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Wednesday30 July 2014

Drawing board: 120 Moorgate, City of London by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands

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Director Paul Sandilands and project architect Chloe Phelps discuss the practice’s first City office development

How did you win the commission?

Paul Sandilands We took part in an invited competition in 2005 for Redevco which was won by Allies & Morrison, which achieved a very good permission for the site. Then in 2009 Redevco took another look at it and we got the job.

It’s your first City of London project. What special conditions does that present?

PS There are some things that make the City unique. There is a certain commercial drive because it feels acute competition — not only with Canary Wharf but with cities like New York or Shanghai — but against a backdrop of many listed buildings.

There is an acute awareness and clarity to planning policies and the City is very focused on the constant upgrading of building stock. The building at 120 Moorgate is pretty poor and in the not too distant past, it would have been considered to be City fringes. But now it’s regarded as part of the City.

On sites like this, we’ll see more mainstream City office buildings, maybe not with the very large floor plates but for more general office use.

What are the challenges of the site?

PS The site is occupied by a seven-storey, 1971 Richard Seifert building which wasn’t one of his masterpieces and did nothing for the site in terms of massing. Redevco asked us to look at various options from straight refurbishment to redevelopment.

The City of London was encouraging complete redevelopment, and saw it as an opportunity to improve the quality of the Moorgate environment including the retail offer.

Chloe Phelps 120 Moorgate is right on the City boundary on the corner of Moorgate and South Place and is adjacent to the grade II* listed Edwin Lutyens-designed Britannic House.

How we responded to this was one of the main conversations we had with planners — we had a lot of discussions about finishing off the city block, and the strong sixth-floor datum line that ran along that edge.

The site is also within the conservation area of Finsbury Circus, and we did a lot of research into what you could see of our building from there. In the end, a small sliver will be visible but it disappears among the plant rooms and rooftops. It also sits within the designated background view of Westminster Pier to St Paul’s protected vista.

How did the design evolve?

CP At first we had conversations with the client about treating it as a gateway building and developed a set-piece building between 13-17 storeys high of a very different design to the one we’re developing.

PS It was very highly articulated and would have been very costly. We got to the point in 2010 where planners said they saw a case for a building bigger than the existing one and weren’t necessarily looking for a reticent building but didn’t want one that was dominant and overbearing towards the Lutyens building.

It was agreed that a heavily articulated building wasn’t the best solution. So we came up with a building that was responsive rather than reactive but was still distinctive. We didn’t want an all-glass building but something with texture.

What is the final design solution?

CP There are two interlocking buildings, a foreground building of seven storeys clad in terracotta that becomes the face of the building and shows good manners to its neighbours, and the taller, 11-storey background building with a dark grey anodised aluminium profiled grid which wraps around the lower building and has its own street facade along South Place.

The building firmly holds the corner but the massing is to the back of the site. The background building steps back by 3.5m on Moorgate, forming a terrace, and by 1m on South Place.

The two blocks have the same 1.5m grid and operate as a single building.

There are three datum levels that we have had a dialogue with — the top of the Lutyens base, the upper giant order, and the top of the building — but we aren’t lining up with them all.

That would have been pastiche and not very subtle.

PS The background block is a machine-type building and is clearly a 21st century City office. The foreground building is clearly anchored in the context of its neighbours and we wanted it to have a depth to the facade so that it had some solidity in oblique views but still achieved a high percentage of natural light. We chose a glazed ceramic which will be bolted on to the same aluminium grid used across the whole building like a veneer.

We think the outcome is all the things the Seifert building isn’t. It’s a much looser fit in terms of satisfying future uses. And in terms of its response to the cityscape, we’ve designed a building that creates a focal point in Moorgate while sitting comfortably in the conservation area context. It’s intelligent and subtle with a clever and cost-effective solution to the technical challenges.

What was the project’s most challenging aspect?

CP The facade. Achieving what we wanted in terms of a building with a solid appearance but at the same time as fully glazed as possible, and getting the quality and detail within the budget, was quite a lengthy process. That’s why we got into a lot of detail early on with cladding manufacturers to make sure the facade design was deliverable and wouldn’t be watered down as time went on.

How do you think the new building will enhance Moorgate?

CP Opening up the retail level at the base will add animation to Moorgate at ground level and start to alleviate what is a pretty dull street. The outer envelope will be more cohesive as a streetscape whereas the existing building was like a jagged tooth in the city block.

When will it be completed?

PS The aspiration is to develop the building by mid-2014 to provide 18,944sq m of fully flexible grade A office space and ground-floor retail. We have planning permission and the building has a construction programme of only 18-24 months.

120 Moorgate

Facade

Terracotta profiled facade

Ceramic cladding adds texture and movement

Hendrik Berlage’s glazed, terracotta-clad Holland House (1916) in Bury Street was a point of reference in Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands’ choice of ceramic panels within a unitised cladding system for the front building.

The architect didn’t want to replicate the Portland stone of Britannic House but wanted something that would bring, says Sandilands, texture plus a “sparkle and movement” in contrast to the uniformity of a pre-cast concrete or stone.

Although glazed terracotta hasn’t been very widely used in this way, projects such as Renzo Piano’s Central St Giles have pushed its development forward, he adds.

The practice has been talking to several cladding specialists about creating precisely cut terracotta panels which will be prefabricated so that they are installed with the terracotta already bolted on to the aluminium grid along with the double glazing, which includes a stainless-steel mesh modesty panel. The white faience profiles will be approximately 300mm deep, 650mm high and 125mm wide.

The architect has played with the facade depths, setting the horizontal members back to maintain a sense of verticality or bringing them forward to emphasise key datum levels. A double datum line at second-floor level gives a heavier horizontality above the base and responds to the datum of Britannic House.

At the base of the foreground building, the terracotta faience will be notched with three deep cuts to respond to the rustication on the base of Britannic House. The architect used “hanging mullions” over the top of the retail frontage. This produces a saw-tooth effect which spans two typical 1.5m anodised aluminium window bays thus, says Sandilands, lacing the shop-front into the rest of the building. The mullions’ depth also refers to the springing point of the arches on Britannic House.

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