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BUILDING REVIEW

Back on the map: Conran reveals residential rework of Seifert’s Centre Point

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The refurbishment and redesign of Richard Seifert’s landmark Grade II-listed tower into 82 high-end flats for Almacantar is complete

Centre Point was once described by Eduardo Paolozzi as London’s first Pop Art building. Certainly the deeply modelled honeycomb of its white cast-concrete façade can at times look like an animated Bridget Riley op art painting as the sun moves around it.

Conran and Partners has taken this 60s heritage as a cue for its complete refurbishment and retrofit of the 34-storey building, down to chamfered door handles inspired by the rhomboid forms of the façade. 

External facade 2

External facade 2

Source: Luke Hayes

The building was originally an office tower, commissioned by developer Harry Hyams and designed by Richard Seifert in 1966 at a time when Swinging London was reinventing and defining itself. It was never commercially a success, sitting at the cheaper end of Oxford Street, despite being at the junction where Covent Garden, Bloomsbury, Soho and Fitzrovia meet. One factor that led to this – and an element of the 60s heritage that Conran has not retained – was the car-centric design of the building’s original entrance. This was designed to link in with a planned traffic gyratory system, and consisted, at ground level, of a car ramp down into a 170-space underground garage, with pedestrians needing to climb two external concrete stairs up to a mezzanine-level entrance to enter. 

A major move has been to bring these two stairs inside a new ground-level lobby, each nicely reusing their original cast-concrete treads. This move was necessary on the western side where a new exit to Tottenham Court Road Station will, by the end of 2019, also be disgorging thousands of Crossrail passengers. To the east, it frees up further a new public plaza which will open this coming summer, designed by MICA – formally Rick Mather Architects. The practice has also been refurbishing the lower-rise mixed-use elements of the Centrepoint scheme, which will wrap around it – including the addition of 13 new affordable units that Almacantar has provided on the site. 

The moving of the two sets of stairs internally makes for a slightly crammed entrance area. Indeed, with one set essentially excess to requirements, it has been treated more as a sculpture: a frame to a neon artwork by artist Cerith Wynn Evans which, riffing off Duchamp, is called Neon Descending a Staircase

Reception architecture

Reception architecture

Source: Mark Luscombe-Whyte

Everywhere, the original terrazzo and tiling has been restored or recreated, while externally the façade’s distinctive exoskeleton has been cleaned and new glazing installed, designed to match the old, while massively improving the building’s environmental performance. 

On the floors above the lobby are the prerequisite amenities for this type of expensive residential development, in which flats are priced from £1.8 million for a one-bedroom to £55 million for the penthouse duplex apartment. Thus there are club and spa floors that include a screening room, gym and studio, spa and treatment rooms and even a 30-metre swimming pool.

Above this are around 30 storeys of residential, with flats ranging in size from one to five bedrooms – with between one and four flats per floor. These are cleanly and intelligently planned with cores and service rooms massed along under the central spine beams. All partition walls are designed to meet the outer façade at right angles, so as to minimise the sense of a retrofit and to give a sense that the new layouts of each floor are ‘how it should have always been’ as Conran and Partners senior partner Tim Bowder-Ridger puts it.

For all its finesse, this still inevitably feels somewhat like an office conversion – if a very high-end one. Indeed with the rather sombre black and white monochromatic colour scheme carried throughout in finishes and materials, a splash or two more of Mad Men colour might have more successfully invoked the spirit of the 60ss. But this is a very effectively realised conversion and one that will undoubtedly form the heart of what will be a major revitalisation of the area – and finally put the memory of the 60s traffic gyratory to bed when the MICA-designed pedestrianised square opens this summer.

Two bedroom hallway

Two bedroom hallway

Source: Mark Luscombe-Whyte

Architect’s statement

The design approach has been to connect the spirit of the restored exterior of the building with the converted and transformed internal spaces. The interior design has been influenced by the substance and rhythm of the elevations.

The design has also been informed by the discovery of remnants of the original materials in the stripped-out building. For instance, contrasting Carrara marble cast into black terrazzo has been restored on the ground floor mezzanine. Careful retention of original features is evident throughout the scheme, including the bespoke ironmongery, joinery and tiling. All of these components reference the geometry and texture of the building itself, sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly.

The design also employs contrasting tonal palettes as a way of creating a journey from private to public, from the central ‘serving’ spaces to the ‘served’ habitable spaces around the perimeter. A dark palette is employed across the central spaces, while a lighter palette helps to accentuate daylight in the habitable spaces.

Generous use has been made of both black-stained and blonde limed-oak timber throughout the scheme, as well as natural stone and terrazzo, offering a sense of the robust quality of the original building.

Three bedroom living room 2

Three bedroom living room 2

Source: Mark Luscombe-Whyte

The floor plates, originally designed during an era of typing pools and cellular offices, are no longer relevant to modern office requirements. They are, however at approximately 30 metres by 16 metres, extremely well-proportioned for contemporary residential use. The new apartments in Centre Point Tower range from 70 square metre 1-beds to a 675 square metre duplex apartment. Both single aspect and larger, dual-aspect apartment types have floor depths which allow daylight to reach into the furthest parts of the habitable rooms. The fenestration pattern has resulted in room widths of a minimum of five metres, and featuring at least two large windows. In the 3-bedroom apartments the external wall length is 15.5 metres of which more than 70 per cent of the surface area is glazed, creating spectacular panoramas across London.

The windows frame and accentuate the uninterrupted views over the city which, unusually for a building so centrally located in a major world capital, can be enjoyed from almost every level. Even on the lower floors, the close views of London are exceptionally generous, allowing residents to become observers of the city and engage with it from their apartments.

A key part of the brief was to make the best possible use of the building to ensure its survival and relevance for future generations. Whilst this, in part, is achieved by creating uses most appropriate to the form and location of the building, Conran and Partners have also given attention to the building’s environmental and heritage sustainability.

The concrete exo-skeleton has been retained and lightly restored, whilst the glazed envelope has been entirely replaced. Centre Point Tower is no longer a fossil-fuel-greedy building; it now meets contemporary acoustic and environmental standards that tie into a central combined heat and power system. For Conran and Partners, cultural and creative sustainability is also very important in the practice’s approach to projects.

Two bedroom second bedroom 2

Two bedroom second bedroom 2

Source: Mark Luscombe-Whyte

Conran and Partners worked with - rather than against - the original building, notwithstanding the challenges of a heritage structure designed and constructed long before CAD. For example, it was only established once each floor was surveyed that the structure varied dramatically in height and position by over 100mm. Such differences required the design team to accommodate variables invisibly without compromising the quality of the new spaces.

In fact, the ambition was to create an impression that the new configuration was simply how it should have always been. As a result, the new glazing has been configured in the same pattern from the outside as the original. This was to retain the personality of the original design, despite it needing to perform a significantly enhanced technical function. Nevertheless, subtle alterations were incorporated. For instance, in the original form the lowest panels were solid spandrels, hiding the radiators, which would have restricted the downward views of occupants. These spandrels have been replaced with clear panels which maximise the sense of light as well as the viewing angles.

Care has been taken to ensure that the general arrangements of the new apartments sit naturally within the spaces to avoid the sense of retro-fit. The entrances are always centred in the spine of what is a symmetrical building, whilst partitions always meet the external structure at right angles. All lower ceilings accommodating the services are centrally placed above the hallways, bathrooms, kitchens and storage spaces, to ensure that it is only the higher ceilings that meet the fenestration. This approach avoids the unsightly, cranked partitions and dropped bulkheads against windows that are all too often seen in modern residential conversions. Most dramatically, by working with the spirit of the building, we have been able to incorporate a swimming pool on the first floor that expresses the elegant curve and linear movement of the full length of the building, whilst also providing a practical straight edge for swimmers to follow.

The change which is most obvious from street level is the way in which the building now meets the ground. Centre Point Tower, like many buildings of it era, was originally designed around vehicle access rather than around people. The original configuration was made up of the spiral car park ramp, over-sailed by a pair of external flying staircases that created an insecure, difficult-to-maintain and challenging street frontage and inaccessible entrance sequence. The solution was to relocate the staircases inside the building to create approaches that are more welcoming and accessible, with a clearly-defined entrance at ground level.

The generosity of the new entrance, including the relocated staircases, has created a theatrical space which now features the latest light sculpture by Cerith Wyn Evans. It is a piece that aptly represents the creative energy at the heart of the original Centre Point Tower concept.

At the top of the building, Conran and Partners have undertaken even more substantial alterations, to create a duplex apartment in the place of relocated plantrooms. Whilst our approach to this area also needed to respect and respond to the existing exo-skeleton and the dramatic shear walls, it has been possible to remove floor slabs to create dramatic double-height spaces. On the upper floor, the maintenance terrace has been converted into a continuous balcony encircling the whole of the floor to provide unique 360-degree views.

Tim Bowder-Ridger, senior partner, Conran and Partners 

Centre point residences floorplates & floorplans brochure page 08

Centre point residences floorplates & floorplans brochure page 08

Source: Conran and Partners

Levels 3-10 floor plans

Project data 

Start on site 2015
Completion March 2018
Architect Conran and Partners
Client Almacantar
Structural engineer Pell Frischmann 
M&E consultant Grontmij
Façade consultant Wintech
Acoustic consultant Sandy Brown
Glazing Lindner
Planning consultant Gerald Eve
Townscape Citydesigner
QS and employer’s agent WT Partnership
Kitchens Boffi
Façade cleaning PAYE
MEP Lorne Stewart
Joinery Brown & Carroll
Stone Marmi
Retail Seele
Main contractor Multiplex

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