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Centre Point
101-103 New Oxford Street, London WC1, UK
Centre Point
associated engineer
C.J. Pell & Partners
Wilem William Frischmann
date  1963 - 1966
era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  TQ297814
photo  Richard Reader
Centre Point tower in central London, with its façade of repeating precast concrete panels, wasn't well-regarded at the time of its construction though has since been awarded Grade II listing. It's an example of cutting-edge 1960s high-rise building design, and is now often described as iconic.
Centre Point is located at a prominent crossroads, almost directly above Tottenham Court Road London Underground station. The site was intended to be a roundabout, fulfilling the planning policy trend of the time that encouraged placing tall buildings at main traffic intersections.
Planning permission was granted in August 1959, and design of the tower began in 1960. By 1962, the area belonged to developer Harry Hyams (b.1928). Hyams sold the land to London County Council and then leased back the building plot for Centre Point.
The key people in the design team were architects Richard (Reubin) Seifert (1910-2001) and George Marsh, both of Richard Seifert & Partners, and consulting engineer Dr Wilem Frischmann (b.1931). Frischmann was a partner in C.J. Pell & Partners, founded in 1926 by Cecil Pell and renamed Pell Frischmann & Partners when Frischmann became Chairman in 1968.
Access problems and limited onsite working area dictated that the building should us prefabrication as much as possible. Concrete technology was by this time well-understood, making precast concrete a logical choice. It was already widely used in housing developments but Seifert and Frischmann pioneered its use in office towers.
The Centre Point complex consists of two buildings — a slender 35-storey tower at 103 New Oxford Street and an eight-storey residential building at 101 New Oxford Street. They are linked by a concrete and glass bridge that overflies St Giles High Street. The entrance to the underground car parking is at road level beneath the tower.
The tower is 117m high and contains 27,180 sq m of office space. Its rectilinear plan has convex sides, and a maximum overall width of 18m. It was erected without scaffolding, by using an internal crane that moved upwards with the construction. Foundations consist of a 2.75m thick concrete pile cap supported on 128 under-reamed piles. This was the first building in London to use large diameter piles sunk into the underlying London clay.
The reinforced concrete lift and stair cores at each end of the tower give it stability, as do the 2.6m wide precast cladding units. The units are bolted to each other and to the precast floors, forming a loadbearing façade. Loads are also carried by two pairs of precast columns in the centre of the building.
Loads on the tower reduce with increasing height, and the tower tapers as it rises. The mullions between windows reduce in plan thickness from 762 x 254mm at first floor to 457 x 254mm on the top floor, making the building 610mm narrower at the top without diminishing the internal area. The services zone between floors is just 300mm deep, and the clear floor to ceiling height is 2.7m.
Construction of Centre Point started in 1963 and the tower topped out in 1964, with completion in 1966. However, it remained empty for almost a decade. As a commercial venture, it was worth more to its developer as a capital asset than as a rental proposition, and while unoccupied, rates weren't levied. It was taken over briefly in January 1974 by homeless protesters who described it as "the concrete symbol of everything that is rotten about our society". In 1975, the first tenants moved in.
Centre Point was listed as Grade II in 1995. During 2002-3, the building’s office and reception areas were refurbished and the illuminated ‘CENTRE POINT’ sign on the top floor added. In 2005, 12 floors were still vacant.
Plans to redevelop Centre Point’s buildings into a residential and retail complex were being prepared in 2012.
Architect: Richard Seifert & Partners
Contractor: Wimpey Construction
Foundations: McKinney
Research: ND, ECPK
bibliography
"A Guide to the Architecture of London" by Edward Jones & Christopher Woodward, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2009
"Seifert's All-time High" by James Dunnett,
in Architect’s Journal, 21st November, 1984
"Who's Tower is it Anyway?" by Jonathan Glancey,
in The Guardian, 5th January, 2005
"My 31 Buildings" by Mark Whitby, in Building, 21st May 2004
"Centre Point revisit" by Frank Hawes and Mark Whitby, in Concrete Quarterly, British Cement Association, Slough, summer 1990
www.centrepoint-london.com
www.cnplus.co.uk
www.englishheritage.org.uk
www.urban75.org
Location

Centre Point