Like so many of our stalks, you may or may not have heard of the fellow, but you’ll certainly know his handiwork. Richard Seifert has made more of a mark, some would say stain, on London’s modern skyline than any other individual. His most famous buildings are the NatWest Tower (properly known as Tower 42) and the skeletal Centre Point, but he also contributed, for better or worse, tens of other familiar structures to our city. Indeed, most sources on Seifert anecdotally state that his practice has designed more buildings in London than did Christopher Wren. Rarely has the quality/quantity argument seemed so apt.
A good biographical sketch of Seifert can be found in his Guardian obituary, but we’re more concerned here with stalking his buildings. So, on with the show…
The Dark Towers
Tower 42 (1970-81), Old Broad Street
Tower 42, or NatWest Tower as it was originally known, has long reigned over of the City. At 52 storeys and 183 m, this was Britain‘s tallest building for a decade, before the arrival of the Docklands skyscrapers. Familiarity leads most of us to view this building as rather bland, though that’s not entirely fair. The tower is novel for several reasons, and is certainly of a more striking design than the majority of the City’s tall buildings. NatWest moved out following a terrorist attack in 1993, but its hallmarks are very much in evidence. View the tower from above, and the three overlapping hexagons are intentionally similar to the NatWest logo.
We may have uncovered another curious feature programmed into the building‘s design. If you look at aerial views, the three lead faces of the hexagons point with near-perfect alignment towards London’s three great markets at Spitalfields, Old Billingsgate and Smithfield. Coincidence? Or symbolism that banking is at the heart of commerce?
If you want to ponder such things from the best of all perspectives, you can attempt to reserve a table at the very top. The Vertigo Bar, on floor 42, is higher than the London Eye and very, very pricey.
Kings Reach Tower (1972-78), Stamford Street
Home to our old friends the NME and IPC Media, and the tallest building in the Borough of Southwark. Kings Reach is a smaller (30 storeys), less flamboyant variation on the Tower 42 theme, with similar strong vertical elements. If the dirty brown colour makes you want to gag, take a look at the new day-glow blue recladding the tower is promised in the near future. It’s also going to grow by a few extra stories.
Variations On A Theme
Centre Point (1959-66), off New Oxford Street
We’re all familiar with Centre Point. It rises from New Oxford Street as though a colony of upwardly mobile coral had decided to stop farting about on the seabed and learn some simple geometry. The 34 storey building has courted controversy, and even conspiracy, since it arrived on the then-pristine skyline in 1966. It has too often stood empty, flouted the planning laws of the time, and has overshadowed the historic parish of St Giles to the point where the latter now languishes in obscurity. On the other hand, it has plenty of character for a building of its height, and has received Grade II listed status. It’s also reasonably thin, so those who don’t like it are only offended from its broadsides.
Centre Point divides opinions like few other buildings in London. Even on the Londonist team, debates on its merits, or lack of them, have almost come to blows. Wherever you stand on the argument, however, you have to admit that Centre Point is enormously useful for navigation purposes.
And its offspring…
One Kemble Street, off Kingsway, (1964-68)
Sheraton Park Tower Hotel (1968-73)
Drapers Gardens (1962-67)
Even to the most architecturally illiterate, One Kemble Street (second imsge) is clearly from the same stable as Centre Point. In fact, it looks like the earlier building has undergone vegetative propagation, and budded of a mini-me, plumper, shorter version of itself. The drum-like structure, perhaps appropriately, perhaps ironically, houses CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment). The zig-zag patterns can additionally be found on the St Martins Lane Hotel, also be Seifert.
The third generation inherits none of the charms of its predecessors. The Sheraton Park Tower on Knightsbridge (second on the right) keeps the drum idea, but recesses the skeleton and lets the windows do the talking. The effect is not pleasant, but is found repeated on the NLA Tower in Croydon.
Drapers Gardens (far right) is a much disliked high-rise in the middle of the city. It’s of comparable height and shape to Centre Point, but because of clustering goes largely unnoticed. Still, its imminent demolition will be welcomed by many. Incidentally, when it does come tumbling down, Draper’s Gardens will be the tallest building ever to be wilfully demolished within the city. (In case you’re wondering, old St Paul’s was much taller, but was destroyed by a lightening strike and the Great Fire rather than human intervention.)
Two More Hotels
Royal Garden Hotel (1965; reclad 1997), Kensington High Street
Ramada Jarvis Hotel, Bayswater Road
Neither of these buildings are iconic or of any merit, but we’ve included them because of their prominent locations. They sit on the Southwest and Northwest corners, respectively, of Kensington Gardens and will be familiar sites to many. The Royal Garden Hotel looms colossal and entirely out of proportion, as if to say ‘The park stops here. Sorry’. The Ramada Jarvis meanwhile is as insignificant a building as you could wish to chance across. Unless you’re a Manic Street Preachers fan, in which case, you might be interested to know that the Ramada, then called the Embassy, was the last place Richey Edwards was ever verifiably seen before his presumed suicide.
As already mentioned, Seifert’s practice designed tens of buildings and we can’t list them all here. Below are links to a few other notable Seifert structures you might be familiar with.
Wembley Conference Centre; London Forum Hotel, Cromwell Road; Metropole Hotel, Harrow Road; New Printing House Square, Gray’s Inn Road; those squat black towers of Euston Station, and Blackfriars Station (can't find a link, sorry); and 90 Long Acre.
How’s our stalking? And who should we stalk next? Let us know in the comments.