100 City Road
Office-led mixed-use scheme including a 17-storey office building, together with residential and retail uses on Old Street roundabout in London. Designed by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris.
4 November 2010
Planning reference: P101833
The design team’s research into creative working environments is compelling, and we commend the client’s support for it. In general, we support the scheme and think it promises to be stronger than the previously approved scheme. However, there are a number of challenges in the site planning, form and massing, and architectural expression that need to be resolved before planning permission is granted.
We think there are two aspects to the site planning which would benefit from further consideration. Firstly, whilst we support the principle of locating the tower on the northern half of the site alongside the roundabout, creating distance between it and the conservation area, it does not present a positive edge to this frontage. Such busy junctions are always well populated, particularly where buildings fronting them support the urban quality of these spaces with active frontages and an enhanced pedestrian realm. In our view, the building proposed does not offer enough to Old Street Roundabout. The narrow pavements here, combined with the effects of the extensive frontage of the tower which will cast shadow right across Old Street for much of the day, means that the quality of this space for pedestrians will be low. In seeking to present a more open face to the roundabout and create a more positive urban gesture, we think the ground floor of the tower could open up to reveal more of the activity in the courtyard beyond.
Secondly, we support the east/west route through the development, complemented by a new central courtyard framed by the refurbished buildings on the southern half of the site. However, the proposal does not yet satisfactorily marry the world of the corporate city office development with the more informal life of a city fringe workspace quarter characterised by Mallow Street and Featherstone Street. This can be seen in the awkward juxtaposition of the servicing yard on Mallow Street with the new pedestrian route through the site. The daily movements of delivery lorries will not only fundamentally change the character of Mallow Street, but also require pedestrians to use an indirect and stepped route under an inactive colonnade and around a private lightwell to avoid them. Given that the public realm strategy is predicated on pedestrians choosing this route over the pavement on the frontage on the roundabout we would question whether it would succeed in this aim. The challenges associated with servicing a development of this nature are acknowledged, but we think a more comfortable solution could be achieved. The design team should be sure that the new route and courtyard space proposed will support the life of the quarter, acting as a fulcrum around which the life of the corporate office development and finer grain offices will converge. As proposed, it appears to emphasise an uncomfortable distinction between these two worlds.
Form, massing and expression
Whilst the tall building has a quality that evokes the office buildings of 1960s Milan, it comes across as relentless and domineering in the views presented, particularly from the conservation area on Featherstone Street and also from the north on the Old Street Roundabout. The incision in the building’s north elevation, which exposes the bland stair core to the roundabout, is an unconvincing gesture at the moment that detracts from, rather than relieves, the breadth of this principal frontage. This device could, however, be used more consistently to define the planes of the elevation, rather than the undifferentiated wrap of the façade currently illustrated. The massing of the built form and its articulation need to work harder to resolve the bulk of the building.
The programming of the façades to respond to orientation, air and acoustic quality, and the specific functions of the building shows a level of sophistication that is to be commended. However, in our view, it will be hard to appreciate these subtle variances across the façades from a distance, as illustrated in the views presented. A more knowing response to aspect and orientation will be required in order to overcome the relentless feel of such expansive elevations. By introducing more pronounced variation across the façades, and more fully reflecting the texture, colour, and depth exhibited by the neighbouring buildings of the conservation area along Featherstone Street, we think the scheme can improve to address this challenge.
The thought given to the long-term flexibility of the tower is to be commended. The combination of generous floor-to-ceiling heights, smart servicing, flexible floor plans, and passive façade design should widen the building’s appeal to a range of occupiers. However, the design team should assure itself that user demand for cellular office spaces will not undermine these laudable aims.