Legal and General House, of 1986-1991 by Arup Associates, with landscaping by Peter Swann Associates.
Reasons for Designation
Legal and General House, of 1986-1991 by Arup Associates, with landscaping by Peter Swann Associates, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Legal and General House is an innovative Post-Modernist design combining an abstracted classical vocabulary with traditional materials and High-Tech elements;
* the building is little altered, allowing its original form and function to be read and maintaining the impact and unity of its design;
* the interior of the building is of remarkable quality for an office building of this date, and is consistent throughout most of the building, with set-piece interiors including the rotunda and staff swimming pool;
* the building has a sophisticated interplay with the landscape in which it stands, giving full expression to the dramatic composition and scale; the elements of hard landscaping contribute strongly to the overall design;
* Arup Associates were a pioneering interdisciplinary practice who set new standards for corporate office buildings in their planning, integration of structure, services and architectural design and attention to detail;
* the building, its interior, and its surrounding hard landscaping use a limited but consistent palette of high quality, durable materials, carefully detailed and crafted.
* as a prestigious example of a 'green-field' corporate campus, combining energy efficiency, flexibility and employee amenities.
The site of Legal and General House forms part of the Kingswood Estate on the rolling Chalk uplands of the North Downs, near the Epsom Racecourse. It was formerly occupied by St Monica's School, an independent girls' boarding school. Legal and General acquired the site in 1937 as a long-term investment but relocated there after its London headquarters was bombed during the Second World War. They have maintained a continuous presence on the site ever since. In response to the firm's expansion, ad-hoc additions and a new 1955 office building, separate from St Monica's House, were completed, while the former school became a staff restaurant.
Arup Associates were appointed in 1984 to undertake a feasibility study, initially to upgrade the office block, improving servicing for computers and air conditioning. In anticipation of the forthcoming Financial Services Act, Legal and General enlarged Arup Associates' brief to include new offices, associated sports and recreational facilities and the refurbishment of the former school buildings to form a residential training centre. In order to avoid decanting staff it was necessary to retain the 1950s office building during construction. The brief included highly serviced and flexible workspaces, computer rooms, storage, restaurant and sports and recreational facilities. Particular attention was given to energy efficiency, with external sunscreens and blinds to reduce solar heat gain and climbing plants intended to grow over the columns and screens, and a passive solar storage system with the staff swimming pool functioning as a heat sink.
The new building was designed so that the height and bulk were less dominant than the 1950s building it was to replace. The design uses the topography of the site to enable upper and lower terraces, with the main offices on the upper two floors and the large service and social areas at the subterranean lower level beneath, and extending to the south with views over the wooded valley beyond. The only permitted entrance to the site was from Furze Hill; this creates a formal axis focussing on the central rotunda, the highest point of the building, with the symmetrical office wings on either side.
A key factor in the design of the new building was its relationship with the surrounding landscape, and landscape architects Peter Swann Associates were commissioned alongside Arup Associates to produce the landscaping scheme. The combined design of buildings and landscape references the tradition of the country house, with the principal building sitting in a formal landscape. The car parking is housed in walled gardens, originally planted with white blossoming Japanese Sakura, and there are formal terraces to the south with more open parkland to the east. To the north a small lake was intended; this area now provides additional parking. Specimen trees were planted within the two courtyards, to give the effect of the new building having been built around an existing landscape.
Arup Associates had been formed in 1963 with partners Philip Dowson, Ronald Hobbs, Derek Sugden and Ove Arup, joined in 1969 by Peter Foggo. The Partnership developed the multi-disciplinary co-operation fostered by Ove Arup's consultant engineering practice; Arup having worked closely with architects since the 1930s. They brought an analytical, developmental and collaborative ethos to the design of buildings for commerce and industry, later applying their combination of rigour and design flair to the design of speculative and commissioned commercial and corporate offices.
Legal and General House is built in a Post-Modern style, being part of a movement and style prevalent in architecture between about 1975 and 1990. The style is defined in terms of its relationship with modern architecture. Post-Modernist architecture is characterised by its plurality, engagement with context and setting, reference to older architectural traditions and use of metaphor and symbolism. As a formal language it has affinities with mannerism (unexpected exaggeration, distortions of classical scale and proportion) and the spatial sophistication of Baroque architecture. Post-Modernism accepts the technology of industrialised society but expresses it in more diverse ways than the machine imagery of the contemporary High-Tech style.
The origins of the style are found in the United States, notably in the work of Robert Venturi and Charles Moore which combined aspects of their country's traditions (ranging from the C19 Shingle Style to Las Vegas) with the knowing irony of pop art. A parallel European stream combined an abstracted classicism or a revival of 1930s rationalism with renewed interest in the continental city and its building types. In England, the American and European idioms converged in the late 1970s, to produce works by architects of international significance, including James Stirling, and distinctive voices unique to Britain such as John Outram. The 1980s revival of the British economy was manifested in major urban projects by Terry Farrell and others in London, while practices such as CZWG devised striking imagery for commercial and residential developments in Docklands and elsewhere.
Legal and General House, of 1986-1991 by Arup Associates, with landscaping by Peter Swann Associates.
MATERIALS: reinforced concrete frame, with metal and glass infill panels, and external columns of precast concrete. Brick cladding is in handmade brick and timber screens and pergolas are untreated Iroko hardwood. Lintels throughout are of French limestone ashlar. Internally there is consistent use of precast stone and concrete with maple finishes throughout the building.
PLAN: double courtyard plan with central entrance which leads to an internal atrium beneath a rotunda. The building, which is approximately 100m x 200m, is situated end-on to a sloping site, divided into a lower terrace to the south (at the original ground level of the former St Monica's School) and an upper terrace which forms the main entrance level. Symmetrical sets of office ranges are connected by corner towers containing staircases and vertical services. The upper terrace is defined by a retaining wall and walkway giving access to a swimming pool, a belvedere and the former school building.
EXTERIOR: the principal entrance to the building sits on the central axis and is contained in a projecting bow with square columns, and a rotunda of brick and cast stone above. The cornice above the entrance has a series of recessed square panels; that around the rotunda has pierced square holes. The entrance is flanked by brick stair towers with lanterns above, and these by lower service towers surmounted by timber pergolas. The forecourt is paved to reflect the shape of the entrance.
The highly glazed office wings are set behind a pre-cast colonnade on square bases. The notional 'capital' of each column is a set of diagonal timber struts which support a continuous pergola of horizontal timber sunscreens. The office ranges are framed at each end by indented corners each containing a stair tower and two service towers. The internal courtyards repeat the colonnades and have central projecting bows with full-height windows adjacent to the central atrium. The northern courtyard is of two storeys; the southern courtyard is three with its lower level forming a rusticated brick plinth with large windows.
The lower level, which extends further than the building above, is also exposed at the southern end of the building where it forms a terrace and retaining wall, with a row of windows lighting the staff restaurant areas inside. To the west, there is a covered walkway connecting to a projecting octagonal belvedere with stairs giving access between the upper and lower levels. This has a two-stage slate roof supported on slender columns. Beyond this the retaining wall connects to the swimming pool, which has an external timber lattice screen and tall curving roof. East of this is a further external stair with a curving balcony at the upper level and a curving pergola screen above supported on tall, square columns of rusticated brick.
INTERIOR: the main entrance opens into a reception area with a coved ceiling, with the central atrium beyond. This is a full-height, top-lit space with continuous walkways at ground and first floor and a cone-shaped lantern supported on thick laminated beams which spring from precast concrete corbels and are connected at the apex by a fabricated steel 'crown'. The floor of the atrium is of polished Derbyshire limestone with Belgian black marble inlay and brass and copper decorative details at the centre; the design was based on the rotunda of the Altes Museum in Berlin. Deeply recessed doors around the edge give access to ancillary space and meeting rooms; the doors themselves are of maple wood in tall frames with incised edge detailing. Meeting rooms and offices at both levels around the rotunda retain some original maple panelling, doors, and sections of timber lattice-work. The former chief executive's office, now meeting room, was refitted with panelling in a darker wood in around 2011.
Beyond the central block, corridors give access to the courtyard wings beyond. At each corner and on each level there are small octagonal lobbies, each with a stepped ceiling, giving access to the adjacent stair towers, and beyond these the offices themselves. The office interiors are flexible open-plan spaces with servicing zones in the floor and ceiling. The longer blocks are divided into three bays internally, the shorter end block into two. Each bay has a coved ceiling and the bays are divided by central pairs of circular columns with flat, square capitals. There are some smaller meeting rooms at the outer corners of the office areas with some surviving maple panelling, and other later inserted meeting rooms.
The stair towers contain open-well stairs with solid plastered balustrades; these are capped with incised timber sections and a timber handrail. The corners of the staircase are angled with doors in deep timber surrounds. The floors of the stair wells have metal vents.
At the lower ground floor level the use of maple timber for doors, surrounds and panelling continues. There is a large staff restaurant with communal dining areas, some with panelling and some lattice screens, with views through large windows to the landscape beyond. There are some smaller dining rooms, now meeting rooms, with panelling, timber flooring and some inbuilt dressers. Behind these are some further offices and service areas including the former computer suite, post room and a large loading bay beneath the main entrance. These service areas are largely functional and do not have the same level of decoration as other areas.
Beyond the staff restaurant there is a large double-height sports hall with changing facilities and adjacent to this the large swimming pool with separate changing facilities and a side viewing gallery. This gallery forms part of the walkway which connects with the external stair tower beyond.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the main entrance to the site from the west is flanked by square pavilions in the form of four rusticated piers which support timber pergolas above. The front boundary walls extending from these are stepped to accommodate the topography and break forward at their central sections. Walls in the same style line the main entrance drive, with access points to car parks marked by square piers. Further pavilions mark the end of the drive and the entrance to the paved forecourt in front of the main entrance. These in turn are flanked by further walls which also end in pavilions, all in the same style. At the south east corner there is a flight of stairs with a pavilion at its lower level, marking the pedestrian route to the sports pavilion (not included) beyond.