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CityPoint was a breakthrough in the evolution of the City skyline in London as it started to move from old and stagnant, wracked by conservatism, to the something newer and more vibrant that was finally throwing off it's modernist and often brutalist look. This is that story.

The Original.
Britannic House was the former headquarters of British Petroleum and the tallest building in the London Wall area of the City. Completed in 1967 it was 399ft / 122m and their main headquarters, not to mention part of the original core of towers for the City. Time passed and the building became increasingly unfashionable whilst property prices in the area started to rocket in the late 90s. Faced with an expensive reclad job like CGU had done for their own tower of similar height or selling the site on at a price of a whopping £300 million for redevelopment they opted for the latter and bailed out. CityPoint was about to be born.

Times Were 'a Changing.
Wates City, the prominent developers who had been foiled with a similar plot to completely makeover Winchester House into a 150m/500ft tower were the guys writing the £300 million cheque. Their previous big project which fell through in 1988 was a victim of the concern at the time over the uglification of London that had been led vocally by Prince Charles, a firm defender of stagnancy in the skyline.
With the Prince now discredited thanks to his barmy ideas and extramarital affiars, and enough water under the bridge from the 80s outrage, they had a plan figuring that London was ready for a new tower of height for the first time since Natwest had finished the pinnacle of the skyline in 1979.
They were further bolstered by Norman Foster's own ambitious plans for the site of the bombed out Baltic Exchange which were of a tower over 360m tall which had not been met with quite the howls of public complaint some people had hoped for, not to mention HSBCs attempts at finding land to build their own 200m tower on in the City.
The successful transformation of Natwest's bomb damaged HQ into Tower 42 thanks to its complete refit, had proved that there was a big market for old towers made new again with small but rich City companies.
If the planners were seriously discussing skyscrapers elsewhere they would, the logic went, also consider one at Britannic House. To win them over they would not only need a site, which they had now secured but also an architect of top international quality.
Eyes quickly turned to the Iberian Peninsula and Santiago Calatrava, one of the rock stars of modern architecture was hired to design something daring and new that would make a true mark on London.

The Man with the Plan.

Calatrava's plan was new, well new to London. Never before had a building been given such a complete makeover as what he had in mind.
First there was a partial demolition that would transform the existing modernist block into a sleeker thinner tower whilst increasing the specification of the tower giving more space between floors which would allow the latest high tech equipment to be installed.
Despite being thinned, floorspace would increase with the top floor knocked up in height to increase the roof height. With it's new look and the latest technology it would be an attractive location to do business in.
Most audaciously of all, there was to be a massive spire placed on the top with an overhanging top floor which would bolster the sharpness of the look that Calatrava was trying to produce with his design. This fin would boost the building's height to just over 200m and provide a rival counterpoint to Fosters Millenium Tower that would act as framing St Pauls inbetween the two.
This, it was hoped, would also provide the same monumentality that was finally drawing clients to Canary Wharf but it was a gamble that was to raise eyebrows.

A Fin too Far.
Whilst Foster's plans had started the debate the planning system was still much as it was ten years before. The idea of refitting Britannic House, and even increasing the height a bit was not an issue but when it came to sticking a 70m tall spire on the top there were murmurings of discontent.
Predictably the heritage lobby starting screaming loudly that it would stab through the heart of London and the views of St Paul's Cathedral would be ruined forever. At first Wate's City put their hands in their ears and pretended not to listen but it was soon becoming clear that the planning department in the Corporation of London was also uneasy and securing planning permission would be tough.
At the same time the plans for the Millenium Tower were being scaled into the much loved Gherkin we have today and HSBC, frustrated by their attempts at finding a new tower finally decided to move to Canary Wharf. The existence of the Swiss RE plans showed climate had changed, but not enough - there was no option but to start again with a shorter plan.
Calatrava however stuck to his guns, it was either what he designed or nothing. Faced with an intractable architect Wates City parted company with him and started the process all over again.
This time their eyes looked to Britain and they found the reliable Sheppard Robson, a slightly more conservative practise but one who was more than willing to bend to the wills of their client. A new partnership was born.

New Kids Design the Block.
With their more restrained approach and a lack of flamboyancy Shepard Robson were a smart choice to build on what had already been designed.
Much of Calatrava's external look was preserved in some form. The massing of the building stayed the same with only a slightly more curved appearance on it's bow with a similar curve now added to the stern. The shape of the podium was also retained, however a second wing of this was added when previously Calatrava had preferred a sheer wall up the north side of the building to present stunning vertical views, this second wing had the advantage of reducing down-drafts on this side.
Predictably, there were radical changes to the pinnacle. The fin, which some wags had said made the building look like a rubbish bin, had been completely removed and replaced with a flat top surrounded bordered by overhanging bracing whilst the overhanging top floor was also completely gone. Instead there was a slightly rounded roof, creating a gentler but less exciting shape.
The cladding was toned down with the go-faster strips from the bow of the building completely removed whilst the glass had both transparency and refraction increased.
The end result was blander and smoother but to its advantage it was also safer.

The revised design marked a compromise between what Wates had set out to do and what the planners were happy to live with.
The only subtle increase in height placated English Heritage who would drop their complaints about the effect on the skyline whilst the Corporation of London would finally get some high spec office space in a new tower so they could at least start to compete with Canary Wharf. Everyone was happy.
By 2002 Citypoint was complete had become the second tallest building in the City, a title it was soon to lose to Swiss RE's new headquarters at 30 St Mary's Axe.
It's now a massive success, which operates on the same formula as tower 42 with 100% occupancy of mostly small firms but wealthy dealing in finance, insurance, law and accountancy which want a standout property. To this day it remains the largest rentable building in the City, a title it soon looks like losing.
Calatrava's design was outrageous but only a few years ahead of it's time and a victim of the last gasp of conservative architecture in the City, a place that is now actively seeking outrageous, original and landmark ideas for towers.
These days it would hardly have caused a blink of an eye, the planning rules have changed, precedents for height have been set by public inquiries, and a building of similar height (200m), Ropemaker Place was actively encouraged by the powers that be only next door.
London sadly remains without a single building by Calatrava, whilst Shepard Robson have gone on to become the restoration specialists of office blocks in London lately working on the refit of the Empress State Building and designed the wonderful sloping tower originally planned for Ropemaker place.
The environment may not have been quite right for the original design, but CityPoint remains a mark of things to come in London that only now are coming into fruition. A new skyline.


The original...

...the redesign...

...the finished item.
Santiago Calatrava -
Office Tower.
Height - 666ft/ 203m
Floors - 27
Start date - 1998
Completion - 2000

Sheppard Robson -
Office Tower.
Height - 417ft/ 127m
Floors - 27
Start date - 1998
Completion - 2000
Design Work -
View Comparison -