Thursday, 9 May 2013

Aviva Tower, aka St Helen's

Architect: Gollins Melvin and Ward, 1969

Reaching close to the metaphysical ideal of a minimalist glass tower, Aviva Tower is inevitably, and unfortunately, almost indistinguishable from many other minimalist glass towers.

Sandwiched between the weird and wonderful protrusions of the City’s eastern cluster, and now overshadowed by Richard Rogers' Leadenhall Building (aka the Cheesegrater), this slick sixties skyscraper is much admired by the architectural profession for its structural sophistication and aesthetic simplicity. The twenty-eight storey cuboid is perhaps one of the best examples of the so-called ‘International Style’ of architecture, pioneered by German-American Modernist Mies van der Rohe in the first half of the twentieth century. Originally home to Commercial Union, since merged with other insurance companies to form Aviva, it was designed as one of a pair of similar structures. Its 10-storey counterpart, the P&O Building, was demolished in 2007 to make way for Rogers’ glass wedge, but once provided a visual contrast in its horizontal emphasis. The recent changes to the site have been much criticised as the complex is viewed by many as worthy of heritage listing, a status the remaining tower is unlikely to achieve due to its recladding following the extensive bomb damage caused in the IRA attacks in 1992.

Beneath the stark simplicity of its glass curtain wall and slender mullions, the tower is structurally innovative. Its floor plates hang on steel rods suspended off trusses that project from the reinforced concrete core within the double height plant rooms, both at the top of the building and at mid-height, enabling each office floor to be free of columns. This is particularly evident at ground level where a large open glazed foyer, stepped back from the perimeter of the building, houses giant escalators, modern sculpture and Barcelona Chairs. The ground floor was instated as the main entrance following RHWL’s reworking of the building in the nineties in which the first floor ‘pedway’ system (the City’s unsuccessful and largely unrealised post-war attempt at ‘streets in the sky’) and entry point were removed. The building stands in a large open square, part of the original design and a welcome intervention in the dense street pattern of the Square Mile. 

Best time to visit: the building is inaccessible to the public but the large piazza in front is open to all and an excellent viewing spot for some of the City’s most striking buildings.

Address: 1 Undershaft, London EC3P 3DQ.

1 comment:

  1. Not a lot to say - horrible, like so many of London's new buildings, backhanders, yup, you guessed it!