IBM Building, South Bank

Overview

Heritage Category:
Listed Building
Grade:
II
List Entry Number:
1470420
Date first listed:
19-Jun-2020
Statutory Address:
76 Upper Ground, London, SE1 9PZ

Map

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Location

Statutory Address:
76 Upper Ground, London, SE1 9PZ

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County:
Greater London Authority
District:
Lambeth (London Borough)
Parish:
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
TQ3108680413

Summary

IBM Marketing Centre, built 1979-1984, to the designs of Denys Lasdun, Redhouse and Softley Architects.

Reasons for Designation

The IBM building, South Bank, London of 1979-1984 by Denys Lasdun, Redhouse and Softley is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* for its distinctive exterior character and form, with balanced horizontal planes, and expressive ground floor treatment that demonstrates its private, commercial function in a public-focussed place; * the subtlety of detailing, creating a distinctive character which contrasts with, but respects, the treatment of the neighbouring theatre; * for its architectural concordance with the National Theatre, realised before the IBM building, but together forming a cohesive composition.

Historic interest:

* the last major work by Sir Denys Lasdun, whose career charted the development of British modernism from the 1930s until the 1980s, and has many highly-graded listed buildings to his name, including the Royal College of Physicians at Grade I and the neighbouring National Theatre, at Grade II*; * as an important building commissioned by IBM, a significant commercial client whose patronage of high quality architecture in Britain from the 1960s includes the IBM pilot office and Greenford distribution centre by Foster and Partners, both listed at Grade II.

Group value: * with the National Theatre, also by Sir Denys Lasdun, listed at Grade II*.

History

The industrial South Bank sustained heavy bombing in the Second World War, and was partly cleared afterwards to enable redevelopment, including land to the south-west of the rebuilt Waterloo Bridge for the Festival of Britain site in 1951. The Royal Festival Hall (London County Council Architects Dept, Sir Leslie Martin, Robert Matthew, Peter Moro and Edwin Williams, Grade I, National Heritage List for England (NHLE) entry 1249756) is a permanent reminder of the festival on the wider site identified by the London County Council as a future cultural area. The Queen Elizabeth Hall (not listed) was built in 1967, and downstream of Waterloo Bridge, was followed by the London Weekend Television building (LWT, not listed) in 1972, and the Royal National Theatre (NT) in 1976 (Sir Denys Lasdun, Grade II*, NHLE entry 1272324).

By the post-war period, International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), established in New York in 1924, had become a world leader in information technology. With a growing reputation for architectural patronage, in 1979 IBM wanted a London base to use as a client marketing centre, and the prominent site on the South Bank, formerly occupied by a print works between the NT and LWT buildings, was identified as a good location.

On the strength of the architectural achievement of the neighbouring NT, Denys Lasdun, Redhouse and Softley Architects (DLRS) were approached by IBM in August 1977 and produced a feasibility study in May 1978 (LaD/316/5-9 and LaD/317/1 respectively, RIBA Drawings and Archives, from their on-line catalogue). At the time, Lasdun, who had been knighted in 1976, was completing the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg, the design of which also references the NT. The building for IBM was required to provide 300,000 square foot of space for 1000 staff, including demonstration and conference suites, data processing libraries, catering facilities for staff and 25 car-parking spaces. Its location next to the NT provided the opportunity for Lasdun to explore further the architecture of a culture and media-focussed urban townscape.

The internal layout of office spaces was designed to meet IBM requirements for a flexible ratio between open offices and cellular spaces for executives, with the addition of internal courtyards intended to meet the desire for all desks to be within 10m of a daylight source; outside awareness was considered to be the best situation, and all occupied rooms were required to have a window of some kind.

By June 1979 an outline design was prepared (LaD/317/2-3, RIBA Drawings and Archives) and a detailed planning application submitted. The NT objected to the designs of the new IBM building, but Lasdun argued that the NT would benefit from an amplified setting, in which the NT would remain the dominant element, and the pair would be able to hold their own better against the new developments coming to the area. The Royal Fine Art Commission backed the scheme, commending it for maintaining the layout of traditional quayside development by creating narrow pedestrian access between the IBM and its immediate neighbours. The preservation of important views to St Paul’s Cathedral was also a consideration in the design. Consent for the building was granted, a condition of the planning permission being the extension of the public river walk in front of the LWT building, for which a third of the site was reclaimed from the river. Taylor Woodrow Construction provided the management of the project, with Ove Arup and Partners as engineers and Sir Robert McAlpine constructing the concrete frame. The total budget for the scheme was about £25 million.

Work seems to have started on site in 1980 and was largely complete in 1984, but such was the pace of change in office requirements at this date that there was a second programme of ‘fine tuning’ in 1985-1986. The design intentionally references the NT, sharing horizontal planes and emphasis, utilising Lasdun’s characteristic architectural language of stratigraphic, stepped-back forms which featured in his earlier works such as New Court in Christ’s College (1966-1970) and the student accommodation and teaching wall at UEA (1964-1968, NHLE entries 1390647, 1390646). The finish of IBM was chosen to “match and rhyme” with the NT, and referred to the variation in tone found in natural rock formations as an indication of the possible extent of any colour difference between the two buildings.The architects stated (Building, vol 242,1982, p6-8), that the building ‘respects the scale of the National Theatre and is aligned with it so that both buildings, each with its own clear identity, are seen as part of a single composition whose scale, like that of Somerset House across the river, is appropriate to the setting.’ This approach is discussed by Lasdun in his interview with Jill Lever in 1997 (archived by the British Library in their National Life Stories, Architect’s Lives). Critical reception of the IBM building was sparse. Colin Amery writing in the Financial Times argued that ‘the completion of IBM has clearly shown how the quality of urban life can be improved by architecture. The new spaces are a good beginning. They point the way by their own awareness of the theatrical importance of the city’, (Financial Times, 5 November, 1984). In Blueprint (number 11, October 1984, p14-15), Deyan Sudjic states that it is ‘not the kind of building that is immediately appealing. It is grey, made up of a series of slabs piled one on top of each other, and it is conspicuously lacking in decoration’, but agrees that 'there is much more to the IBM building than the rough outlines. It is at a detailed level that it becomes alive'. Writing retrospectively, William Curtis (1994), opines that 'Lasdun's solution [for the IBM building] ran the risk of undermining his earlier gestures by blurring the dymanic unity of the Theatre'.

DLRS were invited back by IBM to deliver a suite of ‘fine tune’ alterations in 1985, largely focusing on the entrance areas and external signage. DLRS designed a space frame light fitting to illuminate the covered vehicle drop off location and pedestrian entrance to the building. Internal tweaks affected the customer centre that surrounded the auditorium on floor 3, introducing a new draught lobby and entrance and expanding its dedicated entrance area. Brand lettering was added to the rooftop plant enclosures at this time. Changes to the main foyer area included a new desk and signage to improve wayfinding.

Recent planning history indicates the following changes to the building. In 1992 and 1993, some of the cladding to the exterior was replaced (London Borough of Lambeth reference 92/01424) and a new porch entrance was constructed, necessitating the demolition of the original, in addition to a disabled access, refurbishment, alterations and extensions to the building and landscaping by Lifshutz Davidson (93/01062). These were reported in the Architects Journal (July 2002) which details the creation of open-plan work areas with glazed meeting rooms and break-out areas, with acoustic controls, replacement of services, and the introduction of raised floors and ceilings. In 2014 the building entrance was extended and altered (14/03127). In 2016, permission was given for alterations and additions to the existing building including replacement of entrance doors to the east and west entrances, new glazed screen, installation of new balustrading, cladding to the wall on the west elevation, and the removal of the existing awning and installation of a new canopy to the north elevation, the installation of new louvres, glass fencing, and associated hard and soft landscaping (16/00740). Information submitted with planning applications indicates that the entrance lobby has been entirely refurbished, with new finishes, fixtures and fittings throughout.

Sir Denys Lasdun (1914-2001) was one of the most distinctive and creative of post-war architects. Before the Second World War, he worked for Wells Coates, and after a distinguished military service he joined Lubetkin and Tecton, and Fry and Drew, before establishing his own practice to build the Royal College of Physicians in 1960. His mature style appeared at the same time. This was a synthesis of 1930's modernism with a strong horizontality derived from Frank Lloyd Wright (whose planning he came to admire in the 1950s) with the intellectually rigorous qualities of Louis Kahn. Although Lasdun’s work shares many of the calm qualities seen in that of Louis Kahn, including an emphasis on careful planning at the heart of his compositions, his actual style was personal and individual and he is widely considered to be one of Britain's most distinguished post-war architects. His importance was recognised by an exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1997 and the acceptance of his archive by the RIBA. A number of Lasdun's surviving buildings in England are listed, many at high grades, such as the Royal College of Physicians at Grade I (1960-1964, NHLE entry 1246159). The nearby London University Institute of Education (1970-1976, NHLE entry 1246932), the UEA Ziggurats (1964-1968, NHLE entries 1390647, 1390646), Keeling House (London, 1957-1959, NHLE entry 1242108) and the Royal National Theatre are all listed at Grade II*.

Details

IBM Marketing Centre, designed and built 1979-1984, to the designs of Denys Lasdun, Redhouse and Softley Architects, engineers Ove Arup and Partners, construction and management by Taylor Woodrow Construction.

MATERIALS AND STRUCTURE: a reinforced concrete structure, arranged on a 7.2m grid with a 1.8m module, including columns, flat slabs and beams, with pre-cast concrete external components and non-structural internal walls of Celcon blockwork. The external facades clad with pre-cast panels are finished with aggregates of varying materials and treatments. The soffits are white Polyester Powder Coated (PPC) panels, installed in the 1990s as replacements for the originals. Brown brick finishes are applied beneath podium level and to the pedestrian areas including paved approaches to the main west entrance, which extends up to form a podium wrapping around the north-west corner. The windows and window walls are framed in anodised aluminium. Spandrel panels are formed of insulation, sandwiched between two sheets of anodised aluminium.

PLAN: a broadly figure of eight format with two main internal courtyards, on either side of a split central core, around which are arranged the office floor plates. The office floors are lit by recessed strips of glazing and the internal courtyards, with wide terracing at the east elevation arranged around two additional narrower courtyards. The main entrance accessed by steps is centrally placed at the west elevation, raised on a raked podium, under which are car parking and loading spaces served by a ramped entrance. The former public entrance at the east elevation is at the third floor recessed between the wide terracing.

EXTERIOR: an asymmetrical building of five storeys within a shallow, landscaped ‘moat’. All external elevations exhibit strong, stepped horizontal planes of concrete panels clad with aggregate finishes and recessed glazing in strips. Parapets of non-structural precast concrete to each floor have exposed aggregate finishes and are fitted with tubular steel balustrades; the external columns are concrete finished with bush-hammered granite aggregate.

The asymmetric form of the building is shown most clearly at the south and north elevations, with the lower three floors off-set to create wide terracing to the east. Facing the former service road for the NT to the west, and the Queens Walk to the north, the oversailing upper floors are supported by columns. The main entrance level at the west, raised on the podium, is fully glazed and accessed by the vehicular ramp with a retaining wall. A pedestrian walkway was added to the ramp later.

The east elevation is dominated by wide terraces with external prow-shaped stair towers, with the public entrance to the reception recessed between, marked by a distinctive prow-shaped stair, accessed by steps to either side from the lower floors, leading to the glazed entrance via an aggregate-finished footbridge.

Plant towers form sculptural elements on the roof, one having the initials ‘IBM’ in distinctive white lettering’, referencing the NT’s fly towers to the west.

INTERIOR: not inspected. The layout of the building is believed to remain largely as Lasdun planned, with circulation arranged around two main cores, each with its own internal courtyard, either side of the entrance hall, each with two lifts and stair and provision for a third lift (enabling sub-letting of spaces if required). The majority of the office floors are used as open-plan office space fitted with C21 glazed walling to individual offices and meeting rooms, with some floors opening onto external terraces. The main entrance lobby has been reconfigured and internal fixtures, fittings and finishes have been replaced. For this reason, the interior fixtures, fittings and finishes are of lesser interest.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: includes the landscaped 'moat' and ramp to the west.

Sources

Books and journals
Curtis, W, Denys Lasdun, (1994)
'Lasdun gets his second chance' in Blueprint, , Vol. 11, (October 1984), 14-15
Caddy, E, 'Case study: e-place, IBM, South Bank, London' in AJ Focus, (July 2002), 28-29
Ostler, T, 'Did 'Big Blue' Square up to IT' in World Architecture, , Vol. 23, (May 1993), 68-77
Waters, B, 'South Bank, Act Two' in Building, , Vol. 242, (12th February 1982), 26-8
Websites
RIBA PIX, accessed 3/6/20 from https://www.architecture.com/image-library/ribapix/image-information/poster/design-for-the-ibm-central-london-marketing-centre-south-bank-london-shaded-elevation-of-the-riversi/posterid/RIBA53498.html
Ten interviews with Denys Lasdun , launch page, accessed 6/4/2020 from https://sounds.bl.uk/Oral-history/Architects-Lives
Other
Colin Amery: Lasdun's architectural vision, 05/11/1984, Financial Times
RIBA Drawings and Archives LaD/316/5-9, LaD/317/1, LaD/317/2-3

Legal

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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