Reflections on 1 FINSBURY AVENUE - by Kenneth Powell
1 FINSBURY AVENUE: Innovative Office Architecture from ARUP to AHMM, by Kenneth Powell, is the first book to offer an in-depth look at this modern listed building. To mark the pandemic-delayed launch event for the book, Kenneth Powell reflects on the history of the Broadgate area, and the place of 1 Finsbury Avenue -- a 'building for a new-style City of London' -- within this rich and fascinating narrative.
Broadgate was described back in 1997 as “the largest and most impressive private post war development in the City”. The authors of the City of London volume of The Buildings of England wrote: “it proves that the voracious demands of commerce and technology can work in harness with generous and humane principles of planning”. The whole complex was completed in 1991 and given a Royal opening. Thirty years later, it is being radically refashioned. All the buildings in the first phase of development, designed by Arup Associates, are being demolished, with replacements, notably larger in scale, by MAKE, Hopkins Architects and Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM). One Arup building, however, has been retained. 1 Finsbury Avenue, completed to a fast-track schedule in 1984, was listed Grade II in 2015.
When 1 Finsbury Avenue was being completed plans were already well advanced for the construction of the first phase of Broadgate, into which it was incorporated, on the site of the redundant Broad Street railway station. The client for number 1 was developer Greycoat, headed by Stuart Lipton, working in partnership with Godfrey Bradman – Lipton and Bradman subsequently formed Rosehaugh Stanhope to carry out the first phase of Broadgate. Lipton, ever an innovator on the development scene, had previously worked with well-tried “commercial” architects, experienced in the speculative office market. Turning to Arup Associates was a bold move – the practice was best known for its university buildings and for prestige headquarters projects designed for Lloyds of London, CEGB and other high profile clients. In the early 80s “spec” offices were disdained by critically acclaimed practices.
Lipton was introduced to Peter Foggo (1930-93), a partner in Arup Associates, and the project took shape. 1 Finsbury Avenue was a pioneering project. Lipton was convinced that the future lay in deep office floors – those at Finsbury Avenue were 60ft/18m deep, arranged around a central atrium. Lipton had a clear idea of what was wanted and how it could be achieved. Fast track construction, he was convinced, depended on the use of a steel frame, rather than the concrete frame that was the norm in Britain. Foggo had to bow, somewhat reluctantly, to his client’s wishes – the Arup team, virtually a practice within a practice, was sent on a whistle-stop tour of the USA to study American construction methods. From then on Foggo and Lipton worked closely in tandem, often meeting early in the morning and on Sundays. The building was to be completed to “shell and core”, with office fit-outs left to the tenants. This idea, however, proved too radical in mid Eighties London - Lipton blamed the letting agents - and was dropped. But it soon became standard practice in Britain - it was a key element in the success of Broadgate.
The contract for 1 Finsbury Avenue with contractor Laings provided for an 18 month construction programme but the building was, in the event, completed three months early. At the time the site was in the London Borough of Hackney and some predicted that the building’s location would be unattractive to prestigious clients. In fact it was soon let at premium rents, paving the way for the success of Broadgate. The building was enthusiastically received by the architectural press –which hardly deigned to notice most speculative office schemes. The Architectural Review enthused about a project that proved that “spec offices can make a sensitive contribution to a civic environment and that even a huge office building can have a richness and delicate scale suggestive of the human beings who work within”.
1 Finsbury Avenue, vacated by its long-term tenant, has been reborn as a building for a new-style City of London. AHMM’s refurbishment project, the outcome of a fruitful collaboration with English Heritage, has stripped the building back to its bare bones, with column encasements and ceiling panels stripped away to reveal the austere dignity of Foggo’s architecture – an aesthetic in tune with the tastes of a new breed of tenants. 1 Finsbury Avenue is a building that looks forward to a changing City of London, a place where creative industries work alongside bankers and restaurants and bars operate seven days a week.
-- Kenneth Powell October 2020
-- Images: pages from 1 Finsbury Avenue showing: the exterior of 1 Finsbury Avenue looking south along Wilson Street; the 1 Finsbury Avenue atrium; the new 1 Finsbury Avenue interiors.
You can get your copy of 1 Finsbury Avenue HERE.
150 colour illustrations
ISBN: 9781848223721 • Publication: March 16, 2020
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