Epping Civic Offices, built 1987-1992, to the designs of Richard Reid for Epping Forest District Council.
Reasons for Designation
Epping Civic Offices, built 1987-1992, to the designs of Richard Reid for Epping Forest District Council, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as a highly creative re-working of a familiar formal language, executed with masterful handling of colour, pattern, scale and detail;
* for the architectural quality of this monumental municipal building, and the imaginative expression of its function and form;
* for the high degree of survival of the original plan form, fixtures and fittings, which have been little altered since the building’s completion, including but not limited to the reception, atrium, council chamber, committee rooms, members’ rooms, and chairman’s office;
* for the quality of the urban design, which successfully integrates the civic offices into the historic urban streetscape of Epping.
* as an important work by the architect, urban designer and conservationist Richard Reid (1939-), and an influential building in the evolution of civic architecture.
* for the strong geographic group value the civic offices holds with listed buildings along Epping High Street, culminating in the Grade II*-listed Church of St John the Baptist.
Post-Modernism, a movement and a style prevalent in architecture between about 1975 and 1990, is defined in terms of its relationship with modern architecture. Post-Modernist architecture is characterised by its plurality, engagement with urban 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.
Epping Civic Offices were commissioned by Epping Forest District Council following a two-stage competition between 1984 and 1985. The design brief asked for ‘a high-quality design appropriate to its situation and setting’, and the Council received a total of 51 entries. The competition was judged by Piers Gough, himself an influential proponent of the Post-Modern style, and was awarded in 1985 to Richard Reid and Associates. Richard Reid (1939-) studied architecture and urban design at the Northern Polytechnic, London and the Accademia Britannica, Rome (where he was awarded the Rome Scholarship in Architecture), before studying sculpture at St Martin’s School of Art. Reid contributed numerous illustrations and articles to broadsheets, colour supplements and popular glossies during the 1960’s and 1970’s, and published a number of books on English architectural traditions, including The Shell Book of Cottages (1977) and The Georgian House (1989). Reid made important contributions in the fields of urban conservation, design and master planning, presenting and publishing widely on these subjects in the contemporary architectural press, including The Architectural Review and Casabella. In the late 1970s he was appointed Project Director of an EEC-funded ten-year joint study programme titled Learning from Vernacular Building and Planning, which involved the Universities of Stuttgart, Venice, University College Dublin and the Polytechnic of the South Bank. Richard Reid and Associates, established in 1984 and based in Sevenoaks, Kent has won several urban design competitions including the 60-hectare master plan for Kleinzschocher, Leipzig and the 80-hectare international urban design competition for the Bertalia-Lazzaretto District, Bologna (with Sartogo Associati). The practice is well known for its design of a residential scheme at Finland Quay West (now 1-67 Aland Court) in Southwark (built 1987-1989, not listed).
Construction commenced on Richard Reid’s competition-winning entry for the Epping Forest Civic Offices in 1987, and was completed in 1992, with Ove Arup and Partners as structural engineers and mechanical and electrical consultants. The scheme received a Regional RIBA Award (East Anglia) in 1993, and was well-documented in the contemporary architectural press. Reid’s submission for the competition was accompanied by a series of analytical drawings that demonstrated the urban structure of Epping and how his proposed design would adapt to its sense of place, or genius loci. He considered that the new civic office scheme would be ‘like a fragment of the local townscape’ (Reid, 2009). His dominant red-brick tower at the north-east end of the High Street responds to its historic surroundings, and counterbalances the red-brick water tower at the south-west end of the street (built 1872 to the designs of Thomas Hawksley, listed at Grade II), and the tower of the Church of St John the Baptist (built 1889-1891 to the designs of Bodley and Garner, listed at Grade II*). Reid gave his sources for the civic offices as Louis Kahn, H H Richardson and C H Townsend, with an understanding of Camillo Sitte and Gordon Cullen in the way the building brings the High Street to a close. The scheme opted to retain and incorporate a mid-C19 two-storey house (323 High Street) at its south-west end, and the Council required the architect to incorporate the modern council office block (constructed around 1970 to designs by Conder to the rear of 323 High Street, and extended in the mid-1980) into the new scheme. The architect was of the opinion that public buildings should have a ‘civilising presence’ in the city (Reid, 2009); the apsidal council chamber is a visible and distinctive form along the historic streetscape, expressing the function and form of the debating chamber, and reminding the councillors and townsfolk of the civic function of the building.
Epping Civic Offices, built 1987-1992, to the designs of Richard Reid for Epping Forest District Council.
MATERIALS: concrete-framed structure with red-brick walls laid in English bond, and reconstituted stone cladding.
PLAN: a rectangular-plan, three-storey office block over a basement car park, running on a north-east to south-west axis, facing south-east to High Street. The front elevation features an apsidal, three-storey council chamber block, and square-plan six-storey tower. The south-west end of the office block links the mid-C19, two-storey house fronting High Street, and the rectangular-plan three-storey 1970s office block to the rear (both excluded from the listing).
EXTERIOR: the front elevation of the three-storey, office block faces south-east to High Street, with walls composed of red brick laid in English bond and reconstituted stone cladding over a concrete-framed structure. At the south-west end of the front elevation, an existing mid-C19, three-bay, two-storey house (now offices, 323 High Street), and a rectangular-plan three-storey 1970s council office block to the rear (both excluded from the listing) are linked by the new council offices. Access to the rear car park is granted by a ground-floor void between the three blocks, which is spanned by first and second floor connecting corridors. To the north-east of the vehicular access, a square-plan red-brick tower rises high over the building, octagonal to the top two stages, under a stone cornice, and bearing a minimalist clock on all four elevations. To the north-east of the tower, a giant brick-lined arch provides public access to the ground-floor reception and atrium via a glazed porch, and to the first-floor council chamber and its second-floor gallery via a stone-clad flight of steps. Above the glazed porch, a steel balcony with a concrete roll-moulded balustrade wall provides a 'pulpit' from which announcements can be made. Directly north-east of the steps, a three-storey apsidal-ended block (containing the council chamber) breaks out toward High Street, and is furthermore distinguished from surrounding elements by the use of reconstituted stone cladding, having minimal pilasters at ground-floor level. To the north-east of the council chamber, there are seven bays of red brick, with two oriel windows arranged symmetrically at first-floor height. To the north-east, a two-storey, four-bay block breaks forward, containing the staff canteen (formerly the staff recreation room) and council members’ room over. Like the council chamber, this four-bay block is distinguished by reconstituted stone cladding. The north-east corner has a two-storey projection, containing the staff IT training room (formerly the staff dining room) and more members’ rooms over, having a purple-brick, battered plinth extending around the side (north-east) elevation. The first floor has an open terrace to the members’ rooms, with plain pilasters supporting a flat roof over. The front and side elevation each contain a variety of square and rectangular windows, with canary yellow, cobalt blue and light grey frames, the majority of which were replaced with thicker frames in 2015 (the colour scheme was retained). The rear (north-west) elevation is three-storeys in height over a basement car park, and is composed of red brick, with pilasters rising to a blind fascia, separating 26 window bays which increase in size with height, maximising views over the countryside beyond. To the centre of the rear elevation, a ramp provides access to the basement car park. The rear elevation bears two flights of steps to ground-floor, staff entrances, and the side elevation provides one flight of steps to the ground-floor IT training room (formerly the staff dining room) over the battered plinth.
INTERIOR: The public entrance via the glazed porch of the front (south-east) elevation provides access to a single-storey reception area, which leads to a narrow three-storey atrium to the rear of the council chamber, where members of the public and council staff meet. The atrium, illuminated by roof lights, is articulated with polychromatic striped walls of red and cream dyed cast-concrete cladding. The reception retains the original semi-circular desk, and both the reception and atrium retain original benches and planters, having semi-circular profiled mouldings (the bench at the centre of the atrium has been replaced by a narrow one without a back rest). A segmental balcony overlooks the atrium from the first-floor council chamber, and window openings overlook the atrium from the first- and second-floor staff corridors. The remainder of the ground floor north-east of the atrium contains offices for public meetings, and the north-east end contains a staff canteen (formerly two staff recreation rooms) and a staff IT training room (formerly the staff dining room). The first-floor council chamber is accessed by council members and staff from a corridor north-east of the atrium, and the second-floor viewing gallery is accessed by members of the public via the tower south-west of the atrium. The council chamber is a double-height, horseshoe-shaped drum, with fixed seating and desks for 57 councillors on the lower level, arranged in three tiers, and space for 65 members of the public and press in one tier on a cantilevered gallery. A structural screen wall runs round the edge of the seating to form a narrow circulation corridor at the rear of the chamber, that on the ground floor being clad in American white ash and punctuated by square windows, the glass of which is angled to deflect acoustic reflections. The curved gallery echoes the form of the lower level, with paired columns defining each bay, and a plain metal balustrade over the enclosing wall. The council chamber retains its original fixed furniture, having original extendable desks, hide upholstery to the seats, and removable seats for wheelchair users. To the north-east of the council chamber, the committee rooms retain original partitioned walls to the central corridor. In the north-east corner, the members’ room, members’ writing room, terrace and chairman’s office retain their original layout, and a high proportion of original doors, and furniture (fixed and unfixed). These formal rooms also retain their original timber panelling, incorporating a semi-circular profiled dado and pronounced cornice, which conceals uplighting. The second floor mainly comprises large open-plan offices, with large windows providing views of the countryside to the north-west. A central corridor runs the entire length of the building at first- and second-floor levels, with glazed panels and a sculptural staircase linking the civic offices to the mid-C19 house and 1970s office block at first-floor level, and to the 1970s office block at second-floor level (both the mid-C19 building and 1970s building are excluded from the listing as is clear in map).