Civic Centre of 1955-1958 by Sir John Brown, A E Henson and Partners, partner in charge, J E S Sayers.
Reasons for Designation
Haringey Civic Centre, 1955-1958, by Sir John Brown, A E Henson and Partners is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* for its clear Scandinavian influence, the subtle qualities of which express architecturally the values of informality, transparency and modernity, defining aspirations of the post war civic centre as a type;
* for its generous planning and creative use of space;
* for its elegant and consistent application of high quality materials and detailing in the principal internal spaces;
* for the level of survival of key aspects of the building’s character and physical fabric.
* as the first civic centre of its size to be built from scratch after the end of the Second World War;
* in the subsequent interest shown in the building by architects and councillors developing civic centre schemes elsewhere in the country.
Opening in 1958, Wood Green (now Haringey) Civic Centre was the first town hall of its size to be built from scratch after the Second World War. A first design for the civic centre was awarded to Sir John Brown, A E Henson and Partners in 1939 after a national competition. It was to be built at the site of the former town hall at Woodside Park. However, the scheme was postponed due to the outbreak of the Second World War and then by post-war building controls. During this hiatus, Wood Green Borough Council altered the specification: the petty sessional courts were omitted from the scheme, and two public halls and a public library added. These new requirements led to the purchase of an alternative site - a parallelogram of land bounded by Wood Green High Road to the east, Trinity Road to the north and Bounds Green Road to the south-west.
J E S Sayers was the partner in charge for the new scheme and the design suggests the work of a younger generation, influenced by Danish design. The building has echoes of Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller’s Aarhus City Hall (1938-1941), and Jacobsen’s Søllerød City Hall of 1939-1942 (with Flemming Lassen). The term ‘New Empiricism’ was coined to describe the understated, humane form of modernism, often associated with buildings of the state which originated before the war in Scandinavia and found expression in some early post-war work in the UK, notably the Royal Festival Hall in its original form, with its mix of natural finishes on a modern frame construction. Haringey Civic Centre shows the influence of this, and in its subtle qualities expresses architecturally the values of a modern local democracy through greater informality, connectivity and transparency. The building marked the beginnings of a new generation of civic centres in England which aspired to this more open approach and was visited by architects and councillors later developing civic centre schemes elsewhere in the country into the 1970s, including Bury St Edmunds, Gravesend and Hove.
The scheme was planned to be built in three phases: the town hall and council offices first, followed by an auditorium and small hall and in the final stage, a public library. However, only the first phase was completed. The auditorium and small hall of the second phase were to be positioned along the western boundary of the site, running parallel to the council offices and connected to the earlier building by an extension of the colonnaded walkway. The public library was to be built at the north of the site, thus the buildings would enclose a central square with a pool and terraces. Shortly after first phase was completed however, discussions began regarding the reorganisation of the London boroughs. This came into effect in 1965 and Wood Green Civic Centre became the administrative centre for the London Borough of Haringey. While the full extent of the picturesque layout proposed for the site was never realised, the building stands on its own as a creatively planned and elegantly executed early post-war civic centre.
Sir John Brown, A E Henson and Partners came to be something of a specialist in the design of civic centres, also designing Friern Barnet Town Hall, London, 1939-1941 (Grade II), Crawley Civic Centre in 1964, and Walton Town Hall (demolished), Walton-on-Thames, 1963-1966.
Civic Centre of 1955-1958 by Sir John Brown, A E Henson and Partners, partner in charge, J E S Sayers.
MATERIALS: the structural frame and foundations are of reinforced concrete. Portal frames give a clear span of 47ft to the council chamber and carry the former caretaker’s flat above. Large cylindrical columns supporting the public gallery of the chamber also serve as a plenum duct and boiler flue. The exterior is faced in hand-made golden brown two-inch brick and precast reinforced stone. Windows and glazed screens are aluminium-framed.
PLAN: the plan is divided into three zones: to the north are offices, to the south are public-facing and civic spaces, namely the council chamber and registry office, and in a wing to the west are the mayoral suite, members' rooms and committee rooms. The building is principally formed of a four-storey elongated rectangular block; its long main elevation facing west with the entrance positioned off-centre towards the south.
The entrance opens into a triple-height foyer spanning the depth of the building’s footprint and intersecting a corridor extending along the centre of the north-south axis. This grants access to a series of cellular offices to the north, and the rooms of the registry office on the ground floor to the south. Over the registry office is a double-height council chamber with viewing gallery on the first and second floors. The fourth floor contains a caretaker’s flat over the council chamber and further office rooms and the former staff canteen to the north. Extending westwards from the entrance foyer, at right-angles to the main block, is a long narrow first-floor range, supported on square piloti. This contains the mayoral suite, members' and committee rooms over a covered walkway.
The basement contains utility rooms and a bomb shelter designed to withstand a nuclear attack, along with escape tunnels leading to the external gardens.
EXTERIOR: the exterior of the building remains essentially unaltered with the principal elevation being an understated composition comprising three storeys clad in brick and a recessed attic level clad in stone. The civic and public part of the principal elevation is defined by a projecting stone frontispiece with full-height glazing and an off-centre entrance canopy supported by a pair of square columns. At first floor level a projecting balcony opens from the council chamber and is embellished with a metal relief sculpture depicting the civic shield of the Municipal Borough of Wood Green. To the right of the frontispiece on the main elevation, the portion of the civic centre containing council offices is clad in brick and marked by nine evenly-spaced bays with large windows with unmoulded stone surrounds.
To the rear of the building the ground and first floors project slightly and are faced in stone, with panels of multiple small square pierced openings with glazed blocks, and continuous bands of floor-to-ceiling glazing held in metal frames. The third storey returns to the evenly-spaced bays of the principal elevation and the stone attic storey, set behind a balcony that runs through the west, north and east elevations, shows an irregular arrangement of glazing and open voids. The west wing is clad in stone and has continuous bands of floor-to-ceiling glazing to the north and south, with an open ground-floor colonnade. The south elevation of the main block is marked by glazing at ground floor level within a stone surround, with a central entrance door. The north elevation of the main block features full-height glazing within a stone surround.
INTERIOR: the interior decorations and fittings were designed by the architects and feature a number of high quality materials. The two interiors of particular architectural note are the entrance foyer and council chamber, but the quiet elegance of the registry office and west wing are also of interest.
The walls of the entrance foyer are lined with Florentine Travertine marble and include fixed bench seating. A helical staircase towards the back of the space rises to a bridge on the first floor, reinforced to take up the torsional effects of the stair, connecting the council chamber with offices to the north and the mayoral suite and members' and committee rooms in the west wing. The curved, glazed back wall of the public gallery of the council chamber breaks into the foyer space at second floor level. The floor of the entrance foyer, and of the helical staircase, is faced in gritted Serpegient marble. Timber panels to the rear of the foyer, behind the stair, are edged in gold. The staircase handrail and balcony balustrade in the foyer are of anodised aluminium, as are door surrounds. There has been some partitioning to the left of the stair, behind the reception desk, including the insertion of a lift up to the bridge. Access into the office corridors to the north have been restricted by the insertion of sets of glazed aluminium doors.
The panelling throughout the building, such as in the registry office, committee rooms, mayoral suite, and the council chamber, is in English straight grained elm, and other joinery in guarea. In the council chamber, the wall panels are slotted, for acoustics, and arranged in overlapping vertical fins with lighting in between, and the curved acoustic ceiling is similarly arranged as overlapping fins with lighting between. The Mayor’s dais remains in situ, panelled behind with dark green Verte de Fre marble and with a stepped canopy over. The horseshoe seating in the body of the council chamber was removed in 1965 but the bench seating with green leather cushions in the public gallery all survives.
The committee rooms, members' rooms and mayoral suite are accessed from a glazed corridor in the west wing. Here there is further use of Florentine Travertine, large dish-like aluminium uplighters, and elm panelling in the rooms, some of which have large sliding doors to join the spaces together. Travertine is also used on the end wall and columns of the main room of the registry office, shown as the ‘large marriage room’ on original plans, with elm panelling elsewhere. As would be expected the offices to the north of the building have a more modest finish, progressively so towards the top of the building, and some of these spaces have been modernised, for this reason these spaces are not of particular note. The two staircases in this part of the building have terrazzo steps and handrails of glass, timber and aluminium.