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Insurance chief claims Lloyd's building has 'fundamental problem'

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The chief executive of Lloyd’s of London has blasted the maintenance cost and functionality of its iconic Richard Rogers-designed headquarters

Speaking to Reuters, Michael Ward said he would not rule out leaving the Grade I-listed building, which has just been snapped up from owner Commerz Real by Chinese life insurance outfit Ping An.

It is understood the 27-year-old landmark was sold for £260 million - significantly less than the expected market rate. This ‘bargain price’ is believed to be down to fears over attracting a new tenant should Lloyd’s, which appears to be unhappy in its current home, decamp.

Describing life in the 55,000m² building Ward said: ‘I can’t guarantee you’ll get to the ground floor in the lifts because they break down with some frequency.

‘That’s the fundamental problem with this building. Everything is exposed to the elements and that makes it very costly.’

In 2011, the insurance company’s high-tech headquarters became the youngest Grade-I listed building in the UK.

Comment by Marcus Lee of Glenn Howells Architects, who worked on the original design

‘Lloyds is an extraordinary building - a one off icon. It is a globally recognised brand and the building’s acclaim is arguably synonymous with Lloyds and the City. It is a highly flexible building but this and its expression comes at a cost of course. Lloyds to their credit have unerringly maintained it supremely well. 

‘Lloyds various re-inventions have all been based upon an expanded version of Edward Lloyd’s 17th century Coffee House. The 1929 building was a single floor market while the 58 and 86 enlarged markets were necessarily vertically stacked. The ‘room’ and the layered strategy for the building was a masterful solution to facilitating expansion, contraction  and change within an unpredictable market - a fact often overlooked.

‘Beaubourg, Lloyds Parisian equally articulated predecessor, was refreshed by a makeover in the 1990s and similarly needs regular servicing and tlc. It was the 1970’s 2CV to Lloyds’ 1980’s faster motor. Lloyds is unequivocally a classic car to be cherished. 

The building could become a multi-occupancy office

‘Lloyds may well decide to move out as their break clause permits. It is entirely possible, if Lloyds do depart, that the building could become a multi-occupancy office albeit of some significance as it clings close to its wondrous RSHP Leadenhall Place neighbour emerging opposite. Studies to test this possibility have been carried out in the past and it is not without its complications. The Lloyds building in essence is a kind of department store for insurance. It might be no surprise therefore to witness a major retailer one day acquiring the brand and daring to occupy the lower floors.’ 

‘On the other hand Lloyds could continue to trade in this building for many years to come and be admired for the exceptional building it undoubtedly.’


Previous story (AJ 30.01.08)

Opinion - Listing the Lloyds Building

I helped design the Lloyds building to be flexible, says Marcus Lee, and we musn’t allow listing to suffocate it.

Our heritage is protected by the listings process, but should we preserve at all costs, or conserve to breathe new life into our architectural heritage?
The adaptation of old buildings presents a compelling challenge to architects. It also places a huge responsibility on building owners to choose the right architects to minimise risk and offer a vision of the future. If the right choice of architect is made, should listing still be a necessary prerequisite?

Ultimately, it comes down to quality and commissioning. Where this is ignored, listing must come into play. But, where it is fully embraced, the results speak for themselves. Louis Kahn’s memorable Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven has been recently returned to its former glory by New York based Polshek Partnership Architects. Stuart Lipton has compiled a Who’s Who list of architects, including Rem Koolhaas and Rafael Viñoly, who are vying to bring west London’s Commonwealth Institute into the 21st century.

The possible listing of Richard Rogers’ Lloyd’s Building, which I worked on as a site architect, sums up this dilemma. Lloyd’s is undoubtedly a building of world stature; a genuine one-off with extraordinary built quality. Although it has picked up a few detractors along the way, its architectural pedigree is recognised by many (it is former Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell’s favourite building) and it has become a veritable 20th-century architectural icon. Perhaps listing was always a question of when, rather than if. Yet Lloyd’s is a building of deliberate flexibility, designed for change not constraint – flexibility is the essence of its design. How ironic it would be if its iconic status ultimately stymied its design.

On the face of it there should be little cause to change the external appearance of the Lloyd’s Building. Lloyd’s has invested heavily in maintaining its highly articulated good looks. However, Lloyd’s now competes with the likes of the adjacent Willis Building and Swiss Re, both by Foster + Partners, and Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ exciting Leadenhall Tower, currently under construction.

From the off, Lloyd’s had a modernising approach; the 1986 building replaced Edwin Cooper’s 1929 building, itself listed, and a fine if outmoded building. This tradition should continue.

Buildings need to change or they will decline. We should ensure that the protective blanket of listing provides security, not suffocation.

Marcus Lee was a former director of Flacq [now a director at Glenn Howells Architects]

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