from continental Europe at Victoria Station. Victoria Street simply wasn’t good enough. In Abercrombies’s County of London Plan of 1943, there are numerous recommendations for the reorganisation of its eastern end to provide a more satisfactory setting for the architectural monuments of Westminster Abbey and Parliament. The plan suggested a series of formal boulevard style streets forming a large civic space. In London Replanned of 1942, a high profile pamphlet by the Royal Academy, similar recommendations were made for the creation of a new civic space at its juncture with the station and its context to Buckingham Palace. Both plans are characterised by their formal pomp and Haussmann style gesturing.
Following the Second World War, none of the grand architectural proposals were adopted, however the will to reconstruct Victoria Street as an office expansion district grew during the first post-war economic boom from approximately 1956 onwards. This period saw huge growth in the demand for office space as service roles expanded to replace traditional manufacturing jobs in the city. For Victoria Street, development was hastened by an expansion of government. Whitehall departments gradually moved their way down the street to new premises and so too did local government. Developers at Victoria Street reinvented the streetscape to accommodate this boom.
Westminster City Hall and Kingsgate Parade was conceived in conjunction with the much larger Stag Place development to its west. Stag Place, much of it now rebuilt, was an enormous scheme comprising the monumental 29-storey Portland House and a series of large geometrically arranged office buildings with Public Houses, a new public square, shops and Bressenden Place- an LCC road improvement. Along its frontage to Victoria Street stood Esso House. Also by Burnet, Tait and Partners this building (now demolished) formed a continuous range with Kingsgate Parade and Westminster City Hall and also Mobil House to its north. Similarly, it was a long horizontal slab with retail at ground level and a tower breaking the street line placed forward at 90 degrees. The Westminster development does the same thing, but is uniformly finished in Portland stone and runs slightly longer between Palace Street and Buckingham Gate.
The development is essentially a speculative office block that gained its civic status after planning approval had already been granted. In 1965, the City of Westminster was created as part of the establishment of the Greater London Council. This was five years after construction began at the site. This explains the lack of ‘civic expression’ in its plain design. The newly created Westminster Council simply bought an office block as its home and details were amended so that at ground level one is provided with some municipal regalia in the form of a coat of arms and chandeliers in a marble clad lobby. Westminster City Council supported later commercial redevelopment of the street.
Westminster City Hall and the Kingsgate Parade is largely without flair, but can still create a certain amount of dynamism as a result of its rigid geometry. The bold horizontal lines establish a heroic scale to the street, while its tower provides a vertical focal point to the general banality of the street as a whole. It is managed by Land Securities.