Commercial offices, built between 1989 and 1992 for Pearl Assurance Ltd, to the designs of Chapman Taylor Partners with Ronald Farquharson Partnership as structural engineers.
Reasons for Designation
The Pearl Centre, commercial offices, built between 1989 and 1992 for Pearl Assurance Ltd, to the designs of Chapman Taylor Partners, 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 commercial office building, and the imaginative expression of its function and form;
* for the high degree of survival of the original plan form, fixed furniture and fittings, which have been little altered since the building’s completion, including but not limited to the entrance hall, atria, open-plan offices, and restaurant;
* as an important work by the accomplished practice of Chapman Taylor Partners, prolific designers of commercial offices and shopping centres in the late C20.
* for the strong functional and geographic group value the Pearl Centre holds with the Pearl Centre war memorial, dated 1919 and designed by Sir George James Frampton RA (listed at Grade II*) and the designed landscape of the Pearl Centre, designed by Professor Arnold Weddle and executed under the direction of Chapman Taylor Partners (registered at Grade II).
Patterns of work and trade were revolutionised in the late C20, and the commercial building played a central role both in spearheading innovation and representing an image of change. Widespread car ownership and the expansion of transport infrastructure since the 1960s had made possible new locations and building types, such as the business park, conference centre and the out-of-town shopping mall. This began in the United States with the work of Gordon Bunshaft and Eero Saarinen, and the first examples in Britain included American or part-American firms such as Loewy or Heinz. Government controls on building offices in central London began in November 1964 with what is commonly termed the ‘Brown Ban’. Similar controls followed elsewhere in the South East and Midlands, encouraging companies and government departments to relocate and build corporate headquarters in landscaped surroundings. The great change towards open-plan offices began in the 1960s and dominated 1970s’ office building with regular layouts of desks or carrels (work stations with some screening between neighbours), as at the Willis Faber and Dumas headquarters in Ipswich by Foster Associates (1975, listed at Grade I). Tall, narrow tower blocks - such as Millbank Tower or Centre Point, symbols of the 1960s - were not really suited for large businesses, especially financial companies, who wanted large, flexible floor plates – especially with the arrival of the personal computer in the 1980s. One of the earliest examples of a business park was Aztec West outside Bristol, master planned from 1980 by Nicholas Grimshaw with Bruce Gilbreth and Partners acting as coordinating architect. Stockley Park, begun in 1984, introduced the heavily landscaped out-of-town business campus, where settling ponds and lush planting contrasted with modernist buildings by Arup Associates, Norman Foster and Ian Ritchie.
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 strands 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.
In 1967 the cathedral city of Peterborough was designated a New Town to receive London overspill. Peterborough Development Corporation was established in 1968, charged with the urban development of the area to provide homes, work and the full range of services required for the relocation of 70,000 people, mainly drawn from the Greater London area. Located 80 miles from London and Birmingham, on the main railway and next to the A1, Peterborough became a popular choice for company relocation from the 1970s onwards. The countryside around Peterborough offered a range of available parkland sites for large companies, and the first business park was established at Thorpe Wood, west of Longthorpe village, with a large head office for Thomas Cook, and offices for several others. A second business park was established on 170 acres at Lynch Wood, four miles south-west of Peterborough, between the River Nene and the East of England Showground, attracting a range of companies who required a large footprint, including Royal Life, and the Pearl Assurance Company. Lynch Wood Business Park was officially opened for development by HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1988, and is considered the final great achievement of the Development Corporation, which was wound up in September 1988 (succeeded by the Peterborough Development Agency).
Pearl Assurance previously had its headquarters at 252 High Holborn, an Edwardian Baroque building constructed between 1911 and 1962 to designs by H Percy Monkton (listed at Grade II). The company’s presence in Peterborough had been growing since 1973, when they moved their computer centre to Thorpe Wood. Pearl Assurance invited four architectural firms to put forward design concepts for a new company headquarters at Lynch Wood, and Chapman Taylor Partners were selected on the basis of their presentation and portfolio of commercial buildings. Pearl had recently worked with Chapman Taylor Partners on the design of the company’s sports and social club at Castor near Peterborough (completed 1991), which aimed to help attract 2,200 employees and their families to the area. Chapman Taylor Partners is a commercial practice established in 1959 by Bob Chapman (1926-2016), John Taylor (1928-1999) and Jane Durham, who met while working for architect Guy Morgan. Their best-known projects include: New Scotland Yard in Westminster (1962-1966); RHM Centre, Vauxhall Bridge Road, London (1969-1971); Caxton House, Tothill Street, Westminster (1974-1979); the Diamond Quarter Headquarters building in Charterhouse Street (1976-9); Friary Court, Crutched Friars (1981-1985); One Drummond Gate, Millbank (completed 1983); Lansdowne House, Berkeley Square (1985-1988); and Moorgate Hall, Moorgate (1988-1990). At the same time the firm became active in the retail sector, designing shopping centres such as Eldon Square, in Newcastle (1976) and the West One centre on Oxford Street in the 1980s. By the mid-1980s the office employed 650 members of staff. From the 1990s Chapman Taylor Partners undertook a greater proportion of projects outside the UK, and today operates as a global architecture and master planning practice.
Pearl Assurance asked Chapman Taylor Partner for a building that was efficient and economical; could handle the latest information technology, and be able to adapt to new developments in equipment and servicing; could handle organisational change; and would not be obsolete within the foreseeable future, as had happened with the company’s Holborn headquarters, which was out of date before the final phase was completed. The company required accommodation for 2,200 staff, mainly in open-plan flexible offices; a hall for a main-frame computer; a restaurant to seat 600 people in one sitting; a training centre; parking for 1,500 cars; and a single main entrance to maximise security. The height of the proposed building was an important consideration in flat fen countryside - the planning brief produced by Peterborough Development Corporation imposed a limit on the height of the new building, required traditional local materials to be used, and called for a parkland setting. In response to these requirements, Chapman Taylor Partners proposed three square blocks of open-plan offices (37,500 square metres), each three storeys in height with a central open-sided atrium, providing maximum floor space, natural light and views; an attached computer hall, restaurant block and training centre around an entrance courtyard; and two decks of underground car parking (28,800 square metres), all surrounded by landscaped gardens. It has been suggested that the whole design and function of the building drew inspiration from Snape Maltings in Suffolk (listed at Grade II), with large expanses of pantiled roofs, broken by ventilation towers. It is likely the architects also drew inspiration from the design of Hillingdon Civic Centre, built in 1973-7 to the designs of Andrew Derbyshire of Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners (listed at Grade II). Derbyshire adopted an Arts and Crafts style based on local churches near his Hertfordshire home, and the plan is formed of a series of open-plan square footplates linked at the corners. The influence of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), whose popularity was encouraged by growing interest in his furniture in the 1970s, and the opening of his recreated house as part of the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow in 1981, can also be noted throughout the Pearl Centre.
Construction on the £75 million contract commenced in June 1989, and piling work was completed by November 1989, with 3,000 tonnes of structural steelwork for the three office blocks erected between September 1989 and February 1990. A further 600 tonnes of steelwork for the three courtyard buildings was erected between February and May 1990. The exterior was watertight by December 1990 and the whole complex completed by February 1992. Construction of the Pearl Centre was carried out by Wimpey Construction Ltd, with Ronald Farquharson Partnership as structural engineers, Ronald Ward and Associates as services engineer, and AE Thornton-Firkin as quantity surveyor. The buildings and roads cover less than half the 24 acre site, with the rest of the space, or series of spaces, designed by landscape architect Professor Arnold Weddle (1924-97) of the Landscape Research Office. Weddle had previously advised on the reclamation of Peterborough’s extensive brickworks (1961-5), and had recently worked with Chapman Taylor Partners on the completion of the grounds of the Pearl Assurance sports and social club at Castor.
To ensure quality of craftsmanship, a temporary structure was erected during construction where full-size mock ups could be built in prototype to ensure consistent quality of finish and workmanship. Articles in the contemporary architectural press praised the quality of craftsmanship and materials employed (Building, Architecture Today and Architects Journal). The Contemporary Arts Society worked with John Case, Director of Pearl Developments, and Robert Chapman of Chapman Taylor Partners, to choose artworks for the building, which included mythological tapestries by Joanna Buxton in the entrance hall, glazed and decorated pots by Alan Caiger-Smith in the atria, and abstract tapestries by William Jeffries in the double-height dining hall (all now in storage). Open-plan offices were carefully designed using a 9-metre grid divided into 750mm square raised floor modules, which conceal all electric, telephony and network cables. Standard L-shaped work stations provide an angled corner unit for a personal computer, a work surface to either side, and a movable pedestal under. The L-shaped desks can be clustered together, separated by low fabric-covered pinnable partitions, with a central uplighter between desks. Variations are provided for middle managers and more senior officials, who require more privacy and storage. Ronald Ward and Associates and Haden Young installed a computerised building management system to achieve optimum ventilation, air conditioning and heating conditions, with fresh air drawn in via the nine stair towers, circulated around the building via ceiling units or sill-level units around the perimeter, and waste air extracted via roof fans. Pearl Assurance no longer required the full building from around 2005 onwards, and steps were taken to sub-divide and tenant parts of the building, including the installation of glazed partitions to the ground floor atrium spaces, and the addition of a glazed entrance lobby to the south elevation of Nene Hall.
Commercial offices, built between 1989 and 1992 for Pearl Assurance Ltd, to the designs of Chapman Taylor Partners with Ronald Farquharson Partnership as structural engineers.
MATERIALS: Composite steelwork construction; pantile roof covering, with glazed roofs to the atria; lead cladding to the roof towers; hardwood soffit boards and exposed eave beams; glazed curtain walls in mahogany framing to the offices and restaurant; and buff-coloured brick walls to the entrance, stair towers, computer hall, training centre and car park, with French limestone dressings.
PLAN: The building comprises three square-plan office blocks (Orton, Middle and Nene), running on an east-west axis and linked at their corners, with an attached computer hall, restaurant block and training centre over a square-plan underground car park. The three office blocks (37,500 square metres in total) are each three storeys in height with a central open-sided atrium. At the south corner of the central block is an entrance courtyard at first floor level, with a central entrance foyer, an attached computer hall to the north-east side of the courtyard, an attached restaurant block to the north-west side of the courtyard, and an attached L-plan training centre to the south-east corner of the courtyard. Under the computer block, restaurant block and training centre is a square-plan two-deck covered car park (28,800 square metres), providing 1500 car spaces, and accessed from the south-west or north-west sides. The main road through the site bounds the square-plan car-park, running through the central office block at ground floor level.
EXTERIOR: The three linked office blocks are each three storeys in height, with hipped pantile roofs, and circular-plan glass roofs to their central atria. The east (Orton) and west (Nene) blocks each have three square-plan extraction towers to their roofs, with shallow-pitched roofs and lead cladding to their walls. Each floor is varied in its elevational treatment: the first floor is jettied over the ground floor, and the second floor steps back. Exposed eaves beams to the ground floor, and deep eaves with hardwood soffit boards to the first and second floors, provide a brise-soleil for each level. The glazed curtain walls are mahogany framed, and the first and second floor windows have slender Mackintosh-inspired glazing. The lower part of the first floor windows has yellow, green, red and blue panes to conceal internal air-conditioning units. At the centre of each elevation, and where the blocks link, there is an Italianate stair tower, constructed of buff-coloured brick with French limestone dressings. A single-storey glazed entrance lobby was added to the south elevation of the Nene block around 2005 to provide a separate entrance. The entrance courtyard at the south corner of the Middle block provides a main entrance to the buildings at first floor level, with a round-arched recessed door surround of three continuous orders carved of French limestone, and containing stainless-steel framed revolving doors and two side doors under a fanlight. The keystone of the arch is carved with the crest of the Pearl Assurance company. The octagonal-plan glazed roof of the entrance hall is concealed behind the parapet.
The attached computer hall (to the south-east) and restaurant block (to the south-west) are similar in elevational treatment, both being two storeys in height with steeply-pitched pantile roofs over the first floor, and a band of curtain glazing to the second floor, under a shallow-pitched lead-covered roof. The treatment of the first floors differ however: the restaurant block has glazed curtain walls in mahogany framing, while the computer hall has buff-coloured brick walls with French limestone dressings. The south-east elevation of the computer hall, facing the memorial garden, bears four bronze plaques remembering employees of the company who fell in the Second World War (1939-45). The south-west end of the roof of the restaurant block has a square-plan glazed lantern with a shallow-pitched lead-covered roof, which illuminates the double-height dining hall below. In the south-east corner of the entrance courtyard, the single-storey training centre has glazed curtain walls to the interior of the courtyard in mahogany frames, and buff-coloured brick walls with French limestone dressings to the exterior. The restaurant block and training centre are linked at first floor level by a covered walkway, the roof of which is supported by two buff-coloured brick blocks which contain a pumping room and a stairs to the car park. The south-west end of the restaurant block, and south-east and north-east corners of the training centre, have outdoor terraces with curved balustrades, comprising red oriental-inspired panels of four-petal flowers in square borders.
Under the entrance courtyard, restaurant block, computer hall and training centre, the square-plan two-storey covered car park has buff-covered brick walls and French limestone dressings. The south-west and south-east corners of the car park have circular-plan French limestone turrets. The ground floor walls of the car park have closed sections with vertical slatted openings, and open sections with Mackintosh-inspired red mesh screens. The upper level of the car park is accessed at ground-floor level on the south-west side, with segmental entrance and exit arches either side of a flight of steps to the first-floor physic garden and entrance courtyard. The lower level of the car park is accessed at lower ground floor level on the north-west side, with flat-arched entrance and exit openings. A segmental arch on the south-west elevation of the Middle office block, allows the main road to pass through the ground floor level of the building, exiting on its south-east elevation.
INTERIOR: The main entrance foyer from the entrance courtyard brings the visitor into the building at first floor level. The 10-metre high double-height octagonal entrance foyer is vaguely Romanesque in style, bounded on the west, north and east sides by a screen of carved round-headed arches with continuous orders on grey marble bases. The ornate marble floor has a symmetrical star-shaped pattern, with a central column supporting laminated-timber trusses and an octagonal glazed roof. Above the entrance, a second-floor waved gallery provides access between the computer hall (to the south-east) and restaurant block (to the south-west). From the foyer, the visitor can continue south-west to the restaurant block, north-west to the atrium of Middle Hall, or south-east to the computer hall. Straight through the foyer, the visitor is brought through a groin-vaulted cloister-like link to the Middle Hall atrium, off which are conference rooms, a medical suite, and half-glazed rooms (which formerly contained a convenience shop, hair stylist, bank and travel agency). The atrium of Middle Hall is symmetrical in its architectural features and decoration, with a blue and gold patterned marble floor, informal seating areas, twin staircases rising to the second floor, and a circular glazed roof. From the Middle Hall, the visitor can continue diagonally along an internal street east to Orton Hall, or west to Nene Hall, each with its own central open atrium. Each of the three atria are designed to have their own distinct character, described by Chapman Taylor Partners as like ‘a string of beads’, which are allowed to be different colours, sizes or shapes. The character of the centrepiece of each hall is different – the work of various designers within the architectural team – and reflects the variety of the different departments (now companies) occupying the building. Orton Hall is Japanese in character, with a simple formal garden set into the floor next to an arrangement of copper screens, each with cut and burnished designs. In contrast, Nene Hall was decorated with specially-commissioned pots by Alan Caiger-Smith (now in storage). While Middle Hall has two staircases, Orton Hall and Nene Hall each have a single corkscrew staircase (Orton rising clockwise, and Nene anticlockwise). Each of the three atria was designed to have open-plan offices around the atrium, providing employees with natural ventilation and light, and maximising views of the gardens. Sophisticated ventilation techniques and sprinkler systems were designed to minimise the need for fire safety divisions, allowing totally open and bright floors. When the building became tenanted around 2005, glazed partitions were introduced to the offices each side of the atria to provide acoustic buffering and security. The office spaces are designed on 9-metre grids, divided into 750mm floor tiles, with workstations designed on the 750mm grid. The raised floor accommodates electrical wiring, computer cables and telephone lines, and the suspended ceiling accommodates air conditioning. The Building Management System was designed to maintain an ambient temperature of 21 degrees, humidity and air flow. Fresh air is fed from air-handling units located in the nine stair tower plant rooms; it is filtered and heated or cooled, humidified or dehumidified, and then supplied via ceiling fan coil units in the inner zones of the building or via sill level units around the perimeters of the building and around the atria. These sill-level units are clad in maple with Mackintosh-inspired mahogany inlay. The air rises through the building and is extracted by roof top fans. A separate system for smoke and fume extraction is provided in the lead-clad ventilation towers of the roof.
South-west of the main entrance hall, the restaurant block was designed to seat 600 employees at any one time. The double-height dining hall at the south-west end has chamfered stepped corners, stepping down to square-plan columns, which are clad in maple with mahogany inlay, and topped by a pyramidal uplight. The columns are linked by decorative metal and wooden screens, dividing the vast space, while coved ceilings provide variety. Near the servery, low-level inlaid partitions articulate space, with spherical lights in claw-like fixtures to the corner posts. The second floor of the restaurant block has a large meeting room, featuring inlaid doors, foldable partitions, coved ceilings, and inlaid cupboards on the south-west wall.
South-east of the main entrance hall, the computer hall has a large open-plan office spanning the majority of the second floor. From the first floor of the computer block a large stair hall adjacent the entrance hall, provides access to the two car park levels below. For data protection and security reasons, it was not possible to access the first floor offices of the computer hall, the offices of Orton Hall or Nene Hall, or interior of the training centre in January 2019.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: The centrepiece of the first-floor level entrance courtyard is a slightly raised Moorish water feature. An octagonal-plan statuary island stands within an eight-pointed star-shaped pool, and is bordered by two eight-pointed star-shaped paths divided by water channels. Diagonal paths extend from the corner points of the outer star, dividing four grass lawns which are gently sloped toward their outer edge and bounded by granite kerb stones. Each path terminates in a low square-plan fountain, with two steps descending to the silver granite steps of the pedestrian crossings at the same level as the carriageway. At the centre of the water feature stands a 4-metre bronze figurative sculpture of St Margaret of Antioch by Michael Sandle RA (1936 - ), a distinctly modern reworking of the saint found on the company’s crest. The Christian daughter of a pagan priest, St Margaret was reputedly imprisoned for her faith and devoured by Satan in the form of a dragon, before utilising her cross to escape. Margarita (Margaret) is Latin for pearl, hence the association of the saint with the company name. The saint holds a pearl in her right hand, a palm branch (an emblem of honour and a symbol of success) in the left hand, and a dragon lies at her feet. The paths are crafted of Cornish grey granite paving, and the water channels and pool are constructed of black slate paving.
The war memorial in the war memorial garden, dated 1919, designed by Sir George James Frampton RA, and dedicated to the fallen of the First World War, and four accompanying bronze plaques dedicated to the fallen of the Second World War, is separately listed at Grade II* (NHLE 1462803).
The designed landscape in which the Pearl Centre stands, was designed by Professor Arnold Weddle of the Landscape Research Office, and is registered at Grade II (NHLE 1462808).