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Grimshaw's FT building to be converted into leisure centre

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The seminal Financial Times building in London's Docklands is set to be converted into a leisure centre with multiplex cinema surrounded by hard landscape and a plaza.

The £20 million scheme for the the glass-fronted building, designed by Nicholas Grimshaw in 1988, will house 20 cinema screens and restaurants. A joint venture company is behind the plan, rumoured to have beaten racing car chief Bernie Ecclestone in a bid to turn it into a Formula 1 museum.

The joint venture, led by Richardson Developments, has submitted a detailed planning application for the 26,000m2 leisure scheme. It will be designed by rtkl uk, with initial work by Vincent and Gorbing. The ft moved its printing presses out a year ago; the building has been empty since January of this year.

David Gester, an rtkl architect, said there would be minimal changes to the facades. New entrances would be made and a loading bay would be sealed with the same type of cladding, while new lighting would highlight the building. 'We have not spoken with Nicholas Grimshaw, but we are not doing anything with the existing building that would be out of character with what he was originally intending. It was built as a kit of parts and we are using the same materials,' he said.

Christopher Nash, who worked on the original Grimshaw design, said: 'We are not precious about the re-use of our buildings. It is about quality and how well it is done, not what it is. The retail and leisure will serve the local community.'

John Hernon from Vincent and Gorbing said Bernie Ecclestone had been unable to reach agreement with Docklands Development Corporation and Tower Hamlets council. Ecclestone said there were no plans for a museum. 'We are looking at how the building will be split up and the approach to the building,' said Hernon. 'The Highways Agency is concerned about access from East India Dock Road.'

Andy Ruhan, managing director of another of the joint venture firms, Stockdale Properties, said the first floor would house cinema space. The glass front would throw light on to foyer and balconies. There will be a health and fitness centre, retail and restaurants. A multi-storey car park will be built nearby for 1000 cars. The plaza, with hard landscaping, will go immediately behind the ft building.

'It is a perfect location, near the Docklands Light Railway and the proposed Millennium Dome cable car,' said Ruhan. 'As a leisure box, the building is very well proportioned in height and depth for cinema spaces.'

Planning permission has been granted for the cable car and work is due to start this summer for a 1999 finish. The cabins will travel 767m from East India dlr to the Millennium Dome.

Jez Abbott

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