There are some buildings that are like marmite, as the saying goes. Either you love them or you hate them. On my regular travels around London, I have two buildings that I hear described as ugly by some, but which I am particularly fond of. The architectural term often used to describe the buildings is ‘brutalist’ a turn of phrase, I’m also partial too.
First up is Centre Point on the corner Oxford Street and St. Giles High Street. Currently undergoing renovation it is situated, if you are new to London, almost directly above Tottenham Court Road tube station.
When I was a young pup first venturing ‘up West’ this building was a landmark for me. I always enjoyed seeing the fountains at its base, but they have sadly been removed due to the work by Crossrail scheme to renovate the aforementioned tube station.
Work started on Centrepoint in 1963 and finished in 1966 at a total cost of £5.5 million. Designed by George Marsh of Seifert and Partners for property magnate Harry Hyams, it was made of precast concrete and constructed by Wimpy Construction. It stands 385 ft. high and has 34 floors. It has an adjacent block, which includes maisonettes, more office space and retail units.
It largely remained empty from the finish of construction to 1975.
The Confederation of British Industries –the CBI- eventually became its longest tenant, staying from 1980 to March 2014.
1995 saw it achieve Grade Two II listed building status.
2011 saw the opening of The Paramount private members club operating on the 31st and 32nd floor with a viewing gallery on the 33rd floors. I was lucky to get up there once or twice and the views were spectacular. The Paramount closed in 2015. In that same year, work began to convert it from office space to luxury apartments.
Second on my list, and no matter what it’s current proper name is – I’ve just looked it up and it’s the BT Tower – it will always be the Post Office tower to me. Situated in the area of Fitzrovia, it stands at 627 feet (if you count the aerial) and it is my landmark from all points of the city when trying to get my bearings.
The General Post Office, or the GPO for short, commissioned the structure to transmit telecommunications to all parts of the country. It was designed, somewhat surprisingly given its radical look, by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, with architects G.R. Yeats and Eric Bedford overseeing the main contractor, Peter Lind & Co. It is made of concrete covered in glass and cost £2.5 million.
Work began on it in the summer of 1961 and the then prime minster Harold Wilson officially opened it in the autumn of 1965.
In the May of the following year, it was opened to the public by Billy Butlin, who’s Butlins company operated the rotating restaurant on the 34th floor and the then post master general Anthony Wedgewood Benn (later known as simply Tony Benn).
High speed lifts travelled from ground to the top in under 30 seconds, travelling at just over 15 MPH.
The restaurant appears in the 1967 film ‘Smashing Time’, spinning out of control and then short-circuiting the whole of London’s power supply.
The restaurant closed for good in 1980 due to security concerns and public access to the building ended in 1981
The tower however is still in use today and relays signals for a host of television broadcasters and provides satellite services
Alas, unlike Centrepoint, I have yet to get to the top of this particular building, but I still have that ambition to one day get on to the rotating floor.
The Mumper of SE5