In the 1970s Whitbread commissioned Wolff Olins to look at a series of corporate design issues.
One with an architectural dimension was Chiswell Street brewery on the northern edge of the City of London. Initially scheduled for comprehensive redevelopment as Europe's largest office complex, Fletcher and Priest, working at Olins, suggested that the site was a powerful part of the company's culture and history. And so was introduced a new approach to masterplanning, sensitive to corporate needs, and exploiting the potential of what exists.
Chiswell Street established a long-term relationship between Fletcher and Priest, and Derek Taylor of surveyor Montagu Evans. Taylor brought them into contact with Stuart Lipton, for whom Fletcher Priest masterplanned a relocated Spitalfields Market in Stratford, the Royal Docks, and the 1,800,000m2 Bishopsgate phase of Broadgate, built to the designs of SOM. While the first two were not completed, the former led to two other commissions. When the site, a former Victorian gasworks, was dropped as a market location, it was scheduled as an industrial park.
The first building on it was a 10,000m2 factory for Kesslers International, Europe's largest point-ofpurchase displays manufacturer; essentially a lowcost industrial shed, notable for its elegant facade made from standard components, and its clear 42m span, allowing for flexibility in the manufacturing process. This building was in turn spotted by Cannon Avent, which commissioned a site masterplan and a 10,000m2 factory in Suffolk from Fletcher Priest on the strength of it.
Meanwhile Fletcher Priest also masterplanned two country house parks and designed buildings for them. The clients were the disability insurer 2addition to a house in Surrey (which, when restored, turned out to be a lost work by William Burges); and IBM, for whom FPA developed a strategy for the Hursley estate in Hampshire. Out of this came several commissions for buildings, a 10,000m2 software laboratory and a conference centre. The buildings scored highly in IBM's post-occupancy evaluation, and they consider the site to be their most cost-effective in Europe.
FPA's masterplanning and design experience is coming together in two large projects: on a 12ha site for Suranai on junction 11 of the M4 at Reading, and for Vodafone at Newbury, slightly further down the motorway. Reading Council, which approved nearly 40,000m2 of B1 offices on the Hanson site, considers the traffic planning approach - which encourages cycling, incorporates smart buses and discourages car use - to be a model for development, as well as a suitable gateway to the town.
BUILDINGS FOR IBM
Already armed with considerable experience for large corporate clients, Fletcher and Priest wrote to IBM 'ask ing to be included in its roster of architects . . . It was looking for problem-solving ability, creativity on a tight budget and an understanding of basic efficiency', recalls Fletcher, and the company 'recognised characteristics in our work it was looking for, even though we hadn't done projects of that size and scale'. They included work for advertising agencies and large organisations and, perhaps surprisingly, the Green Room in Manchester where FPA created an entire performance space in a railway arch for £250,000 - evidence of the overlap of categories in the narrative of the firm's history. IBM appointed FPA to be site architect for the 40ha Hursley site in Hampshire, and over several years to design a software laboratory and conference centre, as well as producing an overall plan for expanding site occupancy from 2500 to 3500 people. Central to IBM's a im s was to increase energy efficiency - the lab recycled 90 per cent by weight of an 1960s building - as well as operational efficiency. Its post-occupancy evaluation showed both to be achieved, recording a 15 per cent increase in user satisfaction and a 2 per cent reduction in fuel use.
OXFORD STREET DEVELOPMENT
This development, commissioned by the Corporation of London and Howard de Walden Estates, is a piquant project for Fletcher Priest. It was in that alley off Oxford Street that the practice started 20 years ago. More importantly, however, it was an opportunity to rework an urban precinct. Often, as at Sony or Leo Burnett, the work is hidden from the public. No chance of that here, as the glass facade follows a line that might be a section in a corporate atrium, revealing the inner workings of a complex organisation. Except that it is a shop whose facade offers a new concept in retail. With continual movement of people and the possibility of large electronic signs, it achieves the retailer's dream of implying that a shop is a direct continuation of the public street, endlessly broadcasting messages to the heaving throngs of consumers on the pavement. It is the apogee of consumerism, but without the tack which might accompany such an achievement; just a straightforward recognition of the power of a certain process and the desires which feed it.
Around the side, meanwhile, cafes, restaurants and studio accommodation are located in specially designed premises, and the pedestrianisation of Woodstock Street should reinforce public life.
Fletcher and Priest thought they were going to have an ordinary briefing meeting when Stuart Lipton asked them to design an initial masterplan for the Bishopsgate phase of Broadgate. Previous work in the City had made them aware that one of the major needs was for congenial outdoor space for lunch. So they created a new square over the tracks, looking west over the roofs of Liverpool Street, and flanked to the east by what became the landmark expressed engineering of Exchange House. They also created links to the surrounding fabric: entrances on Bishopsgate, for instance aligned with those into Spitalfields, while those to the north linked into the earlier phases of Broadgate and beyond towards Clerkenwell and Shoreditch. SOM eventually designed 1,800,000m SURANAI Formerly the Courage Brewery site, and the southern gateway to Reading, this 12ha site could become a model for new commercial development. At its heart is an innovative transport strategy. The A33 relief road connects directly to the site to minimise increases in local traffic. While the 36,700m2 development provides substantial car-parking space, it has significant other transport provision. There are facilities to encourage cyclists and a smart signage system for bus users. The scheme received quick approval from the Government Office for the South East, and received planning permission from the unified Reading Council in November 1997. The council sees the integrated transport policy as an exemplar for future development.
Kesslers International bought the Victorian gasworks which might have become the relocated Spitalfields Market. As Europe's largest point-of-purchase designer and manufacturer, it needed a factory with large, clear-span space to allow for flexibility in its varied and batch manufacturing runs. Fletcher Priest gave it a 42m clear space and 10,000m 2, as well as an elegant enclosure which cost no more than a standard shed but adds to the growing reputation of Stratford as something of an architectural Mecca, and it only took ten months to build. Kesslers provides the first of what will be 600 jobs when the 6ha, formerly heavily polluted park is fully developed within the framework of Fletcher Priest's masterplan.
UNUM owns a 25ha site in an area of outstanding natural beauty in Surrey. Following its masterplan, FPA replaced a 1930s block with 4500m 2of new building and refurbished the mansion. Initially thought to be a seventeenth-century house with nineteenth-century additions, it seemed to have little interest - until the nineteenth-century work turned out to be by William Burges. The careful restoration and sensitive additions gained the planners' confidence to such an extent that they positively supported the latest scheme - a 2000m 2grass-roofed and glass-walled office, which FPA argued would make the least disruptive intrusion.