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Aukett Fitzroy Robinson restores 1970s London icon

[FIRST LOOK] Aukett Fitzroy Robinson have unveiled the £155 million refurbishment of Elsom, Pack & Roberts’ Ashdown House in Victoria

Renamed 123 Victoria Street, the redevelopment of the 170m-long building (see original AJ building study below) forms part of Land Securities’ £2 billion capital investment at Victoria, London.

Externally the architect has replaced the original dark brown tinted glazing, with new ‘high-performance’ units that create a brighter, reflective façade and provides improved thermal and acoustic insulation.

Two reconfigured reception areas provide access to 21,000m² of office space that has been stripped out and remodelled, with the reworking of the cores and the introduction of an atrium, to increase ceiling heights and improved natural lighting throughout.

Architectural designers MoreySmith led the refurbishment of the building’s public areas, the entrances, reception spaces and toilets.

Land Securities’ development plan at Victoria includes Lynch Architects’ two-building scheme at Kingsgate House that will sit directly opposite 123 Victoria Street.

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Architect’s view

Luke Schuberth, Managing director, Aukett Fitzroy Robinson

Throughout the design stages AFR were keen to create a quality, modern and efficient landmark development, but at all times respecting the original acclaimed design of E H Elsom.

123 Victoria Street has now been brought back to life as an iconic place to work, complementing the neighbouring Victoria area and significantly upgrading the immediate surroundings.

Developing the Picturesque - original building study (AJ 10/12/1975)

Crystal

Victoria Street in Westminster must be one of London’s dreariest thoroughfares. Cut through the intricate pattern of the old city in the mid-nineteenth century, it provided a broad straight highway between Victoria Station and Parliament Square. It was lined with beetling Victoria tenements, and was always grim and dark, almost completely lacking in changes of height, scale and direction.

Of late the street has become even worse, as the original buildings have been torn down to make way for developers’ architecture. But at last there is a glorious exception. Elsom, Pack & Roberts’ vast new development sets a new standard for Victoria Street, and for developers in general.

The designers (Alan Roberts partner in charge, David Evans job architects) have obeyed one or two of the rules of the developers’ game: they have come up to (indeed beyond) old building line; they have clad their building in an extremely expensive impervious skin of glass and polished grey granite. But they have broken nearly every other rule in the book. That skin is no sub-Miesian sheath but a carapace composed of modular bay windows which give detailed interest and a sense of individual identity within the huge whole.

The basic bay defines the masses which are disposed in a consciously picturesque and deftly accomplished manner. By allowing the scheme to project to the edge of the pavement to form arcades along Victoria Steet (how welcome these are), the planners gave the developers a good deal more space space than they would otherwise have had. This was, in effect, traded off to produce the scheme’s greatest virtue: the piazzetta in front of Bentley’s Westminster Cathedral.

The architects have responded magnificently to the geometrical problems. Bentley’s great entrance front was, of course, never intended to be seen from Victoria Street and is not parallel to it. To reconcile the two frontages, Roberts and Evans have angled the end walls of their two blocks so that the sides of the new space echo the axis of the church rather than clashing with it. The result is an informal cathedral square almost like those of Italian hill towns.

The new building genuflects to Bentley’s great portico by dropping down to four storeys on each side of the square. It quickly builds up to a maximum of fourteen storeys but, because the basic building unit, the bay, is comparatively small, transitions are relatively smooth, building up into a complex romantic silhouette rather than forming a series of horizontal slabs.

It is this freedom of the three-dimensional composition that makes the building greatly significant in the history of developers’ architecture. Both client and architect are to be congratulated because they have refused to allow those deadly ambitions-minimisation of the envelope to volume ratio and maximisation of uninterrupted floor area-to determine the design.

And they deserve more than simply congratulation for showing that the developer’s process can produce good architecture and-at last a real contribution to the townscape.

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