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Willis Faber Dumas building
Ipswich, Suffolk
Willis Faber Dumas building
associated engineer
Anthony Hunt Associates
Anthony Hunt
date  1971 - 1975
era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  TM167340
photo  courtesy Anthony Hunt
Willis Faber & Dumas Ltd, a major UK insurance company, decided to move its headquarters out of London. Ipswich was selected for its lower operating costs but good transport links. They commissioned a new building from Foster Associates — now known as the Willis building and Grade I listed, it is considered a landmark in British High Tech architecture.
Structural engineers Anthony Hunt Associates had worked with Foster Associates on earlier projects but Willis Faber Dumas represented their first town centre multi-storey prestigious building. It has been described as Hunt’s favourite project.
In concept, the building owes much to the black-clad glass box buildings of the 1930s built for Beaverbrook Associated Newspapers in Fleet Street in London and in Manchester and Glasgow. These were designed by architect / engineer Sir Owen Williams — the Daily Express building in Manchester being possibly the best example.
Planned to suit an existing island site amid an irregular street layout and designed to accommodate 1,300 people, the building is three storeys high, built back from the pavement line. Its roof is partly grass-covered. A steel frame rooftop fourth storey houses various amentities. Twin banks of escalators in the glazed atrium provide circulation — a forerunner of the concept used to dramatic effect later in the Lloyds building in London.
Striking reflective frameless curtain walling is the building’s defining feature. It mirrors the surrounding townscape by day but allows a view of the interior and its activities at night — the same technique used to promote the spectacle of nighttime printing in the Daily Express buildings.
Deep piled foundations carry a 14m x 14m grid of cylindrical concrete columns which in turn support 700mm deep coffered concrete floor slabs. Columns (1m diameter) at ground floor level reduce to 800mm diameter from the first to third floor levels, reducing in diameter again to 600mm for the rooftop pavilion. Columns of 600mm diameter at broadly 7m centres form a 'necklace'-like secondary structure at the perimeter of the irregular plan form. The floor slabs cantilever off these, tapering in thickness towards the perimeter, reducing to 250mm at the edges. The ground floor slab and swimming pool structure are supported between the pile caps.
The roof pavilion restaurant is a lattice steel space frame supported by the extended concrete columns — a familiar design , the product of continuing co-operation between Foster Associates and Anthony Hunt Associates.
The Willis Faber Dumas building was a turning point in the emergence of the High Tech movement in Britain. It was a step towards endearing the movement to both clients and funding organisations, achieved through the use of traditional concrete column and slab construction.
Architect: Foster Associates
Supervising engineers: Laurie Fogg, David Hemmings
Research: ND
"High Tech Architecture" by Colin Davies
Thames & Hudson, London, 1988
"The Engineer's Contribution to Contemporary Architecture: Anthony Hunt "
by Angus Macdonald, Thomas Telford Ltd, London, 2000

Willis Faber Dumas building