Sidell Gibson Architects with Atelier Jean Nouvel's One New Change project officially opens this week 12 noon, 28th October 2010.
In October 2009 the RIBA Journal published the following article on the delivery of One New Change by Pamela Buxton:
Ways of Seeing
Paternoster Square seemed to have set the ‘classical’ tone for buildings around the City’s most significant structure – St Paul’s Cathedral. But Jean Nouvel has reinterpreted how to approach the area with his design for One New Change, and Sidell Gibson has the job of making it happen
There’s no false modesty at One New Change, the approximately £168m building taking shape just across the road from St Paul’s Cathedral on surely the choicest development site in the City of London. Developer Land Securities claims the office and retail building will be ‘a breathtaking monument to modernism’ created by someone with ‘extraordinary brilliance, shining talent and rare vision’. It’s some claim to live up to, not only for architect Jean Nouvel, who won a design competition for the project back in 2003, but for Sidell Gibson, the executive architect charged with delivering the 52,000m2 build.
Prince Charles reportedly sought to have Nouvel replaced with an architect he’d consider more suitable for such a sensitive site. But with the French architect’s building due to be topped out this month, such matters now seem rather academic. Nicknamed the ‘Stealth building’ after Nouvel revealed that the design was influenced by the form of a Stealth Bomber, the scheme is fast taking shape on site as its distinctive multi-coloured glass cladding is hoisted into place.
And what a site it is. Situated on Cheapside and New Change, it was formerly occupied by the post-war Bank of England annexe and is bounded on the south by Watling Street and on the East by Bread Street. It’s not the only new kid on the block; just opposite is 150 Cheapside by Michael Aukett Architects. St Paul’s may stay the same but the City keeps changing around it, as it always has done.
Ron Sidell, who co-founded Sidell Gibson 36 years ago, is leading the executive architect team. He’s an old hand at building in the City of London, and as executive architect on two of the Paternoster Square buildings has first hand experience of ultra-sensitive locations. One New Change’s enormous scale makes this extra challenging – Sidell has never before been involved in such a huge single building, which accommodates 31,662m2 of offices above three floors of retail on lower ground, ground and first floor.
It was Sidell Gibson’s solid City experience that appealed to Land Securities when the developer first contemplated what to do with the site. ‘I hate the phrase, but we’re seen as a safe pair of hands,’ says Sidell.
Back in 2003, the developer asked the architects to come up with options to refurbish or redevelop the site but the practice concluded that to successfully deliver the desired significant retail component of the scheme, a new building was needed. Sidell advised the client during the design competition and was the natural choice for executive architect when Nouvel was declared winner. Using two architects gave Land Securities a design team with both creative flair and practical, technical expertise, according to Neil Paterson, head of project management at Land Securities’ London Portfolio. ‘We set out to appoint two architects from the outset: one to deliver the concept for the scheme; and the other to deliver the construction and steer the project through the London planning and regulatory process,’ he says, adding that this approach was made possible by clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
Sidell didn’t know Nouvel previously, but was impressed by his convincing and scholarly arguments for a building that was both ‘powerful and robust’ yet appropriate for the exceptional surroundings.
His own French still isn’t up to much, he says, despite the initially weekly, then monthly design/executive architect meetings throughout the long project. But thanks to the linguistic talents of colleagues in both practice’s offices, the partnership hasn’t suffered.
‘We’ve had a fantastically good relationship,’ says Sidell of his collaboration with Nouvel.
He draws an analogy with film-making – Nouvel writes the script, but Sidell Gibson is the production team making it happen, illuminating and helping solve any problems along the way. After a while, the executive architect ‘engine room’ inevitably takes over from the design architect as the project moves towards construction. Sidell Gibson has had a team of 20 on the project but this is still, Sidell stresses, very much Nouvel’s building.
‘Land Securities expects us to interpret Jean’s building exactly. If there are changes, we have debates,’ says Sidell.
He thinks that the key to being a good executive architect is being a good partner, which sometimes means ‘sitting on your ego’. Experience, common sense and a sense of humour are also essential. And when there is debate, it’s important to make sure that both parties are satisfied they’ve ‘got a yes’ from the outcome, he says.
Sidell’s team was responsible for the production drawings and the specification and he is pleased with the quality of materials they’ve selected. York stone will be prominent in public areas – it will be used extensively on retail floors and on the roof terrace. One of the biggest technical challenges has been the glass, not only because of the need to reduce glare but also due to the complex roof geometries in Nouvel’s design. Sidell Gibson brought in its own glass technologist to deal with the intricacies of working with such irregular shapes.
Another challenge was the variety of shades and fritting on the building skin, each chosen to respond to the specific facade context. Working with artist Hiroshi Maeda, Nouvel’s scheme initially involved 250 different ceramic frit patterns that ranged from clear to opaque. In addition to this, a palette of 22 colours from light stone to dark grey and dark red was devised. On New Change, for example, the panels will be beige while on Cheapside, they will be light grey to red to beige. Sidell Gibson was able to find ways of duplicating glass effects on different parts of the building to greatly simplify the process by reducing the number of unique pieces. On the most exposed elevations on the west, there will be triple glazing with fritting and fritted double-glazing on less exposed elevations.
After two years on site, construction of the concrete and steel framed building is close to completion. Walking around it, it is now possible to get a sense of the massive scale of the new development, and also the way that the design pays homage to both the cathedral and the traditional narrow City street pattern.
Nouvel’s design slices into the heart of the plan to create a route from New Change into the centre of the building. This not only admits light into the deep plan, but frames views out towards St Paul’s, ensuring that the building retains a sense of place inside as well as out.
On the ground floor, this slice forms part of a new pedestrian route through the retail-lined ground floor from New Change to Bread Street. A second route crosses from Cheapside to Watling Street, giving greater permeability to the site than the previous Bank of England building. ‘You have a connectivity that didn’t exist before,’ says Sidell.
The two routes meet in the centre, where the general public will be able to take a panoramic lift up to the new rooftop plaza. Here, views of St Paul’s and the rest of the City promise to be spectacular – and the space will surely become a popular lunch spot.
Sidell is looking forward to what he hopes will be a splendid outcome when the building completes at the end of next year to the satisfaction of both design and executive architect. Land Securities asked the executive architect to ensure One New Change met a BREEAM standard of Very Good, but Sidell says they should be closer to getting Excellent. This was helped by the huge investment in the building services infrastructure, which has included installing 219 pipes, 150m deep to facilitate groundwater heat exchange.
Commercially, the development is off to a good start with a third of the space pre-let to American law firm K & L Gates. Each floor plate can easily accommodate four separate tenants, or even eight if necessary, says Sidell. There will be a separate office entrance leading to a second floor reception giving more views of the cathedral. Below the six floors of office accommodation, the 70 retail units will greatly increase the shopping offer in the City, and will, it is hoped, give greater life to the area outside office hours and at weekends. Already these are 30% pre-let.
For Nouvel, One New Change will be his first City of London building. Sidell Gibson already has a portfolio full of them but from this one, says Sidell, the practice will gain a confidence that it can build a 1 million ft2 building in one of the most complex sites in the world. ‘It’s a real pleasure to know that we can achieve that,’ he says.
One New Change is scheduled to open in time for Christmas 2010. Whether it can live up to its own considerable hype will become clearer as the glass goes on and the all-important effect of the variations in colour and opacity so crucial to the success of the design becomes evident. Its uncompromising, robust approach in such a sensitive location will inevitably divide opinion. But setting aside the style debate, one thing that everyone can agree on is the quality of the views towards St Paul’s. Even within One New Change itself, the cathedral remains the star of the show.
(c) RIBA Journal 2009