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Daily Mirror Building, site of
Holborn Circus, London EC1
Daily Mirror Building, site of
associated engineer
Sir Owen Williams
Sir Owen Williams & Partners
date  1955 - 1961
UK era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  TQ314819
photo  Owen Williams archive, part of Amey plc
Built on a prominent 3.24 hectare site overlooking Holborn Circus, the Daily Mirror building, housing offices and printing press, was the last building credited to Sir Owen Williams as architect and engineer. However, the exterior and interiors were designed by another architectural firm, appointed by Williams — an unusual arrangement.
Williams was a specialist in the design of this type of building, having already worked for Beaverbrook Associated Newspapers and others in the newspaper industry. He was used to the demands of city centre locations and tightly planned sites, and the need for large spans over printing presses, high density office space and good vehicular access.
The appointment of architects Anderson, Forster & Wilcox by Williams represented a complete role reversal. Here was the engineer/architect appointing another architect. It is far more usual for architects to be appointing engineers. Williams had come full circle in his career. Early on he worked as engineer for architects Simpson & Aryton on the British Empire Exhibition buildings at Wembley. Then with Aryton on various bridges. He worked as engineer on the Daily Express Building in Fleet Street (1929-31), making the transition to architect/engineer for the Boots Packed Wet Goods Factory (1930-32). Now he himself was appointing architects.
The result was an enigmatic design. His firm, Sir Owen Williams & Partners (his partners were Thomas Vandy and his son Owen Tudor Williams) devised engineering solutions for the complex design requirements. However, these were concealed within a straightforward rectilinear office block, eleven storeys high, the external appearance of which Williams did not directly control. However it represented an unrivalled exhibition of concrete work.
For the construction of the building, starting at ground level, a series of square shafts measuring 4.57m wide were sunk into the soft ground on a master grid of 13.72m x 13.72m. At the bottom of each shaft a square concrete base with wedge-shaped edges was installed to support 1.37m diameter cast concrete columns, four storeys high. The columns had distinctive projecting 'collars' at each intermediate storey — making storeys 3.84m, floor to ceiling. The columns supported the ground floor slab and the initial construction of the floors above, making their installation a time-saving device.
The basement was then excavated, revealing the grid of four storey columns in a cavernous space. Retaining walls and the basement slab were then constructed, underpinning the columns (joining up the edges of the initial bases) and realising the full loadbearing potential for the eleven storeys to come. The retaining walls featured projecting horizontal bands, resembling the column collars, indicating each storey height.
The basement was designed to contain the printing hall and its foundry. It had four levels of galleries and mezzanines, and measured some 54.9m by 35m. It was 10.67m high. The uppermost floor was suspended below the ground floor slab, on a the same grid as the columns, by 380mm square-section concrete hangers. It was built after the basement excavation using downwards-projecting reinforcement bars cast into the ground floor slab. Using a lapped jonting technique, additional extension bars were installed in readiness for the casting of the hangers.
Below the suspended slab, the reinforcing bars culminated in a mushroom-shaped platform onto which the mezzanine slab was cast. This feature resembled the column head capitals but without the corresponding columns.
Above ground, the structural grid changed for the change of use. The presses needed big open spaces, so the basement used a wide grid. For the offices, a 4.57m grid was used. The transition was achieved using an ingenious design of continuous three-pin arches made of in situ reinforced concrete. These sprang from bases set on the 13.72m grid of the basement. Cantilevered arms from the arches supported the outermost columns of the building. Hence, from a 13.72m span base, four new column positions at 4.57m centres were provided by the arches — avoiding any columns at the centre span pinjoints. Although this is one of the building's defining features, this structure was surrounded by concrete walls to provide extra plant rooms, and was obscured from view.
The exterior of the building was designed by Anderson, Forster & Wilcox. The two long sides featured glazed curtain walling while the end walls were smooth and without openings. A cluster of single and four storey buildings was gathered beside the main block.
Yet behind this exterior was an extraordinary demonstration of concrete design and construction expertise — attesting to Williamsí ingenuity and command of concrete technology.
In 1994, Mirror Group Newspapers moved to new offices at Canary Wharf in London's Docklands and not long afterwards the Holborn building was demolished to make way for the new headquarters for J. Sainsbury.
Architect: Sir Owen Williams & Partners
Associate architect: Anderson, Forster & Wilcox
Enginer in charge: Roy E. Foot
Resident engineers: J.H. Tempest (substructure), A.R. Coles (superstructure)
Main contractor: W&C French Ltd
Research: ND
"The Design and Construction of the New Headquarters Building for the 'Daily Mirror' Newspapers Ltd at Holborn Circus" by Roy E. Foot
reprinted from The Journal of the Institution of Structural Engineers
August 1962
reference sources   OWWOW

Daily Mirror Building, site of