Central Saint Giles Court Mixed-use Development
Central Saint Giles is a mixed-use development in central London. Built at a cost of £450 million and completed in May 2010, it was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano and is his first work in the UK. The development consists of two buildings of up to 15 storeys in height, arranged around a public courtyard lined with shops and restaurants. It is chiefly notable for its façades, covered with 134,000 glazed tiles in vivid shades of green, orange, lime and yellow. It has attracted a number of high-profile tenants including NBCUniversal, MindShare and Google.
The development is located in the district of St Giles, a short distance to the east of the east end of Oxford Street. The area was once notorious for being one of the worst slums in London, known as the Rookery – a maze of ramshackle houses, alleys and courtyards inhabited by thousands of destitute people. It was famously depicted by William Hogarth in his 1751 print Gin Lane. Central Saint Giles stands on the site of St Giles Court, an office development originally erected in the 1950s for the Ministry of Supply and latterly used by the Ministry of Defence (MOD). It consisted of a series of linked brick blocks of six to eight storeys high, arranged in an S-shape around two inner courtyards to which there was no public access.
Central Saint Giles provides 66,090 m² of floor space – almost double that of the old St Giles Court – split between two separate buildings. The 15-storey west block is for residential use, providing 109 flats of which 53 are designated as affordable. The much larger horseshoe-shaped eastern block, standing 11 storeys high, encircles a publicly accessible courtyard comprising 27% of the site’s area. It provides 37,625 m² of office space with by far the largest floor plates of any office block in the West End of London, with 4,000 m² on all but the top two floors. At ground level, 2,276 m² of space is available for retail outlets and restaurants. The block is irregularly shaped with recesses, projections and roof terraces intended to make it look more interesting and to break up its bulk.
The development was built on a speculative basis on the assumption that the office space would be taken by a handful of major corporate tenants. Legal & General’s commission urged Piano to avoid designing a “plain vanilla office building” and called for the new development to be “a fantastic place for people to work”. As an incentive, it offered to pay an extra 10% above the normal going rate for London office developments. Piano decided to take the commission because, as he put it, “the client and the company involved were all about long lasting quality, without rushing. It is very difficult to do a job with somebody who has a short vision – in the end it never works.”
At ground floor level, the bases of the buildings are open with concrete columns visible behind seven metre-high ceiling-to-floor windows of low-iron glass, which offers greater transparency than normal glass. The courtyard plaza is ringed with eateries and shops, with two oak trees planted in the middle alongside art installations designed by the sculptors Steven Gontarski and Rebecca Warren.
The treatment of the upper floors provides a striking contrast. 134,000 green, orange, lime and yellow glazed terracotta tiles cover the façades in 13 irregularly oriented vertical panels on the external perimeter. The façades facing the inner courtyard are lined with another eight panels covered with grey tiles, a design which project architect Maurits van der Staay says was intended to “ensure that the upper storeys did not detract from the transparency of the ground floor and to maximise the amount of light reflected back into the offices.” The façades are hung on an internal chassis carrier system (a similar system is in use in another Piano development on Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz). Pierced by rows of identical windows repeated across the entire development, the façades are expected to be effectively self-cleaning and immune to fading. The colours of the façades are evoked in the design of many of the development’s interior fittings, such as lift-door reveals, handrails and lift displays. The tiles were produced in Germany by NBK of Emmerich am Rhein and mounted on prefabricated façade units in Wrocław, Poland, by Schneider Fassadenbau.
Piano has commented that he sought to “create a development that brings heart and soul into a forgotten part of Central London’s urban fabric. A place that, by adding levitated, articulated and colourful buildings, physically expresses the people-focused and socially responsible credentials of modern corporate tenants.” He has said that his design was intended to fragment the outline of the building to make it less imposing, and that the ceramic façades were inspired by the appearance of brick walls and the cases of guitars and drum kits in music shops in the vicinity. Explaining why he chose to make the building so colourful, he said: “The colour idea came from observing the sudden surprise given by brilliant colours in that part of the city. Cities should not be boring or repetitive. One of the reasons cities are so beautiful and a great idea, is that they are full of surprises, the idea of colour represents a joyful surprise.” The decision to provide a publicly accessible central courtyard was made as a conscious repudiation of the closed architecture of the old St Giles Court, which Piano described as “a kind of fortress.” He has said that the development’s accessibility will make people warm to it: “As soon as people understand they can cross through the central courtyard, their attitude towards it will change; they will cross because it’s a shortcut and it is also nicer.”
Renzo Piano Building Workshop
The proposed concept for the site was to transform a single-use office building into a genuinely mixed use development incorporating office, retail, restaurant and residential use; seeking to create a new destination integrated within the local area.
The architects chose to situate the buildings around a new courtyard in the center of the site, which is connected by a publicly accessible route and ground floor public uses to the surrounding streets and spaces.
The key elements of the scheme were to introduce activity into the area, provide a mix of uses particularly retail, restaurants and housing introducing daytime and night time surveillance, and creating a properly managed and controlled environment which is reflected in the urban design approach to the layout of retail units, spaces and pedestrian routes.
The scheme is composed of complex volumes, which are characterically chiselled fragmented and reduced in scale to match the surrounding buildings. These chiselled volumes mad St-G an impressive architectural sculpture characterized by a combination of shimmering facets.
Each facet is unique, differing in height, orientation, color, and relationship to natural light. Glass, steel and ceramic are the primary elements of the skin. In each fact the ceramic is used in different shade and colors that respond to the surrounding building, thus helping to integrate the scheme in the immediate urban environment.
At the core of the scheme there is a large courtyard, where the public activity is concentrated with its cafes and restaurants this piazza will generate social life, thus enhancing the urban identity of the site. A six-meter full height glass facade provides a maximum of transparency, five passages through this courtyard allow a permeable scheme and invite passers-by to this piazza shaded by a 20m high tree.
Fletcher Priest Architects
Central St. Giles is designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, who invited us to collaborate as executive architects. The mixed-use development by Stanhope and Legal & General includes an office building and over one hundred apartments, with restaurants, shops and cafes at street level. Located east of Centre Point, Central St. Giles will transform a forgotten backwater, currently overrun with traffic. Labelled Gin Lane in the 18th century, the area was notorious for its poverty and violence. The anonymous government offices that subsequently occupied this site further restricted opportunities for local improvements.
This building has now been demolished and construction is underway. Renzo Piano has likened the scheme to an apple, where a bright skin conceals the subtle tones of the flesh. The new offices are arranged around the perimeter of the site and are conceived as a series of linked street façades enclosing a central space. Vivid colours are used to reinforce this, with glazed orange and green ceramic panels providing a contrast to the pale grey and white used internally.
Entrances to the new public space align with the surrounding street pattern, developing a network of pedestrian routes from Covent Garden to Bloomsbury. A centrepiece mature oak will be planted, overlooked by the street level restaurants, shops and cafes, and further improvements to Princes Circus will result in another public space. The apartments are organised in two buildings to the west of the site. A mixture of market and affordable housing is arranged on fourteen floors. A series of innovative winter gardens add a further amenity to both the occupants of the offices and the apartments.
Project name: Central Saint Giles Court Mixed-use Development
Location: 1-13 St Giles High Street London WC2H 8AG, England, United Kingdom
Coordinates: 51.516027, -0.127566
Type: Mixed Use, Office Building, Housing
Floor count: 11 (office block), 15 (residential block)
Residential: 56 private and 53 affordable apartments
Floor area: 66,090 sqm
- Office Area – 389,338 sq ft
- Retail Area – 25,705 sq ft
Elevators: 12 passenger, 4 fire fighting, 3 goods, 2 car
Project Year: Mar 2007 – April 2010
Cost: £450 million
Completion Year: May 2010
Client / Owner / Developer: Legal & General, Mitsubishi Estate Company, Stanhope
Architects: Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Seattle, Washington DC, USA
Project Architect: Renzo Piano
Collaborators: Fletcher Priest Architects
- J.Moolhuijzen, M.van der Staay (partner and associate in charge), N.Mecattaf (associate) with L.Battaglia, S.Becchi, A.Belvedere, G.Carravieri, E.Chen, D.Colas, P.Colonna, W.Matthews, G.Mezzanotte, S.Mikou, Ph.Molter, Y.Pagès, M.Pare, L.Piazza, M.Reale, J.Rousseau, S.Singer Bayrle, R.Stampton and M.Aloisini, R.Biavati, M.Pierce, L.Voiland; O.Auber, C.Colson, Y.Kyrkos (models)
Structural engineer: Ove Arup & Partners
Services Engineer: Arup
Cost Consultant: Davis Langdon, DLES
Construction Manager: Bovis Lend Lease
Pre-Construction Advice: Bovis Lend Lease
Facades: Emmer Pfenninger & Partners
Lighting: P.Castiglioni / G.Bianchi
Fit-out for Affordable Residential: PRP
Landscaping: Charles Funke Associates
Text Description: © Courtesy of Renzo Piano, Fletcher Priest Architects
Images: © Michel Denancé, Maurits van der Staay, Adrian Welch, Nick Weall, Hufton & Crow, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Fletcher Priest Architects