When architect Dickon Hayward and Studio RHE were tasked with renovating a set of office buildings in London's Financial District a few years ago, they took the opportunity to reconsider what working in the neighborhood means. The early 20th century buildings once held marquee tenants such as Royal London Insurance, a symbol of sensible, sober business that preferred Savile Row suits and offices with marble and brick. But the area and economic climate have changed. Now positioned between marquee commercial towers and Shoreditch, a neighborhood nicknamed the Silicon Roundabout due to its collection of startups, the development needs to convey a different kind of edge to attract a mix of tenants. Hayward, the lead architect on the project, and his team decided on a multi-year, £48 million (~$74.3 million) retrofit that maintained the heritage of the original design while reconfiguring 240,000 square feet of office space, now called Alphabeta, with contemporary features such as the massive, ride-in bike ramp.
"We scraped away the old extensions and alterations and returned to the core of the building," says Hayward. "We embraced the old look—steel columns and rivets, brickwork and brick walls—and tried to turn the atrium into an active space. We're trying to sell tenants on the idea of community, that you're getting more than just the space that you're renting."
Over time, especially when the buildings were redesigned as part of the Triton Court development of the '80s, the interiors had become a collection of right angles and drop ceilings, details endemic to uninspired office space worldwide. Taking a cue from the developer, Revolution Property Limited, who asked for a different kind of space, Studio RHE ripped out many of the previous additions, stripping down to the original structures and brickwork. The nine-story atrium, originally an open courtyard meant to provide circulation before the advent of air conditioning, had been covered and turned into a crowded, underutilized space during previous upgrades. Hayward sought to recapture the original, airy feeling of the central corridor with the new design, creating a light-filled, active common area with private meetings spaces that cantilever over the ground floor. Along with flexible, open-plan office space and a retrofitted roof and terrace, which provides a view of many of the new additions to the central London skyline, Alphabeta gives workers more access to natural light, as well as common areas and cafes for impromptu gatherings.
As part of the rebranding meant to lure more startups and tech tenants, the new space is also billing itself as London's first cycle-in office. One street entrance leads cyclists down a yellow-and-black ramp to a basement storage facility that boasts a locker room with showers, an on-site mechanic and parking for 250 bikes.
"The ramp is a central feature," says Hayward. "We think cycling is an important value, and wanted to create a building that believes in that value, so to speak."
The name of the new complex comes from the two entrances, one facing Finsbury Square and the Financial District, and the other opening onto Worship Street looking towards Shoreditch. It's a not-so-subtle marketing message, speaking to the desire of the owners to create a bridge between high-tech and high-finance, and the architect's vision of a contemporary workplace blending the old and the new.
"The nature of the workspace is going through a real interesting moment," says Hayward. "The way, and where, people want to work, is changing, and architecture needs to adapt to that. The idea of a formal entryway and square office space is just boring. Part of what's interesting here is the idiosyncratic nature of the buildings, and the way they evolved over time. We embraced it. Tenants will find a hundred-year-old brick wall next to a new entrance next to exposed concrete; that kind of juxtaposition is what gives the space character."
∙Dramatic Office Revamp Highlights Incredible Concrete Vaults [Curbed]
∙ This is What Happens When Architects Set Up Shop in a Magnificent 16th-Century Baroque Church [Curbed]
∙ A 1930s Austin Home Gets an Airy Mod Makeover [Curbed]