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Behind the Scenes : 21 Moorfields

Updated: Aug 10, 2022

Thursday, 26 May 2022

New York was rebuilt on large plots of land, in a new grid network, with new ordinances that, for example, forbade the use of wood and encouraged tall buildings. But today, even New York is zoned into conservation areas and plots where tall buildings are allowed. Here in the City of London, we continue to see developments of varying approaches: those that exploit the envelope and those that must work within a listed building or a conservation area. Nothing is straightforward. Every decision is weighed up and evaluated carefully, so as not to upset the balance. Because we understand that one of the qualities that draws business to our great city is this fine grain, its dynamic relationship between old and new – and the sense of the future it creates, alongside respect for the past.

WilkinsonEyre is responsible for three City buildings: 8 Finsbury Circus, which won the City Building of the Year Award in 2017, 8 Bishopsgate tower, and 21 Moorfields – the latter two are under construction. In each case, the context drives the design. The Moorfields site was last developed with three buildings in the early 1970’s, but had remained largely empty since Lazard’s vacated in 2003. Landsec acquired the land in January 2015 and committed to delivering a high-quality, office-led development on this most complex site.

The new building rises 16 storeys above Moorgate station and provides 60,000sqm of space. The station had to remain operational and no further columns were permitted within the station box, so all structure was limited to an asymmetrical arrangement either side of the tracks. It is a contemporary solution to the modern conundrum of how to place large dealing floors and a company headquarters for Deutsche Bank in the dense heart of the city – and it does so with great panache!

Giles Martin, Director at WilkinsonEyre Architects and David Seel of Robert Bird Group Engineers took us carefully around the building site. It was a rare treat to see the building in its closing stages before completion. The project will take 18 months to handover, as TP Bennett work on the interior fit-out. One cannot help thinking that it was this unique approach to the design that won the project for WEA and RBG – and it’s perhaps fortuitous that the contract was signed by the Bank before Brexit, Covid-19 and its fall-out on the global economy.

With a footprint the size of a football pitch – 110 x 60 metres – it presented the opportunity to create 4 huge dealing floors for 600 people. As someone mentioned, if each trader generates profits of £1million for the bank in a year, this investment will have been worthwhile! As a young architect, working on a massive interchange in Bilbao, I recall the late, great Chris Wilkinson’s excellent book ‘Super-sheds’ analysing the great sheds of the past, just before the practice built its first big shed at Stratford in East London. Here at 21 Moorfields, we see that same big thinking applied to a major office building. Wilkinson Eyre, working alongside Robert Bird Group, has crafted a building that displays some of the most innovative new engineering in the UK – and the world.

The design team has shown what is possible for other stations in the City by driving piles 65 metres into the Thanet sands to exploit the advantages of the location. These ‘super piles’ – the highest capacity strength in London, supporting 65 mega newtons – are 2.4metres in diameter and support giant trusses, which in turn support huge 7 bridging arches that are creatively integrated into he structural frame of the building, from which the floors hang. When Robert Bird Group started pile testing, it was a surprise to discover this unique development potential in the City of London – something simply not as possible elsewhere in the capital, such as Canary Wharf. Unusually, the cores in this building are non-structural and placed at the sides. They float above the station and provide all the required air treatment, toilet, and kitchen areas.

WilkinsonEyre is renowned for their marriage of art and science, and this project is no different. The exposed steel frame forms the memorable entrance elevation towards Moorgate and Finsbury Circus, creates a dynamic patterned façade and shades the building from the rising sun. This makes a powerful contribution to the architecture of the street and marks the station, which had otherwise been buried under conventional-looking office buildings. In doing so, it recalls that great age of stations, which Chris Wilkinson loved so much.

The building’s crown is focused on the centre line of Finsbury Circus, its sloping setback reflecting the sky. No doubt the architects’ gentle art of persuasion convinced the city planners to approve the massing. The bowstring trusses of the Piano Nobile, above station level, give the building character and form its cavernous entrance lobby. Certainly, on our visit, one could see the essence of the spaces, the voids, and its overall character. We also learnt that the building can move by +/- 100mm in any direction! This squidgy movement joint is ingeniously laced around the plant room level, which is neatly inserted under the entrance lobby and directly over the protected station box.

Andy Sturgeon has designed the landscape throughout the building and often, ingeniously, within its facades, as well as in the open spaces. The planting is integrated at many levels within and around the structure, particularly at the lobby level, where it extends into a series of stepped atria gardens. An innovative long section culminates in the west at the Barbican, where a wellness suite exclusively for the use of the Bank’s employees overlooks a courtyard garden. All of this is publicly accessible via the raised walkways, which weave through the Grade-II-listed and conservation-area-protected Barbican Estate.

The new building, costing several hundred million, is planned as Deutsche Bank’s London Headquarters for the next 25 years. The tour was a real treat, and as we left the site and stepped into the warm, balmy evening, the City seemed to have come alive with people out on the pavements, drinking and celebrating being together after two years of the pandemic. The City seems to be returning to a new form of itself. Trimmer, perhaps, and more nimble, but still as dynamic. One of the great draws of working in the City of London is the architecture, and this is a welcome addition. CAF look forward to a visit in two years’ time to see the interior and architectural vision completed.

Chris Dyson RIAS RIBA FRSA words

City Architecture Forum member

All illustrations credited to WilkinsonEyre Architects and Rober Bird Group Engineers

Photograghs by Chris Dyson and Giles Martin

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