Centre Point: From brutalism to towering beauty
The Times

Centre Point: From brutalism to towering beauty

Carol Lewis

82 apartments in the iconic West End tower are being built in the spirit of modernity but with 1960s style and Crossrail access.

Sir Terence Conran watched the Centre Point tower rise, a floor a week, from his office in the West End. “He said it represented everything we architects hoped for in terms of modernity and building efficiency,” says Tim Bowder-Ridger, the chief executive of Conran + Partners.

Conran’s design studio is working with the developer Almacantar on the conversion of the grade II listed skyscraper, 50 years after it was built, into apartments. “We want to connect with the spirit of the time, of 1966. The 1960s was a very creative period in London and now London is back to being the creative capital of the world,” Bowder-Ridger says. “It won’t be a pastiche of 1960s style, but in that spirit; the spirit of modernity.”

Bowder-Ridger is passionate about the building, but it has not always been so well loved. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, the architectural historian who wrote The Buildings of England, described it as “coarse in the extreme”. An urban myth developed during the Cold War that the concrete tower, which stood empty for many years, might be used as a nuclear-proof parliament. In 1974 campaigners occupied the office building to protest about it being left empty during a housing crisis.

The 34-storey building was constructed using prefabricated units of Portland stone. Each honeycomb shape was transported from Portland, in Dorset, to London on the back of a lorry, to be assembled. “It is concrete with marble dust that sparkles in the light,” says Bowder-Ridger. It sparkles again now that the concrete has been cleaned — a task that took 10,000 hours.

“The reason why architects love this building is its exoskeleton. The distinctive façade is not cladding, it is fundamentally structural,” he says. This gives the building a floor plate that is perfect for creating large, open living spaces with vast windows looking out over expansive views, east towards the City or west towards Hyde Park.
“Everything other than the concrete is new, but it looks the same from the outside. Every habitable room has at least two [floor-to-ceiling] windows. You end up with an enormous amount of daylight,” explains Kathrin Hersel, the property director for Almacantar. What is more, the views are protected.

Bowder-Ridger explains that the architects collaborated with the design company Eley Kishimoto to use the geometry of the façade and other building structures to create geometric patterns for use inside the building, including on floor and wall tiles, mirrored lift panels, soft furnishings and door handles.

Buyers, who can purchase one of the 82 apartments (from £1.825 million for a one-bedroom flat), “are people who are attracted to the architecture of the building, people who are culture vultures and returning to the city,” says Bowder-Ridger.

Although homes have been selling off-plan, a show apartment has been completed. The three-bedroom, 2,133 sq ft apartment is one of the development’s premium range, known as the Vantage Collection, on floors 18-30. It is tastefully dressed with some classic 1960s-design furniture, including Sir Terence’s favourite — a Karuselli chair by the Finnish designer Yrjö Kukkapuro.

The lower layers of the tower block are reserved for communal residents’ amenities, including a 30m pool, gym, lounge area, meeting room, screening room and a spa.

Gone is the traffic gyratory system at the base of the building, replaced by a public square lined with restaurants and shops, which is accessible from the Tottenham Court Road Crossrail station due to open in 201