Designed landscape of the Pearl Centre, the former head offices of Pearl Assurance, designed by Professor Arnold Weddle of the Landscape Research Office, and executed under the direction of Chapman Taylor Partners between 1989 and 1992.
Reasons for Designation
The designed landscape of the Pearl Centre, the former head offices of Pearl Assurance Ltd, designed by Professor Arnold Weddle of the Landscape Research Office, and executed under the direction of Chapman Taylor Partners between 1989 and 1992, is registered at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* for the design of the gardens by Professor Arnold Weddle, an accomplished landscape designer and influential lecturer of landscape architecture;
* as a rare example of a highly designed landscape associated with a contemporary commercial office building.
* as a highly creative re-working of a familiar formal language, executed with masterful handling of form and function;
* for the architectural quality of the landscape design, which is intimately connected with and complements the Post-Modern design of the Pearl Centre by Chapman Taylor Partners;
* for the recreational value of the grounds and gardens, which were designed for the enjoyment of staff relocated from the company’s London headquarters, both in views from the building and for lunchtime perambulation.
* for the strong group value the designed landscape holds with the Pearl Centre, designed by Chapman Taylor Partners and built between 1989 and 1992 (listed at Grade II) and a war memorial to the employees of the Pearl Assurance Company who fell in the First and Second World Wars, designed by Sir George James Frampton RA (listed 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 corporate headquarters and build elsewhere in landscaped surroundings. 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 co-ordinating architect. Stockley Park near Hillingdon in Buckinghamshire, 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.
At such business parks, professional landscape architects took on a new opportunity to screen car parking and create a corporate identity, as well as providing attractive places for office workers to have their lunch – an important consideration in suburban or rural locations where there was no High Street to escape to. Preben Jakobsen is perhaps the most acclaimed specialist, working from the 1970s to the late 1990s, but surviving examples are rare. He worked extensively with the modernist practice of Elsom, Pack and Roberts (EPR), and his design of the landscape of Broadwater Park near Denham Green in Buckinghamshire, of 1982-4, is relatively complete, with carefully landscaped car parking screened by mounds of shrubs and islands of trees, as well as a hedged lawn that shields more private areas, with paths and seating for lunchtime perambulation.
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 an architectural scheme by Chapman Taylor Partners was chosen, with a designed landscape by Professor Arnold Weddle (1924-97) of the Landscape Research Office, an accomplished landscape designer and lecturer in landscape architecture. Pearl had recently worked with Chapman Taylor Partners and Weddle 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. Construction on the £75 million Pearl Centre contract commenced in June 1989, and the whole complex was 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 designed landscape was executed under the direction of Chapman Taylor Partners.
By taking an early decision to put car parking underground, the whole site landscape around the Pearl’s office headquarters was designed as grounds and gardens for staff enjoyment, both in views from the building and for lunchtime perambulation. The landscape is an extension of the built architecture, with sculptural landforms creating a variety of external spaces, including: lakes, a memorial garden, entrance courtyard, physic garden, parterre garden, pyramid, wildflower meadow and ziggurat. These features were not just ornamental: the lake was stocked with coarse fish and used for fishing, and the platform of the pyramid was intended for use as a boules court or events space. Within the building, tropical trees were imported from Florida for the atria of Nene, Middle and Orton Halls. The main atrium had four large Ficus nitida, a variety of fig that is not common in the UK, surrounded by smaller trees and shrubs and an ornamental oriental screen for climbing plants. With the foliage in the atria intended to provide a focus, there was no planting in the office areas themselves. The restaurant had one 5-metre tall Dracaera in a square planter under the central square lantern. Most of the interior planting has since been removed.
Arnold Weddle served in Italy and Greece during the Second World War (1939-45), after which he trained as an architect and town planner in Newcastle upon Tyne, and commenced employment as an architectural assistant in 1951, and a planning officer in 1954. He was elected an associate of the Institute of Landscape Architects (ILA) in 1954 and a Fellow in 1963. His interests lay in landscape planning, and in 1956 he was appointed Lecturer in Landscape Design at the Department of Civic Design (now the Department of Town and Regional Planning) at the University of Liverpool. He started his own private practice in Bluecoat Chambers in Liverpool in 1957, and completed several landscape designs for private clients in Liverpool and Wirral, Cheshire. Between 1957 and 1967, he worked in collaboration with Professor Myles Wright on urban and regional projects, including a regional plan for Dublin, and urban planning of the Borough of Bootle. During the 1960s, Weddle worked on Liverpool University campus projects (1960), for the Central Electricity Generating Board, and for Skelmersdale New Town Corporation (1967). Weddle’s ‘Peterborough Project’ advised on the reclamation of the extensive former brickworks of Peterborough (1961-5), feeding into the new town plans. He played a key role in the establishment of the first Department of Landscape Architecture in Britain at Sheffield University, and as founding professor was appointed to the newly-established Granada Chair of Landscape Architecture in 1967. Weddle continued his private practice in Sheffield as ‘Arnold Weddle Landscape and Planning Consultant’, where he employed lecturers and postgraduate students to work part-time on professional projects. He retired from Sheffield University in 1987, and incorporated his practice as Landscape Research Office Limited in the same year, also continuing to operate as ‘Professor A E Weddle Landscape and Planning Consultant’. The practice became Weddle Landscape Design in 1992, reflecting the practice’s increased focus on environmental planning, arboriculture and ecology.
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 undertook a greater proportion of projects outside the UK, and today operates as a global architecture and master planning practice.
Designed landscape of the Pearl Centre, the former head offices of Pearl Assurance, designed by Professor Arnold Weddle of the Landscape Research Office, and executed under the direction of Chapman Taylor Partners between 1989 and 1992.
LOCATION, SETTING, LANDFORM, BOUNDARIES AND AREA
Location: The Pearl Centre, former head offices of Pearl Assurance, was constructed in the north-west corner of Lynch Wood Business Park between 1989 and 1992, approximately 4 miles south-west of Peterborough, between the River Nene and the East of England Showground.
Setting: Lynch Wood, from which the business park gets its name, is a belt of mature woodland on the western boundary of the Pearl site, separating it from the River Nene. The woodland is managed by the Nene Park Trust and forms part of Nene Park, which stretches from Peterborough City Centre to the A1.
Landform: The building stands on a natural knoll in flat fen landscape. Sculptural landforms were designed to control views in and out of the site: a long earthen bank along the south perimeter has trees planted along its ridge to conceal the Royal Life building to the south from view; earthen banks either side of the site entrance direct the visitor and provide security, as well as screening views of the car parks to the north and south.
Boundaries: The Pearl site is roughly square in plan, and the boundary marked by a perimeter tree belt, a timber post-and-rail fence with chestnut pale, and a wildflower margin. Lynch Wood was extended along the south boundary to help screen the facilities building in the south-west corner, with the planting of native tree and shrub species, reflecting the existing composition of Lynch Wood, including ash, oak, horse chestnut, whitebeam, yew, hazel, holly, privet and elder, as well as hawthorn and field maple hedging. The north and east boundaries were also extended to reflect existing planting to include a mix of transplanted and feathered trees, including conifers. To the interior of the wildflower margin, a gravel perimeter road winds like a quaint country lane, providing a functional track for fire access.
Area: The site measures approximately 10 hectares or 25 acres in area.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The Pearl Centre is approached via a roundabout in the south-east corner, which is grass-covered with a crescent-plan mound to the north-west side planted with trees and shrubs. The approach road from the roundabout is flanked by clipped shrubs, and diverts in two at a flagpole plinth, crafted of rusticated French limestone. To the left of the plinth, the road sinuously curves around the square-plan car park, designed to accommodate 1,500 cars on two covered decks, the ground floor level accessed from the south-east side, and lower ground floor level accessed from the south-west side. The road continues through the south-west side of Middle Hall and exits on the south-east side. The main road through the site also provides access to the visitor car park in the south-east corner, a link to the perimeter fire road at the south-west corner, and a car park east of the computer block. To the right of the flagpole plinth, the road rises to the entrance courtyard at first floor level, with French limestone bridge piers and retaining walls to either side. The road continues clockwise around the courtyard, with a circular lay-by to the main entrance in the north-west corner. The roads are constructed of asphalt, and pedestrian crossings are identified by a change of materials to a band of silver grey granite setts. Main pavements are crafted of natural York stone with granite kerb stones. Throughout the site, the roads and car parks are illuminated by lamp standards with twin globe lights.
The Pearl Centre was constructed as the new head offices of Pearl Assurance between 1989 and 1992 to the designs of Chapman Taylor Partners. 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 bounding an entrance courtyard, over a square-plan underground car park. The Pearl Centre is listed at Grade II (NHLE 1462664).
The war memorial garden to the east of the entrance courtyard remembers employees of the Pearl Assurance company who fell in the First World War (1914-18) and Second World War (1939-45). A central war memorial, dated 1919 and signed by the sculptor Sir George James Frampton RA, bears a statue of St George trampling the dragon, with four bronze plaques bearing the names of 444 employees who fell in the First World War. Nearby, the south-east wall of the computer hall of the Pearl Centre bears four bronze plaques with the names of 215 employees of the company who fell in the Second World War. The memorial was previously located at the company’s former head offices at 252 High Holborn in London, and was moved and rededicated at the new Peterborough head offices in 1991. The memorial and accompanying plaques are listed at Grade II* (NHLE 1462803).
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS
By taking an early decision to put car parking underground, the whole site landscape around the Pearl’s office headquarters has been designed as grounds and gardens for staff enjoyment, both in views from the building and for lunchtime perambulation. The landscape is an extension of the structural architecture, with sculptural landforms creating a variety of external spaces, including: (clockwise from the north-east corner) two connected lakes, a memorial garden, entrance courtyard, physic garden, parterre garden, pyramid, wildflower meadow, and ziggurat (each described in detail below). More than 75,000 trees and shrubs of 500 varieties were planted on the site, with large specimen trees from nurseries in Germany and Italy as well as from the UK. The roadsides of the entrance, exit and car parking are boldly planted with mature specimen conifers, clear-stemmed mixed broad-leaved trees and sculpted clipped hedges, with decorative planting in areas closer to the building. Within the perimeter fire road, Raisby or hoggin compacted-gravel paths connect the various elements of the gardens. The Nene, Middle and Orton office blocks are bounded by an angular gravel path, and sculpted clipped hedges, low shrubs, herbaceous perennials and ground cover planting provide a decorative margin, so as not to obscure views from the ground floor interior offices. Fixed timber park benches are located strategically throughout the designed landscape for lunchtime enjoyment. These are usually laid out in a symmetrical arrangement, such as two benches hidden within the north wildflower margin, a canted arrangement of five benches west of the lakes, or bounding the west and north sides of the platform of the ziggurat.
Two connected lakes occupy the north-east corner of the site; horn-shaped, they wrap around a turfed, earthen mound in the south-west corner. Lined with clay from the excavations, these lakes are filled with water from the River Nene, and stocked with coarse fish for fishing. Recirculated water emerges from a rocky spring in a boulder and pebble-strewn valley, and tumbles south-east over weirs into the cobble beaches of the upper (smaller) lake. From here it flows north under a flat wooden bridge and spills over a weir into the lower (larger) lake. Along the north bank of the lower lake, a line of stepping stones traverses a pebble-strewn valley. In the south-west corner of the lower lake, stands a 4-metre high sculpture of a bittern by Michael Flynn (1947- ), cast by Fonderie d’Art. The turfed, earthen mound in the south-west corner is roughly circular on plan with a vaguely spiralled grass path to its summit. It is described by Weddle Landscape Design as a ‘bailey’ or ‘viewing mound’, and shown on a plan by Weddles dated April 1989 as having a flight of steps on its east side (akin to the medieval mound of Clifford’s Tower in York), though these were not constructed. Herbaceous perennials, shrubs and ornamental trees are planted around the lake, with a mix of native and ornamental plants closer to the building and sitting area. A Raisby or hoggin compacted gravel path provides pedestrian access around and between the lakes. The lakes are overlooked on their west side by a number of benches, including a canted arrangement of five benches.
The war memorial garden to the east of the entrance courtyard remembers employees of the Pearl Assurance company who fell in the First World War (1914-18) and Second World War (1939-45). The garden is rectangular in plan, with granite kerbs and brick paving, and bordered by low evergreen and deciduous shrubs, herbaceous planting and ground cover plants. The central war memorial, dated 1919 and signed by the sculptor Sir George James Frampton RA, and four bronze plaques on the south-east elevation of the computer hall, are collectively listed at Grade II* (NHLE 1462803).
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. Flowering cherries line the edges of the entrance courtyard, which is also planted with flowering herbaceous perennials and evergreen and deciduous shrubs in mounded planting beds.
From the south-west corner of the entrance courtyard, a York stone path heads south-west, flanked on either side by a small lawn with an oriental screen, passing under a covered walkway to the Physic Garden. The Physic Garden is located at first-floor level between the Restaurant Building and Training Building, and over the two-storey car park. Planted with medicinal and culinary herbs within box hedges, the garden is also shown on plans by the architects Chapman Taylor Parters as a ‘Walled Garden’. Four compartments are arranged in a square with a carved inner corner, each bounded by granite kerbstones and containing latticed box-hedge planting. Each compartment formerly held a wooden obelisk, however these have been removed. To the east and west are two rectangular-plan compartments, each with granite kerbstones. The north compartments each contained a Chippendale-inspired wooden bench (only the west one survives), and the south compartments each contain chevron box-hedge planting. The garden has red-brick paving, and is bounded by planting and a buff-coloured brick wall with French limestone coping. A flight of steps from the centre of the south-west side descends to the ground-floor road level and entrance to the ground-floor level of the car-park.
The Parterre Garden, laid out in the south-west corner of the site to the south of Nene Hall, had a central round garden surrounded by four rectangular gardens, into which a cruciform compacted gravel path was cut. The garden was bounded to the north by a balustrade, and to the south by a three-stepped earthen mound, accessed by three central flights of York stone steps. Pleached lime trees and a timber palisade fence conceal a facilities building to the south. The west path terminates with a sculptural stone family group on a buff-coloured brick plinth, by Alistair Smith, dated 1991. The parterre garden and balustrades were removed around 2005 when a glazed entrance lobby was added to the south of Nene Hall, providing a new entrance for tenants. The three-stepped mound to the south and sculpture to the west survive.
The Pyramid, located to the west of Middle Hall and north of Nene Hall, takes the form of a square-plan two-tiered sculptural landform. The lower tier has a brick flight of steps at the east end of the north side and south end of the west side, leading to a Raisby compacted gravel path. The upper tier, also square in plan, has a flight of brick steps to the centre of its east and south sides (aligned with the towers of Middle and Nene Halls), leading to a compacted gravel platform, with three benches along each of its north and west sides. The slopes of the sculptural landform are planted with a dense, clipped deciduous hedge, possibly cotoneaster.
The Ziggurat to the west of Orton Hall and north of Middle Hall, is a sculptural landform comprising a square earthen mound, overlaid with cruciform earthen ramps, leading to a central platform. The north-south ramps are on axis with the north tower of Middle Hall, and the east-west ramps on axis with the west tower of Orton Hall. The corners of the square and slopes of the ramp are articulated by sculpted clipped hedges of contrasting species, forms and colours, and the four corners of the central platform each feature a tall feathered conifer.
The Wildflower Meadow occupies the north-west corner of the site, and takes the form of a circular-plan amphitheatre-like sculptural landform. The earthen banks rise and widen to the north-west corner, with sculptural timber posts impaled along the ridge of the mound, akin to a woodhenge. The earthen mound is separated into quarters, with breaks along the north-south and east-west axes. The north-south axis provides a direct line from the north-west corner of the site, through the north-west corner and atrium of Middle Hall, octagonal entrance hall, sculpture of the entrance courtyard, to the south-east corner of the training centre. The wildflower meadow was replanted as a labyrinth around 2005, and four stone benches added to its centre.