It’s a way of bringing people and the public together and that’s no different to the principle of when it started,” says Paul Monaghan on Allford Hall Monaghan Morris’s work on New Scotland Yard. After understandable airport-style security checks and with passes swiped, we gather to hear how this Stirling Prize-winning practice (and former OnOffice cover stars) has worked with the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) on making the most recognisable of building names into a brand new “mothership” for the force. AHMM emerged victorious from the shortlist of a handful of practices after a competition managed by the RIBA in 2013.
Monaghan speaks passionately and informatively about the history of the MPS, with references to infamous crimes solved – from Dr Crippen’s telegram, to the Kray brothers brought to justice, to various innovations in forensics and pathology. We learn that the MPS was founded in 1829, with New Scotland Yard located in the Curtis Green Building, on London’s Victoria Embankment, and neighbouring Norman Shaw Buildings between 1887 and 1967. The iconic address was then bestowed on 10 Broadway, where it remained until 2013, whereupon it was considered not fit for purpose and was sold. So this move feels like something of a homecoming.
William Curtis Green, from whom the building takes its name, was a successful architect of his day, completing projects from the early part of the 20th century including the Wolseley Hotel, the Dorchester and the Queens Hotel in Leeds. New Scotland Yard’s new home is part of a panorama of Thameside buildings, bridges and other structures, from the picture postcard view of the London Eye opposite, to the Houses of Westminster and Charing Cross station further along the river on each side.
The objectives for this new chapter of the Met’s history that were laid out during the competition were to create a modern, flexible office within the Curtis Green Building, that would, layout-wise, transform what remained more akin to retro TV show Life on Mars into some space-efficient agile working. The driver for this was a desire to “move up through the gears to a bigger building”, says Roger Harding, MPS director of real estate development. This would consolidate the MPS real estate in this 12,000sq m after a number of red brick properties in the capital had been sold during a period of austerity measures.
Mayor Sadiq Khan describes the new HQ as “a slimmed-down, more streamlined, more efficient and better-resourced building fit for the 21st century”. Indeed, the sale of the former HQ will release funding for the MPS/Mayor’s Office of Police & Crime (MOPAC), meaning a reduction in real estate to the tune of 55,000sq m – equal to annual revenue savings of £6.5m.
When OnOffice visited in March, this iteration of New Scotland Yard had 400 people based permanently on site – which translates to 40% of capacity so far; it will also serve as a place for training, lectures and other events. As Harding says: “This is a building that can be used to motivate people from the force.”
Not that, I’m sure, the MPS appreciates televisual comparisons overmuch, but let’s just say this is more Line of Duty contemporary than The Bill old school in terms of design. There is a new eighth-floor roof pavilion and terrace – not even this most traditional of clients is immune to the al fresco revolution – and here one can also find a multi-use conference space. But who could blame the MPS, with views that take in landmarks such as Big Ben and Downing Street.
“The top of the building lights up in blue, a modern-day blue lamp,” says Monaghan, explaining that this is a reminder that “people are here 24/7 fighting crime and looking after London”. Lifts to this and other floors are housed in a new glass-enclosed void.
Another focus of the brief was to create a highly visible entrance that would achieve a better connection to the public. A curved glass pavilion provides this new public face – or “shop window”, as Monaghan calls it. It also called for “holistic layers of security to protect people who work there and visitors”, which I take to mean secure enough as it needs to be – with a thick glass frontage and revolving doors to reach the access-pass activated lifts forming a triple barrier – but not so much as to appear secretive or draconian.
To one side of the entrance there is the Eternal Flame, set within a contemplation pool, commemorating officers who lost their lives in the line of duty, something that unfortunately we’ve seen quite a bit of in TV footage after the Westminster Bridge attack. The book of remembrance inside overlooks the flame.
Also on our screens is the revolving New Scotland Yard sign, with its familiar Flaxman typeface. The new position “is aimed to facilitate the media’s relationship”, says Monaghan, which translates as: camera crews can film from more and interesting angles here. The sign sits to the other side of the entrance, next to an area of striped brickwork on the ground. Eager architectural historians and those who like to look up will see that the pattern references that of the adjacent Norman Shaw Building North. The project’s new landscaped area extends into Whitehall Gardens, providing a range of spaces for both MPS and the public.
Structurally, as well as the roof and front concourse, there have been extensions to the north-west corner, realised in Portland stone to match the facade, also in keeping with the brief’s need to use good quality, durable materials. At the rear, a brise-soleil system acts as a veil to the building, as well as adding some shades of orange, brown and yellow. The colours of these fins find inspiration in those from the neighbouring buildings and the way they are aligned in a row takes some inspiration from a DNA readout. On the first floor, there are cheerful green pieces of furniture in the canteen and a sedum roof can be found outside here. The colour scheme of the tiles in the toilets “were inspired by the police car livery through the ages”,
Monaghan explains. “There’s a sense of humour here, even though we are in a building where incredibly serious work is being done.” The hues used range from floor to floor, ranging from the Black Maria of Z Cars days through to Sweeney-era 1970s shades – think blue and orange through to combinations of blue, navy and white; red, pale blue and yellow; and blue and yellow.
AHMM’s architectural additions are respectful of but not deferential to the original architecture: there’s bronze-framed glazing as part of a facade and curtain walling at the rear extension. Even where more modern-looking materials are used, such as the untreated steel of the desk in the press briefing room or those jaunty bathroom tiles, the finishes are appropriate and practical. As a non-institutional yet secure office building for MPS that engages with the public and media alike, it works.
Allford Hall Monaghan Morris remodelled the Met’s 1930s Curtis Green Building to create a New Scotland Yard that suits the 21st century city