Speculative office development, 1964-8 by Richard Seifert & Partners (partner-in-charge George Marsh) for Harry Hyams
Reasons for Designation
Space House, an office development of 1964-8 by George Marsh of Richard Seifert & Partners for the developer Harry Hyams, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: as one of London's best speculative office buildings, whose arresting yet subtly-handled exteriors reflect many of the 'Pop' themes at play in the contemporary Centre Point development;
* Technical interest: for the innovative use of a precast concrete grid, a form of partial prefabrication that allowed for rapid construction without the use of scaffolding, as well as for striking visual effects;
* Historic interest: as an icon of the 1960s commercial property boom, built by the most successful developer-architect partnership of the day, its assertive styling reflecting the confidence and dynamism associated with the period.
The triangular site bounded by Kingsway, Keeley Street, Kemble Street and Wild Street was redeveloped in 1964-8 by the property tycoon Harry Hyams and the architects Richard Seifert and Partners, already at that time in collaboration on the Centre Point scheme half a mile to the west. The existing Edwardian building, Magnet House, was replaced by a new speculative office complex known as Space House. Built by Robert McAlpine and Sons, it comprised two buildings: an eight-storey slab facing Kingsway, with shops and a bank at street level and showrooms and offices above, and a 17-storey office tower behind, its cylindrical form an attempt to avoid infringing neighbouring residents’ right to light. The two blocks were connected by means of a two-storey link bridge, and at the subterranean level by a large underground car park, divided into public and private sections and equipped with a small on-site filling station.
As at Centre Point, the architect-in-charge was George Marsh, and the two projects have a number of features in common, notably the sculptural external treatment with cruciform precast units and massive Y-shaped pilotis. Again like Centre Point, Space House sat empty for some years after its completion, allowing Hyams to accrue (untaxed) income on its increasing rental value. It was eventually let to the Civil Aviation Authority in 1975, although structural defects in the pilotis and radial beams meant that significant remedial work was required prior to occupation (these were technical faults rather than design flaws however). Major refurbishments in the 1996 and 2003 saw the remodelling.of the lobby areas in both buildings and, in the Kingsway block, the removal of the shop and bank units and the glazing-in of the open southern stair.
Richard Seifert (1910-2001) was Britain’s most successful and prolific commercial architect of the 1960s and 70s. Swiss-born but resident in England from an early age, in 1927 he won a scholarship to study at the Bartlett School of Architecture, where he received a traditional Beaux-Arts education under Professor Albert Richardson. After graduating in 1933 he established his own practice, working on speculative housing schemes in north London. During WWII he served with the Royal Engineers in Burma and India, eventually achieving the rank of Colonel – a sobriquet that followed him throughout his professional life. Seifert’s first major building was an office block (later the London headquarters of Woolworth’s) in the Marylebone Road, built in a Richardsonian Classical style in 1955. Business picked up in the late 50s with the relaxation of government building controls and the arrival of partner George Marsh (1921-88), who henceforth set the practice’s architectural direction while Seifert, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the planning system and eagle eye for its loopholes, took charge of strategy. The combination of Seifert’s legal and tactical brilliance with Marsh’s eye-catching, Op Art-esque designs – inspired by Italian and South American architects such as Gio Ponti and Felix Candela, as well as contemporary US Modernists like Gordon Bunshaft and Edward Durell Stone – allowed the firm to ride the crest of the 1960s commercial property wave, becoming the architects of choice for many developers including the notoriously ruthless Hyams.
Office buildings formed the majority of Seifert and Partners’ vast output during the 1960s and 70s. Major projects included Centre Point (Grade II), Drapers Gardens (demolished) and the Natwest Tower in central London, the Alpha Tower in Birmingham (Grade II) and Gateway House in Manchester. Other work included numerous hotels (e.g. the cylindrical Park Tower in Knightsbridge) as well as residential developments, exhibition centres, shopping centres, sports halls and cinemas. Seifert retired in 1985; the practice was carried on by his son John, and continues internationally as Sigma Seifert.
Speculative office development, 1964-8 by Richard Seifert & Partners (partner-in-charge George Marsh) for Harry Hyams.
CONSTRUCTION AND PLAN: the development comprises two buildings: an eight-storey slab block (45-59 Kingsway) to the east, and a 17-storey cylindrical tower (1 Kemble Street) to the west, linked at first- and second-floor level by an enclosed bridge. Both blocks combine in-situ concrete construction with a structural outer grid of precast units, the latter allowing for rapid construction without the need for scaffolding. In the Kingsway block, this grid forms the long east and west elevations, with a central row of columns providing additional support for the concrete floor slabs. This block has an ‘end core’ plan, with circulation and services kept to the north and south ends, leaving the central two-thirds of each floor as a single office space. The tower has a circular concrete core, 67ft in diameter, with six 28ft 6in floor panels and pre-stressed beams spanning across to the external grid. An underground car park fills the whole site below street level, with entrance and exit ramps curving round the base of the tower; this was formerly divided into public and private sections, and boasted a small filling station (now removed).
EXTERIOR: the external treatment serves to dramatise the relationship between the Kingsway block, a long rectangular slab with proportions reflecting those of the surrounding Edwardian office buildings, and the tower behind, whose cylindrical form is only glimpsed from Kingsway, and becomes fully apparent only on turning the corner into Kemble Street or Wild Street. The connection between the two buildings is asserted through the use, in both cases, of an external grid of tapered cruciform precast units; the distinction between them is brought out in the very different ways in which these units are handled.
In the slab, the units are flat-faced and clad in polished grey granite, with the aluminium-framed glazing and dark-coloured spandrel panels set flush with the surface. The solid end-walls are also granite faced, and have tall stair windows whose form recalls an outsize Greek key pattern. At street level, the circulation cores at the two ends of the building are marked by big tapering pilotis of in-situ concrete. The south end, left open at first, has been enclosed by *aluminium and glass screens (not of special interest); the foyer at the north end has been remodelled and enlarged, and the original shop units were infilled to create more office space (the *infill is not of special interest). The bridge element that connects the two buildings is treated like the slab, but with the glazing recessed to form narrow galleries on each side.
In the tower, by contrast, the concrete – a polished white Capstone aggregate resembling Portland stone – is exposed, and the units themselves have sharply angled profiles with the joints emphasised and the glazing set well back. This arrangement, as well as being visually striking, was intended to shed rainwater and act as a brise-soleil. At ground level, the grid is carried on a ring of huge Y-shaped pilotis, like modified, scaled-up versions of the units above. A raking zigzag canopy cantilevers out on the western side, over what was the site of the filling station. The foyer, facing Kemble Street, originally sat within the ring of pilotis but has been modified and enlarged, with new *glass screens and *canopy (not of special interest). Also within the pilotis are various *service entrances and *utility areas (not of special interest).
INTERIORS: these were never particularly elaborate, and have been much altered in both cases. In the Kingsway block the main feature – originally an external one – is the south stair, whose lower flights form a vertiginous construction with floating concrete treads and white mosaic soffits. The lobby area at the north end has been remodelled and enlarged. Original elements include the floating entrance canopy (now extended) and the black marble revetments to the side wall, with a gilt inscription naming the original architects and builders; the new elements, including the *veneer panelling and the *flying metal stair, are not of special interest. The open-plan *office interiors are not of special interest, nor is the *plant room on the roof.
The *tower lobby (not of special interest) has been very much altered, with the main staircase to the former first-floor showroom removed and all surfaces renewed; the secondary stair with its terazzo floor and white mosaic cladding survives behind. The doughnut-shaped *office floors are not of special interest.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the main features associated with the underground parking arrangements are the entrance and exit ramps, which curve sinuously around the feet of the tower pilotis; with the angular flying access stairs also contributing to the drama. The subterranean *parking and service areas themselves are not of special interest.
The original scheme of landscaping has been renewed, and the present *perimeter fence and *security kiosk are not of special interest. The two surviving features are the intake and extractor units to the air conditioning system. The former, at the junction of Keeley Street and Wild Street, is encased within a kidney-shaped sculptural feature clad in white mosaic; the latter, further along Keeley Street, is concealed beneath a polygonal concrete bench.
* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.