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Usable roof space in central London is a rarity, as this cityscape shows Fletcher Priest's 6 Bevis Marks, a 1980s block rebuilt from its foundations The roof garden's EFTE canopy makes in an all-weather space Balconies on the south-facing facade help prevent solar gain The facade's green-tinted glass grid contrasts with the clear glazing A balustrade further capitalises on the views across the city
13 Oct 2014

Fletcher Priest's office rooftop oasis in the city

Words by 

One of the first things you notice from the 16th-storey covered garden on top of 6 Bevis Marks, a new office and retail development in the heart of the City of London, is how few of its neighbours have similar outdoor spaces.

"We proposed the roof garden as a way of differentiating our design from the competition and, more importantly, adding an element of delight to the building," says Ed Williams of Fletcher Priest Architects, as he surveys the skyline from the top of the tower he and his team designed for developers AXA Real Estate.

The idea of a sheltered roof garden that would be accessible to everyone in the building was key to Fletcher Priest's competition-winning proposal for the renewal of a 1980s office block. Further terraces, created on the 11th and 15th storeys, are available to tenants occupying those particular floors, and Williams believes these unusual amenities give 6 Bevis Marks a distinct advantage over its contemporaries in the City.

"You can't put a value on these spaces," he says, "but they are increasingly an attraction for tenants and typically increase the rent on the adjacent offices, giving the building a whole different feel."

The initial brief for the project called for the refurbishment of the existing nine-storey building, but Fletcher Priest convinced the client that it was more efficient to remove everything but the foundations and reuse these to support a new, taller tower. Over 50% of the building's original structural mass was retained, which helped to significantly reduce the project's carbon footprint, cost and construction time.

"Taking it down to the foundations was the best approach to get a building that meets the aspirations of the market today," explains Williams. "Otherwise, you would have had a building that was always compromised, always a refurb, and a Grade B development, rather than the Grade A office space we were able to create."

Another intervention that was integral to the design is the improvement made to the public realm around the building. The site shares a boundary with Norman Foster's 30 St Mary Axe, and Fletcher Priest was able to obtain planning permission for a bridge crossing an access road between a plaza outside the tower and a small square they created at the rear of 6 Bevis Marks, which enhances the connection between the two buildings and other important locations nearby.

"Creating and improving public space is a key part of what we do," says Williams. "This is effectively a new square in the city that provides an entrance to our building and will eventually become an active retail area, with the Alchemist restaurant about to complete its fit out on the northern boundary."

At the front of the building, a colonnade that jutted out on to the pavement has been removed and the facade has been set back to align with the adjacent streets. The foyer is now visible behind a glazed wall, with windows on the opposite side of the ground floor allowing views straight through the building. Doors incorporated into the rear wall provide a direct connection to the new square behind.

From the surrounding streets, the building's appearance is modest, with the unusual roof canopy providing the main point of interest. The largely glazed facades are interrupted by a grid made from cast glass with a natural green hue. The proportions of the cladding and choice of the semi-opaque glass were influenced by the decorative grey-green faience tiles covering the facade of HP Berlage's 1916 Holland House on nearby Bury Street.

While the facade takes its cues from its historical neighbour, the building's proximity to Foster's iconic skyscraper informed the aesthetic of the hi-tech roof canopy. Its structure is formed from triangular sections similar to the diagrid patterns frequently found in Foster's buildings. Two rows of steel columns culminating in branching arms support a lattice framework that is covered in EFTE. The result is a lightweight and transparent tent-like roof that reduces the load on the building's foundations and curves down over either side to shade offices in the upper storeys.

The roof's primary role is to provide a covered outdoor space that functions all year round and can be reached by anyone in the building thanks to a dedicated lift. Planted beds and benches help to create a calm space where office workers can relax or conduct informal meetings. It can also be used for private events, with amenities for power and water enabling temporary bars and kitchens to be set up. It's a facility designed to be enjoyed by all the building's occupants, and has already proved a popular venue for parties.
Fletcher Priest was responsible for the design of the exterior and the main communal areas inside 6 Bevis Marks, and Williams says his team focused on creating a neutral but welcoming environment.

"We wanted to keep it quite cool and simple without being bland," he points out. "There's a danger with spec buildings that everything's watered down, but we used high quality finishes and a very pure design that hopefully won't date."

In the lobby, the custom-made Corian reception desk features rounded corners that reference the curving edges of the roof canopy, while computer monitors that flip up from its top surface negate the need for clunky desktops. The other prominent feature is a high-resolution media display fixed to the wall behind the reception that shows a live video feed from the roof terrace, as well as information about the occupancy of different floors and the availability of the event spaces.

Lifts at one end of the lobby ascend to the 14 office levels, which together provide 14,865sq m of floorspace. Each floor is wrapped in glazing with protruding balconies on the south-facing facade providing shade to reduce unwanted solar gain. The spaces are simple, flexible and fitted out to Category A specification, but it's the all-weather roof garden that will surely be the main draw for any prospective tenants.

"It's really the unique selling point of this building," Williams says. "The fact that you've got this uninterrupted roof space with 360-degree views and a lift straight from the lobby – I don't think you'll find that in any other buildings in the City."

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