Richard Rogers, (Britain)
(1979 - 1986)
The Appliance of Science
By the 1980s the leading lights of British architecture were Norman Foster and Richard Rogers. Both were keen to rescue the Modern Movement from the rut into which it had fallen, but the lack of public money for large-scale building projects meant that their considerable skills benefited the increasingly confident corporate sector.
Both men pioneered a style of architecture which was quickly dubbed 'high tech' primarily because of the celebration of steel and glass which was evident in their buildings.
Richard Roger's Lloyds of London headquarters is one of the most famous examples of this technique. Following on from the Pompidou Centre in Paris, built in collaboration with Renzo Piano in 1977, Rogers' shiny, ebullient collection of towers transformed the image of the hitherto staid insurance giant.
With the Lloyds Building, Rogers sought both to respect the context around his building, but also to uphold long-standing Modernist precepts. This blurring of Modernist doctrine means that the building is sometimes filed under 'post-modern', and sometimes 'futuristic architecture'.
The Old and the New
The building is constructed of twelve sixteen metre wide concentric galleries overlooking a central atrium. Six towers support the main structure and house the building's service elements: lifts, refuse chutes, and air-conditioning. Rather than have people working in enclosed rows of corridors, Rogers has them sitting in open-plan offices with acres of glass allowing views out across the city and inside to fellow workers. Elevators whizz up and down each of the external stainless steel towers giving the building the appearance of something out of a science fiction novel.
Standing in one of the oldest districts of London, whose narrow winding streets date to Roman times, Lloyds squeezes itself into the ancient street pattern. Rogers designed the building to curve and bend with the streets, and an earlier 1928 entrance arch is left standing. The famous Lutine Bell sits proudly in the main atrium. As with many buildings of the post-modern era, elements of the past are valued and reincorporated into the new design.
In many other respects, however, the building is resolutely Modernist. Whilst respectful of the street pattern of the site, Rogers has designed a building unlike any other in London's financial district, traditionally the home of austere, solid banks and brokerages.
The building is incredibly open: glass partitions and the central atrium which punctures the whole construction mean that workers are constantly aware of their fellow workers everywhere else in the building: the impression given is of a building which is alive.
It is also a very flexible building. Lloyds had already had to rebuild its headquarters twice because the business outgrew the building in which it was housed, so each of the twelve galleries can be used either as part of the main underwriting room (which in the original plan occupies the bottom four floors) or as office space.
The positioning of the service elements on the exterior also means that space is maximised on the interior, as well facilitating any future change in use (an idea pioneered in the Pompidou Centre).
Though Lloyds may seem a long way from the Finsbury Health Centre, it is worth remembering how keen Berthold Lubetkin was that his building should prove to be easily adaptable to future changes in usage.
Many of the service elements in the building are modular, and easy to replace as technology advances. In this way, a building designated 'high-tech' in 1979 should remain high tech as technology changes.
Although some of those working in Lloyds objected to the extreme openness of their new offices, Rogers' creation has become a landmark in the same way as his Pompidou Centre in Paris.
It typifies an era in which British architects, schooled in Modernism, weere devising new ways to move beyond the tired and unpopular Modernist standard, whilst holding on to some of the Movement's better ideas. It also signifies the dominant role of private capital in sponsoring new architecture in an era when government was supposed to be doing less, not more.
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