Shuttleworth on 5 Broadgate: ‘a sea change in modern architecture’
Make founder Ken Shuttleworth talks exclusively to the AJ about the practice’s controversial scheme at 5 Broadgate for British Land
What considerations drove the design of 5 Broadgate?
It is a single, million square foot trading and office building for a major Swiss bank - just the sort of client the Broadgate masterplan was designed for back in the mid 1980s. It will provide UBS with a new [long-term]home and includes four trading floors with room for 750 traders on each.
The design reflects the values and aspirations of the client, reacts with its context and uses the lowest energy consumption possible, responding both to current energy legislation and anticipating the move towards a low carbon economy.
How did you feel about the strength of some of the criticism of the project?
Anyone who pokes their head above the parapet and attempts something new is bound to attract criticism. I’ve been there many times before, for example with the Gherkin and Wembley both of which are now part of the assumed norm.
At Make we’ve never wavered from producing architecture which we believe reflects the times in which we live and to be challenging, questioning and exploratory. To us architecture is a constant quest, a pursuit or search in an attempt to attain perfection in architecture.
‘Those who can’t accept new aesthetics find [our work] difficult to digest’
This leads us in many directions with surprising outcomes. And as so often our work looks different, those who can’t accept new aesthetics find it difficult to digest. However, I do understand that Broadgate has an emotional attachment for those that worked on it only 25 years ago but the world moves on. I remember when one of Norman Foster’s early important projects, Reliance Controls, was demolished; his reaction was a shrug of the shoulders and he just carried on. There was little sentiment and, in a way, it is a lesson of how Broadgate should be seen.
Office buildings are commodities not monuments. We are preserving the spaces and improving the pedestrian experience considerably and believe the strength of Broadgate is not the individual buildings but the masterplan. Broadgate was originally about flexibility - the buildings around the circle, with their cynical use of stone, have never been considered to be great pieces of architecture and have also been subject to considerable change anyway.
‘I’m incredulous some people think No 4 and No 6 Broadgate are worth preserving in their own right’
When Broadgate was developed in the 80s I was working on the HSBC bank in Hong Kong and the Lloyds building was on site in London. Both of these designs have long been thought of as finer examples of 1980s architecture. So, I am surprised, no incredulous, that some people think that No 4 and No 6 Broadgate are worth preserving in their own right. They are not wonderful, they are no longer fit for purpose and even Peter Foggo, the architect who designed them, didn’t like them.
Which element of the scheme are you most proud?
To win this project in the first place; to design a building for clients of this calibre in this location; to receive their total support and to win planning permission. It is a bonus that the design is fiercely different from any other building yet produced in London. The scheme is entirely logical, stems from its context, the client’s requirements and is one of the lowest energy solutions applied to a building to date. It may look different but that is what is so exciting about it. It heralds a sea change in modern architecture.
How does this scheme relate to the practice’s other work?
At Make we try to produce architecture that saves energy. This has meant steering away from the evolution of a branch of the modernist tradition used in most recent office buildings - the Miesian glass box. We seek to find solutions that create spaces with higher levels of insulation and put windows where they can most benefit the occupants. We have explored this with our work at Oxford, Nottingham, Grosvenor Waterside, Walpole House and the Cube. 5 Broadgate continues this evolution.
The single, pure form - a double 60mx60mx120m cube and the continuous metal skin which wraps the entire building - reflects the extension to the machine age into the age of new technology. The building has been likened to a casting, a bakelite radio and a piece of kitchen equipment but, in reality its sophisticated skin provides a strong interaction between the building function and the outside world. Objectors to the scheme would prefer a greater breakdown of the building’s elements, something we may have done 20 years ago - even though it would have been a deceit. Some critics say we should express the structure but, the vertical structure is set back 3 metres so we don’t see it as relevant. Also, compositionally, as the context is not axial the scheme relates to the asymmetrical works of Albert Irvin and Brian Clarke rather than that of the Beaux Arts, which again some critics find difficult to accept. But the concept became refined as it evolved over a year with the team, the client, the City and Cabe into a single simple form and is stronger as a result. Very few projects have been through the constant reassessment and evolution of 5 Broadgate.
Does 5 Broadgate mark the rebirth of the groundscraper?
The current London crop of glass towers with complex shapes were designed a few years ago and there won’t be any more for a while. Skyscapers designed in this new era will be simpler and less complex than the current batch. Groundscrapers still provide better, more useable, more efficient and cheaper space to realise than towers. In this age of austerity the search is on for more groundscrapers.
What haven’t you yet had a chance to say bout the scheme?
We have never had a chance to fully explain the scheme. There’s no doubt it’s a large building, yet in its context it joins the family of mid-scale buildings at Broadgate and is on the north side of the ‘circle’ so doesn’t affect the sunlight on the space.
The campus has always reflected the big bang and demonstrated that large floor plate buildings, which the financial sector required, could be accommodated in the heart of the city. However, the needs of City occupiers have moved on since the early 1980s and the buildings at No 4 and No 6 Broadgate do not have any exceptional historical or architectural significance in themselves or as part of the wider Broadgate and thus do not need preserving in aspic.
If these buildings are not renewed then the alternative would be to leave London as a museum and to lose the economic vitality, jobs and investment which go with renewal and redevelopment.
Despite the City’s approval of 5 Broadgate, English Heritage could yet list the existing buildings at No 4 and No 6. However, it is not expected to deliver its advice on the Broadgate campus to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport until the end of May.