London headquarters of Channel Four Television, including offices, post-production edit suites, restaurant, screening room and originally a studio. Built to designs by Richard Rogers Partnership (partner in charge, John Young), 1992-1994. Structural engineers Ove Arup and Partners.
The mapping of the listed building does not reflect the full extent of its below-ground footprint.
Reasons for Designation
124-126 Horseferry Road, built as the headquarters of Channel Four Television to designs by Richard Rogers Partnership 1992-94, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as an elegant work of the High-tech movement, displaying many of its key principles, such as the separation of services from the spaces served, the use of prefabricated elements and a technological aesthetic based upon expressed structure and exposed services;
* for its logical L-plan with a dynamic, highly articulated corner composition and entrance sequence, dominated by a curved, top-hung, structural glass wall;
* for the sophistication of its design, in which intricate details, executed in a consistent palette of materials, are integrated into a rigorous modular framework;
* for its sequence of three linked interior spaces, centring on the dramatic full-height entrance atrium, to which are connected the fan-shaped restaurant and the subterranean screening room and foyer;
* as a late-C20 exemplar of both a prestigious, owner-occupied headquarters building and a television centre, equipped primarily for the commissioning, but not the production of television programming, as per Channel 4’s remit;
* for its designed flexibility to allow for changing technologies and operational needs, combining set-piece interiors with adaptable office workspaces;
* for its degree of survival, with little alteration externally or to its key interior spaces.
* as the purpose-built headquarters of Channel 4, a key player in television broadcasting history, commercially funded but with a public-service remit to provide innovative and diverse programming;
* as an important British work by Richard Rogers Partnership, a practice of international renown led by one of Britain’s most celebrated architects.
124-126 Horseferry Road was built in 1992-1994 as the headquarters for Channel 4, a publicly owned, commercially-funded public service broadcaster, established with a remit to make innovative, experimental and distinctive programmes. After launching on 2 November 1982, its audience share gradually increased and the station soon outgrew its collection of rented offices in the West End. The switch to digital broadcasting also loomed. The chief executive, Michael Grade, and the chairman, Sir Richard Attenborough, took the decision to build a new headquarters. A suitable site was found at the junction of Horseferry Road and Chadwick Street, and a limited competition held in late 1990.
The commission was won by the Richard Rogers Partnership (RRP), who then explored the organisation’s needs through a series of workshops. As Channel 4 was a commissioner and transmitter, but not a producer of programmes, their main requirements were for offices and prestigious spaces to receive clients. The office space was specified to institutional standards so that the building could be readily let or sold in the event of a future move. A 10m deep basement already existed from a previous stalled development, so production and transmission facilities and a minimal studio occupied two subterranean levels, with provision made in the design for adding windows to the lower ground floor in the future, and flooring over the double-height studio to make the space more flexible.
RRP proposed a perimeter plan that reinforced the street pattern. Office wings at right angles were hinged by a ‘knuckle’, containing an entrance atrium and restaurant, with offices above. Behind the building a public garden was created, framed to the south and east by a separate housing development which fulfilled a planning condition set by Westminster City Council. In 2007 ‘the big 4’, a metal sculpture designed by Nick Knight and based on the channel’s current on-air identity was erected in the small piazza at the front of the building.
Richard Rogers was one of a group of British architects responsible for the High-tech movement, which originated in the 1960s with in a series of loose-fit industrial structures. By the 1980s High-tech architecture was increasingly being translated into urban contexts and cultural commissions. 124-126 Horseferry Road demonstrates many of its key principles, such as the separation of services from the spaces served, the use of prefabricated elements and a technological aesthetic based upon expressed structure and exposed services. It was Rogers’ first central London job after the Lloyd’s Building (1978-1986, listed Grade I), a seminal work of High-tech architecture. The image of Lloyds’ seems to have loomed large. For John Young, partner in charge, 124-126 Horseferry Road is ‘a building in the Lloyds mould.’ (Powell, 2001, 173).
The building’s drama is focussed on the entrance front; its transparency revealing the principal interior spaces, giving views right through the building to the public garden, and glimpses of working life within. ‘The effect, especially at night, is televisual’, commented Jonathan Glancey, (The Independent, 1994). The office wings are conventional in their planning and the building was designed to meet the bespoke needs of the client, as well as to be sufficiently adaptable should those needs change, or the building be sold.
124-126 Horseferry Road was a BBC Design Awards Finalist 1996 and won a RIBA National Award 1995; Royal Fine Art Commission Award 1995 and Civic Trust Award 1996. Since its opening the building has undergone several phases of internal refurbishment, including, in about 2010, the flooring-over of the double-height basement studio and repurposing of the space for various other uses. Externally, the building is largely unaltered.
Television as a broadcasting phenomenon began in the 1930s, with the first regular television service in the world introduced on 2 November 1936 by the BBC. The BBC’s monopoly was broken by the Television Act 1954, which created commercially funded Independent Television (ITV), served by regional franchised networks. Channel 4 arrived in 1982, established under the provisions of the 1980 Broadcasting Act. The act provided for a new, fourth, channel with a remit to ‘encourage innovation and experiment in the form and content of programmes’; its output was to be distinctive, offering programming for tastes not catered for by the commercial broadcaster ITV.
Its organisational model was equally distinctive, funded by advertising but adhering to a public service remit, it didn’t produce its own programming, instead commissioning and purchasing material from independent production companies. It employed commissioning editors to nurture the various strands and genres of the channel’s output and made particular efforts to employ people outside the television industry who could bring new and non-traditional perspectives. This meant new voices and new talents, and a greater plurality of programming and representation, including minorities. Channel 4 still proclaims its role as a ‘disruptive, innovative force in UK Broadcasting’ (Channel4.com, accessed 3 December 2021). Channel 4 has been major contributor to the British cultural landscape of the last four decades.
Richard Rogers, later Lord Rogers of Riverside, (1933-2021) was born in Florence. He trained at the Architectural Association and Yale University before setting up the Team 4 practice with Norman Foster and others in 1962. Their house for his in-laws, Creekvean in Feock, Cornwall (1964-1967) was listed Grade II in 1998 and upgraded to Grade II* in 2002. Rogers subsequently formed an architectural practice with his then wife, Su Rogers, and from 1970-1977, worked with the Italian architect Renzo Piano. Their Pompidou Centre building in Paris, which opened in 1977, is a major landmark of the High-tech style. Richard Rogers Partnership was formed the same year, with John Young, a veteran team member from Team 4 days, as one of several partners. The Lloyd’s Building together with the Pompidou sealed an international reputation. Other major works by Rogers include: the European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg (1989-1995), Terminal 4 at Barajas Airport in Madrid (2004), the National Assembly of Wales in Cardiff (2005) and Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport (2008). Rogers won the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 1985, was knighted in 1991 and was created Baron Rogers of Riverside in 1996. In 2007 the Richard Rogers Partnership was renamed Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners to reflect the practice‘s succession plan.
Once national, now regional, headquarters of Channel Four Television, including offices, post-production edit suites, restaurant, screening room and originally a studio. Built to designs by Richard Rogers Partnership (partner in charge, John Young),1992-1994. Structural engineers Ove Arup and Partners.
MATERIALS: the majority of the building has a reinforced concrete frame with metal and glass cladding. The conference rooms have a steel pin-jointed frame and the atrium frontage is of glass, suspended from above and held in tension by a steel cabling system devised by Arup.
PLAN: the building is L-shaped in plan, occupying the corner between Horseferry Road to the west and Chadwick Street to the north, with rectangular office wings fronting each road and a concave quadrant knuckle connecting the two and framing a small piazza facing the road junction. The building has four floors above a basement and lower-ground floor levels. To the rear are two terraces; one at ground-floor level, above the larger footprint of the two lower floors, and one at third floor, where the footprint of the central knuckle is set back from the floors below.
Each office wing has two internal service cores and externally-expressed stair towers at each end. There is a lift tower at the far end of the Chadwick Street wing and three wall-climber lifts facing Horseferry Road, adjacent to the piazza. The basement level is given over to plant, storage, staff well-being facilities and edit suites. The lower-ground floor is a mixture of open-plan office space, meeting rooms and staff facilities; the main area of interest is the fan-shaped screening room with its circular foyer beneath the piazza, and stair connecting it to the atrium above. The ground floor contains the atrium reception area and large curved restaurant on a slightly lower level behind, overlooking the garden; the office blocks are given over to open-plan work space and a loading bay. First, second and third floors are mainly open-plan work space, with some meeting rooms and private offices as well. Key aspects of the building’s layout are original, including the screening room and foyer, reception atrium and restaurant. There has been reconfiguration in other parts, in particular the flooring-over of the studio, reconfiguration of the editing-suites and the removal of rows of perimeter offices.
EXTERIOR: the building’s key aspect faces onto the Horseferry Road/ Chadwick Street junction. The ends of the office wings are pulled back from the corner and the piazza is framed by a High-tech composition of glass and graphite-coloured steel, aluminium and cladding panels, punctuated by vertical flashes of red-painted structural steelwork. The full-height, concave, structural glass wall of the atrium is at the centre, suspended from above by a steel frame. Flanking it to either side are radiused stair towers. The stair towers have bands of glazing following the line of the stair within, almost uninterrupted by vertical supports because the cladding is supported internally on rods hung from above. To the left is a stack of conference rooms with glazed end walls, elevated and supported by a red pin-jointed steel frame. To the right is a stack of glazed lift lobbies serving a bank of three external ‘wall-climber’ lifts running along red steelwork; above are boxed-out service elements and a quasi-Constructivist transmission tower, creating a strong vertical element in the composition. Boiler flues add further interest to the roofline.
The piazza has shallow steps and flanking ramps which lead to a circular space immediately in front of the building. The centre of this is occupied by a circular skylight lighting the foyer of the screening room below; a bridge sheltered by a glass canopy stretches across it to a pair of revolving entrance doors. The sculpture, ‘the big 4’* stands towards the front edge of the piazza.
The office wings are clad with glazed panels of powder-coated aluminium, at ground floor these are set back behind the exposed concrete posts of the building’s frame, and above they are jettied out slightly, meeting at the corners with narrow, vertical, fully-glazed units. The panels each have four rebated horizontal glazed units divided by a fin-like transom, the lowest unit also having a band of sunscreen steel mesh in front. The floor plates are faced with panelled steel units. The facing components meet with a narrow shadow gap and the overall effect is of a modelled grid with a horizontal emphasis. The rear elevations, both to the office wings and the convexly curved knuckle, follow this aesthetic.
INTERIOR: the atrium is the building’s key public-facing interior space. The curved, full-height glazed wall is held in tension by a complex network of steel cables and suspended from above by exposed red steelwork. Set back from the wall, and above the ground-floor reception area, are curved cantilevered walkways at each floor, open to the atrium and floored in concrete panels set with circular glass blocks; behind, offices are enclosed by glazed walls.
Behind the reception, at a slightly lower level, is the staff restaurant. This has been refurbished a number of times but retains its distinctive fan shape, exposed concrete ceiling and glazed walls looking out onto the terrace.
The screening room, beneath the piazza, has a fan-shaped auditorium and circular foyer. Both spaces have been refurbished but retain perforated steel acoustic panelling and exposed concrete structural elements. The walls of the anti-room are hung with a chain curtain and the space is lit from above by the circular skylight in the piazza pavement; the glazing is held in a steel, umbrella-like structure. A concrete stair with steel balustrade leads from the foyer up to the atrium above.
The stairs in the four towers are dog-legged, red with stainless steel tubular balustrades; the treads and risers are of folded steel, supported at the half landings by flanged I-beam newels.
The interior most relevant to the building’s special interest are addressed in the paragraphs above. Throughout the rest of the building, the smooth round concrete posts and other concrete structural elements are visible, but spaces have been reconfigured and refurbished to suit operational needs.
* Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that ‘the big 4’ sculpture on the building’s piazza is not of special architectural or historic interest, however any works which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest may still require LBC and this is a matter for the LPA to determine.
This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 4 January 2024 to reformat the text