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Bracken House
1 Friday Street, London, UK
associated engineer
Whitby & Bird
Ove Arup & Partners
date  1955 - 1959, 1988 - March 1992
era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  TQ320810
Bracken House was originally constructed in the City of London to accommodate the offices and printing presses of the UK's Financial Times newspaper (est. 1888). In the late 1980s, the FT moved its operations to the Docklands area and redevelopment plans were drawn up following an architectural competition. The building was sold and the plans implemented in the 1990s by its new owner.
Bracken House is named after Brendan Rendall Bracken (1901-58), the politician and newspaper publisher who acquired the FT in 1945. Designed by Sir Albert Richardson (1880-1964), it was composed of two almost-rectangular office wings, fronting Cannon and Queen Victoria streets, with an octagonal-plan print works in between.
Richardson began the design work in 1952, taking inspiration from Guarino Guarini’s (1624-83) Palazzo Carignano in Turin, Italy — a baroque royal residence constructed in 1679-84 that has two wings enclosing an elliptical structure. The Financial Times is famously printed on pink newsprint, which may be behind Richardson’s choice of pinkish brickwork and Hollington sandstone from Staffordshire for the project. The building opened in 1959.
The style of the wings is largely Classical. The north wing is 10 bays long and the south seven bays, both featuring bronze columns and weathered copper roofs. An astronomical clock designed by Philip Bentham sits above the Cannon Street entrance. It is adorned with the face of Winston Churchill (1874-1965) at the centre of the sun — Churchill was a close friend of Bracken.
In 1986, the newspaper's parent company, Pearson plc (which had owned the freehold since 1984), launched a design competition for the redevelopment of the site, in advance of the Docklands relocation. Newspaper production at Bracken House was to end in 1988.
The competition was won by architect Michael Hopkins & Partners with structural engineer Whitby & Bird. The design adopted an exposed steel loadbearing facade with oriel windows, echoing Peter Ellis’ (1805-84) Oriel Chambers in Liverpool, built 1864. Fire protection was achieved by allowing the columns to be sacrificed but the floor slabs to cantilever from internal columns set 4.5m from the facade.
In August 1987, before the FT moved, Bracken House was Grade II* listed — the first UK post-war building to be so. As a result, the winning design was adjusted to retain the two bookend wings, and make the central structure follow Guarini’s work more closely by the use of a more elliptical plan form. The basic structural design approach was kept. Planning permission was granted.
Pearson sold the project to development company Obayashi, which in November 1987 retained Michael Hopkins & Partners but appointed Ove Arup & Partners as the structural engineer. One significant design change was to replace the facade material from exposed steel to bronze gunmetal.
To maintain the statutory protected views of nearby St Paul's Cathedral, the new structures could not be higher than the extant wings. However, a large floor area was required. To fit six levels into the limited height, the combined depth of the ceiling, structural floor slab and building services was minimised using an integrated floor system. Precast concrete beams support an in situ concrete slab over composite metal decking, creating internal spans of 12m. In the basement, two storeys of plant area and parking occupy a minimal depth.
As a further complication, the wings are not quite parallel and their floors levels differ from each other and the levels in the new building. The service cores have been located each side of the central area, forming transitions between the old and the new and disguising the level changes.
Internal services arrangementa are based on a wheel. Primary services routes around the outer circumference and atrium edges of each floor connect to secondary routes running between radial beams spanning across the floor. The new structure encloses a central atrium. Steel towers in the atrium house glass-sided lifts accessed via a first floor footbridge. The footbridge and atrium roof are of glass blocks set in concrete slabs spanning between steel beams.
Externally, the new structure is dominated by its loadbearing cast gunmetal, bronze and glass facades, which sit on a plinth of sandstone from the same Staffordshire quarry that supplied the original building. Gunmetal is an alloy of bronze, zinc and lead. The central four stories feature frameless oriel windows supported on brackets, while the top floor is recessed. The fire protection strategy was retained.
The redeveloped Bracken House opened in March 1992, tenanted the Industrial Bank of Japan. The interiors of the original wings were remodelled as part of the project.
Architect: Sir Albert Richardson
Architect (1992 redevlopment): Michael Hopkins & Partners
Research: ECPK
"The Redevelopment of Bracken House" by J. Thornton and R. Kinch, in ICE Proceedings, Vol.104, pp.167-182, London, May 1994

Bracken House