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AHMM criticised over ‘heavy-handed’ plans for Lasdun’s IBM building

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The Twentieth Century Society has criticised Allford Hall Monaghan Morris’s ‘heavy-handed’ plans to revamp Denys Lasdun’s IBM building on London’s South Bank

AHMM unveiled concept designs for an overhaul of the 1983 Brutalist landmark in January. The designs provide more office space for IBM and introduce shops on the ground level.

The plans, which are under consultation, involve partially demolishing the five-storey building, giving it a new core and extended it by two floors.

But the Twentieth Century Society said the proposals would inflict ‘unjustified harm’ to the building and ‘serious harm’ to the National Theatre building next door.

The campaign group has applied to Historic England to have the IBM building nationally listed, although it is already locally listed by Lambeth Council. The National Theatre is Grade II*-listed.

AHMM reveals designs for the IBM Building on London's South Bank

AHMM reveals designs for the IBM Building on London’s South Bank

AHMM reveals designs for the IBM Building on London’s South Bank

The Twentieth Century Society said it objected to ‘the heavy-handed approach and the lack of regard which had been afforded to preserving design features crafted by Lasdun to create a harmonious and respectful relationship between the IBM building and the National Theatre.’

In a statement, it outlined a number of changes it believes would be harmful, including the rooftop extension, filling in lightwells and demolishing a two-storey section extending towards the river.

The redevelopment plans are backed by Wolfe Asset Management, which is owned by Dubai-based investment company Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group, while the developer is Stanhope.

AHMM declined to comment, but a spokesperson for Wolfe Commercial Properties Southbank told the AJ that the architect’s designs ‘respectfully refurbish’ the IBM building.

She said: ‘The application improves the surrounding environment and is based upon extensive and detailed research into the history and architectural intent of the existing building.

‘The design will enhance the ground floor of the building and significantly improve its integration into the conservation area, adjacent buildings and Queen’s Walk’.

Denys Lasdun’s IBM Building on London’s South Bank

Denys Lasdun’s IBM Building on London’s South Bank

Source: Lasdun Archive / RIBA Collections

Denys Lasdun’s IBM Building on London’s South Bank

Statement from the Twentieth Century Society

We consider the scale of the proposed extension to be too big. The IBM building was deliberately designed as a low-key neighbour to the National Theatre and, in our view, the proposed increase in size would destroy the subservience the IBM building displays towards the adjacent National Theatre.

We recommend that the proposal to replace the existing concrete rooftop plant enclosure with a metal mesh should be reconsidered. The introduction of unprecedented materials and proportions at roof level will harm the relationship between the National Theatre and the IBM building, as the trio of rooftop pavilions form a key presence on the skyline of the Southbank and are visible above the tree canopy when viewed from across the river.

We are also objecting to the demolition and replacement of the sunken brick plinth on the north-west corner of the IBM building, which serves as a reference to Lasdun’s wider architectural oeuvre. He took particular care to ground buildings within their surroundings, seeing buildings as extensions of the landscape rather than standalone objects. The view and space between the IBM building and National Theatre is an important aspect of their relationship, and the angled brick plinth creates a necessary division between the public, cultural space created on the embankment and the private zone for IBM.

The Twentieth Century Society considers that the demand for more space should first be met by improving the efficiency of the existing building, and although the loss of the internal courtyards is a shame and would be counterproductive in terms of daylight reaching office floors, small interventions of this kind should be prioritised to minimise the scale of proposed extensions upwards and outwards.

The IBM building (originally the firm’s marketing centre) was designed and built (in 1980-83) primarily with its relationship to the National Theatre (1969-76) in mind. The NT was originally conceived as one of a pair of buildings, and the IBM building can be considered a ghost of the Opera House that was never built.

The IBM building is a deliberately subservient neighbour to the National Theatre, and views of the two buildings from the Thames, northern embankment and Waterloo Bridge best display the pair’s relationship and combined sculptural quality. Archival information reveals that Lasdun particularly focused on the composition of the scale of National Theatre and IBM as one form, comparing it to Somerset House across the river. The height of the IBM building office floors was deliberately limited to sit around the same height as the roof of the National Theatre’s terraces, creating a plinth upon which the plant enclosures and fly towers stand as statements in the skyline.

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