88 Wood Street by Richard Rogers
Rogers has added an elegant, yet airy structure — known quite simply as 88 Wood Street — to the historic district. The view from the nearby 1960s urban regeneration scheme, the Barbican Centre, encompasses Tower 42 in the east to the Telecom Tower in the west.
In between is the medieval church of St. Giles Cripplegate, the walled gardens of the Barbican itself, and, right in the middle of this panorama, the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral.
Building what was originally to be the new £86 million headquarters for Japanese giant Daiwa Europe in this dense, high-profile neighborhood was understandably viewed with trepidation by both architects and local residents.
Their fears, however, were unfounded. With its unapologetic modern facade, the building combines a jagged profile in an elegant concrete frame that is braced by gunmetal gray and stainless steel rods oozing an airy spirit full of honesty but not lacking in bravado.
The RRP trademark of color splashes is there too. Round the corner, next to London Wall, there is a beautiful cacophony of rendered stainless steel and exposed lift shafts reminiscent of the Lloyds building but with an element of understated fun.
The fun comes in the form of sprouting red and blue funnels. Coupled with the bright yellow steel stairs, even the casual observer finds it hard to resist an inquisitive glance and maybe even a wry smile.
This use of color, reminiscent of a steam ship located outside the London Wall side of the building, may attract attention for being eccentric. But the red and blue funnels are practical: the blue ducts take in fresh air, and the red ones exhaust used air.
The Design Program
How 88 Wood Street became a leased office block rather than the London headquarters for Daiwa Europe can be attributed to the last decade's decline of the Japanese economy. In 1993, with the design complete and the foundations in place, Daiwa asked RRP to redesign for a speculative office block but still provide a "landmark" building.
In effect, the design program needed to change from emphasizing employee comforts to rentable space — and for two thirds of the original cost.
The change in use and the call for 30 percent more space had to be married with the client's mandatory requirement that every floor level should enjoy natural light and maximize the views within the constraints of a heavily enclosed site.
Approval was only gained after lengthy negotiations with the Corporation of London Planning Department on aspects such as the height of the building relative to the viewing corridors of St. Paul's Cathedral and The Barbican.
Three Buildings in One
On the Wood Street side, the building is kept to an understated eight stories and looks relatively citified. However there are two more levels set back and obscured from the street. This removes any imposition to the Wren-designed tower of St. Alban's church and the landmarked police station.
But move around the corner to the London Wall side and the full intentions are revealed. For this is not one building, but three, providing three terrace blocks rising westward in steps, first to 14 stories, then to 18, arranged to be accommodated within the site's restrictive geometries.
The three blocks are divided by deep cuts, which let daylight into the building. The airiness comes from the use of floor-to-ceiling triple glazing throughout. The pure white Saint-Gobain glass was vital to achieve the requisite clarity, which in turn exploits the views over London and beyond.
In stark contrast to the Lloyd's Building, 88 Wood Street invites uninterrupted views into the double-height lobby. In a refreshing change from the normal gray and black lobbies, the reception area is like a minimalist's vast indoor winter garden.
Because of the glass walls, internal blinds have been integrated into the glazing system and are controlled by photocells. These automatically adjust the blind settings ensuring both climatic control and a uniform external appearance, although this does have its disadvantages.
Storage boxes stacked against the walls expose internal housekeeping problems, no matter how transitory. This was also an issue at Peckham Library in south London, designed by Alsop Architects and winner of the Stirling Prize last year. This is less of an architect's problem than an internal facilities management issue, but it can detract from the appearance of the building.