Most visitors to London will have come across Centre Point in their travels – it sits at the junction of Charing Cross Road and Tottenham Court Road where it intersects with Oxford Street, the great Roman road cutting straight across the centre of London. It is an area seeped in ancient history and built on the medieval remains of the historic area of Saint Giles and was widely decried for destroying that heritage when it was built. It sits like a giant sentinel looking over London, one of the two great spikes that Londoners used for many years to orientate themselves in the capital – the other being the British Telecom Tower.
Centre Point is a wilfully exciting building, composed of strikingly different parts. The tower itself is composed of deepset interlocking precast concrete spandrels, each crinkle-cut spandrel offering extensive views out over the boroughs of Westminster and Camden, creating deep shadows across each window and giving the 36 storey façade a lively appearance. At the base of the building (on dynamic X-shaped piloti) there are two other blocks – one at right angles to the main tower stretching right across the road, and seemingly composed only of glass, with the other residential block on the other side of the road forming a Mondrianesque composition. The tower is at the very centre of the St Giles Circus – in effect it is a building built on and over a roundabout. It is a mixed use development, with shops, residential, showrooms and subway entries, as well as a home for the homeless in its underground bunkers. Buses and taxis circle the base of the building in a red and black dance, swivelling around the fountain splashing merrily at its base.
The history of the building is as exciting and conflicted as the building itself – designed by the architects Seifert and Partners, and engineered by Pell Frischmann, it was built by Wimpey Construction from 1963-1966. Curiously the building was originally so hated by Londoners and the asking rent was so high that no one would rent space in the tower for over a decade. The massive rent asked for by developer Harry Hyams ensured that the building remained empty – he could afford for it to sit and wait – with the first tenants only moving into the building in 1979. Now, many years later, and with Hyams having moved onto that great development patch in the sky, the building has recently been converted (2015) into flats, the fountain removed, and the ground floor sitting atop the new Crossrail line running under Oxford Street, Centre Point is now a listed heritage building, awarded a Certificate of Excellence by the Concrete Society and, if not loved, then at least begrudgingly respected for being individual and a thing of unique beauty. Long live Centre Point, the brutalist marvel!
The “My favourite modernist building …” series is in support of Gordon Wilson Flats which is facing threat of demolition.