St Paul's Information CentreEdit profile
The new City of London Information Centre perfectly illustrates how an intelligently commissioned, carefully designed and sensitively constructed building can bring new life and public interest to a high profile site. In the process, it showcases how contemporary design can be used to great effect in a heritage context. The building was commissioned by the City of London Corporation to replace an existing facility dating from the 1950s. The ambitious brief called for a new structure to accommodate the state-of-the-art technology required to provide a full information service for the millions of tourists, residents and workers who pass through the area each year; it also called for a dynamic contemporary structure which would become a local landmark in its own right. The building is situated to the south-west of the South Transept of St Paul’s Cathedral and lies on one of London’s principal tourist routes; the site also sees the substantial pedestrian movement of people working and living in the area. The sensitivity and prominence of this site combined to pose a unique design challenge. Extensive analysis of the context and lines of sight informed the positioning of the new building, with the final location ensuring that the structure does not impinge on key views of St Paul’s and addresses the Cathedral in such a way as to define a new, enlarged public arrival space at the top of Peter’s Hill. In form, the new building combines simplicity and efficiency of structure with a distinctive visual impact. A folded metallic envelope wraps 140m2 of internal accommodation, its angular profile lending an air of lightness akin to that of a paper aeroplane. Public facilities are located at the widest part of the triangular plan and staff facilities are housed in the angle at the tip. The triangular plan evolved from a consideration of the principal movement of pedestrians around the site, while the orientation and profile of the building establish an intriguing dialogue with St Paul’s. The new structure quite literally looks up to its prestigious neighbour and opens out to embrace the people who approach it. Given the extreme sensitivity and restrictive nature of the site, ease and efficiency of construction were essential factors in the development of the design. The structure consists of a steel frame braced by a structural ply skin and clad in stainless steel panels. This solution minimised the thickness of the building envelope – an important consideration in a building of this scale – and enabled the prefabrication and rapid on-site assembly which were called for. Accordingly, the steel frame was prefabricated in two separate sections which were craned onto the site at night and assembled over the course of a couple of days. The building meets exacting environmental standards and has been engineered to exceed current Part L targets for CO2 emissions by 20 per cent. Particular attention has also been paid to future-proofing the building and making it capable of adapting to developments in IT as required. The computer equipment housed within the building generates a significant heating load so the interior environment is regulated using borehole heating and cooling by way of pipes sunk 60m into the ground. In addition to being highly effective, the unobtrusiveness of this geothermal system is particularly advantageous for such a highly sensitive site. Since the public part of the building is accessed by large sliding doors, heating and cooling are restricted solely to areas occupied by staff. This strategy ensures a comfortable environment for staff at all times, while the environment in public areas is tempered by the overspill of heated or cooled air. The full-height glazed frontage ensures that the public front-of-house area is bathed in daylight while being orientated to avoid excessive solar gain. The yellow panels lining the interior are formed from Trespa, a recycled timber product. Triangular rooflights draw further light into the interior, and all artificial lighting is regulated by daylight sensors which raise and lower light levels in response to changing conditions. The building envelope is highly insulated and the sloping roof aids the collection of rainwater which is used for flushing the toilet and for irrigation. The building was completed on time and on budget, and is the product of an intensive collaborative working relationship with the client. Extensive consultation with heritage bodies and community groups ensured that the project had widespread support amongst stakeholder groups, and the scheme was funded in partnership with the private sector. The finished building has received a very positive response from both the people who use it and those who work in it. In addition to creating a building which assists people in getting the very best out of the City of London and the capital as a whole, the project has also been a catalyst for re-examining the area around St Paul’s and working to transform it into a dramatically improved, pedestrian-friendly and genuinely public space. Although relatively small in scale, the City of London Information Centre represents a very significant intervention in one of London’s most important urban quarters; it has enhanced people’s experience of the site and has introduced a juxtaposition of old and new that perfectly expresses London’s distinctive combination of heritage and dynamic modernity.