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Blow for AHMM South Bank scheme as Lasdun’s IBM building is listed

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Ministers have granted listed status to Denys Lasdun’s IBM building on London’s South Bank – dealing a blow to Allford Hall Monaghan Morris’s plans to rework the 1980s icon

The government acted in line with advice from Historic England in awarding Grade II statutory protection to the five-story Brutalist landmark designed at the end of Lasdun’s career.

AHMM submitted an application to Lambeth Council in February to refurbish, alter and extend the building, more formally known as 76 Upper Ground, to provide more space for technology giant IBM as well as creating shops at ground level.

But now the scheme – backed by the owner, Dubai-based Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group – will require listed building consent to proceed.

Reasons given for placing the IBM building on the heritage list – taken from its official listing – include its ‘distinctive exterior character and form’. This includes the building’s ‘balanced horizontal planes and expressive ground floor treatment’ which are said to ’demonstrate its private, commercial function in a public-focused place’.

Lasdun’s National Theatre sits next door to the IBM building, and is itself Grade II*-listed, as is the nearby Waterloo Bridge. Elsewhere on the South Bank, the Royal Festival Hall and Somerset House are both Grade I-listed.

Conservation group The Twentieth Century Society, which led the bid to secure protection for the IBM building, urged a rethink of plans to redevelop the structure.

‘Our concerns about the scheme had largely been ignored, so we’re glad that there is now further weight behind our argument that the building’s massing and areas of detailing at street level should not be compromised,’ said Twentieth Century Society senior caseworker Grace Etherington.

‘The listing decision coincides with widespread uncertainty about the future of office design in light of the coronavirus pandemic, with commonplace features such as dependence on mechanical ventilation and hot-desking now under scrutiny. The time is right for AHMM to go back to the drawing board.’

The practice unveiled concept designs for the scheme in January. The plans, put out to consultation, involved partially demolishing the five-storey building, giving it a new core and extending it by two floors.

In documents submitted as part of the planning application in February, the practice said the existing building ‘turns its back on the South Bank with very defensive frontages designed to keep people away from the building, rather than engaging with it’.

The practice added that a public path on the eastern edge of the building ‘encourages anti-social behaviour and is lacking in activity’.

Meanwhile internal spaces were ’designed in an age of suspended ceilings’ and ’suffer from a lack of daylight due to a large ceiling zone, which aligns with the base of the external concrete cladding, narrowing sight lines and daylight penetration’.

A spokeswoman for Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group subsidiary Wolfe Commercial Properties Southbank told the AJ earlier this year that the architect’s designs would ‘respectfully refurbish’ the IBM building.

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

AHMM declined to comment on the decision to list the building. However a spokesperson for Wolfe Commercial Properties Southbank said: ’We remain confident we will be able to sensitively restore and modernise this 1980s building.

’Fundamentally, our proposals are based on the respectful adaptation of the existing building, creating significant improvements to its setting within the conservation area and upgrading the building to create flexible workspace and to make it more sustainable.’

They added: ’We remain committed to our proposals which will deliver space for additional jobs, create an enhanced pedestrian experience for visitors to the South Bank and unlock huge economic benefits for Lambeth. We will be discussing with Lambeth Council and Historic England the most appropriate manner in which to bring forward these proposals which are widely supported.’

The plans had expected to be going before Lambeth Council’s planning committee next month. However, it is understood that will no longer be happening in order to give the team time to prepare a listed building consent application.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Lambeth Planning is not reknowned for paying much regard to listed protection, certainly not where its own estate is concerned. I cite my and residents painful experiences with Macintosh Court in Streatham, still unresolved.

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