Architect Allford Hall Monaghan Morris completes The Bower, a transformational new piece of city at Silicon roundabout

AHMM has completed work at The Bower, a 450,000 sq ft office and public-realm project next to the Old Street roundabout in London. Developer Helical acquired the site in 2012, and approached AHMM with a brief to re-invent the site, a collection of tired office buildings in a sea of car-parking, as a new mixed-use quarter in east London.

Two large buildings, constructed originally in the 1960’s for British Telecom, were retained and extended, with a two-storey high hole cut in the front slab block to link the site to the busy world of Old Street. Within the site a new mews street is created, framed by a collection of new studio buildings. Retail space, restaurants and bars line the new pedestrian way, and together the mini-masterplan carefully remakes a piece of city next to the busy ‘Silicon Roundabout’, where Old Street meets City Road.

The existing buildings, originally designed by architect Cecil Elsom, comprised a 14-storey slab block of offices, and a more robust 8-storey warehouse – where BT bills were printed. Although they had different functions, both buildings shared a similar architectural language of exposed concrete frame, brick spandrels and decorative pre-cast concrete panels. In the 1980s, the Tower was re-clad, removing the original features and losing the similarity to the Warehouse.  AHMM has reunified the site by making a single new public courtyard and shared entrance pavilion for both buildings, and a common material palette for buildings new and old. Original pre-cast concrete panels on the Warehouse have been retained, cleaned and displayed within the entrance pavilion, and a new exposed steel frame for the Tower supplements the existing concrete, achieving a contemporary industrial aesthetic.

In order to improve the Tower’s narrow floorplates and create comfortable spaces fit for today’s workplace demands, this building has been extended upwards and outwards, providing floors with dedicated five-metre tall double-height spaces, arranged in a clever interlocking section. These spaces offer internal generosity, allow more daylight in, and give the opportunity to connect floors and provide flexibility to tenants. Both the Warehouse and Studio buildings benefit from external roof terraces as an added amenity.

The original concrete columns remain, forming a central tenet to the design aesthetic. In contrast to the acoustic mesh rafts, which conceal the services in the Tower, the Warehouse has fully exposed services. The main entrance, located at the heart of the development, comprises an entrance pavilion which connects the two buildings, and acts as a common point of arrival providing break-out space for the occupiers to hold informal meetings. A generous lounge area supplements the main reception space, providing a contemporary open plan space to meet, sit and eat.

By cutting through the base of the Tower building on the ground floor, AHMM has created a visual connection to the new landscaped street and courtyard, which connects Old Street with the backstreets of Moorfields, providing an alternative route to walking along the congested pavements of City Road. This pathway also encourages visitors into The Bower’s range of shops, bars and restaurants. These amenities provide an enjoyable and lively environment for tenants and visitors, giving the area purpose beyond the 9-5, and reflecting the area’s vibrant day-to-night culture. The Bower has already attracted a host of creative and tech tenants including Farfetch, WeWork, CBS and John Brown Media.

AHMM’s new scheme includes exciting public art collaborations further widening its appeal to creative industries. Located in the main entrance is ‘Perlin Canopy’ by multidisciplinary artist and designer Jason Bruges Studio. Comprised of 80 individually addressable LED rings and suspended by brass rods in a modular arrangement, the site-specific artwork is inspired by the shady arbour that once lined the site. Opposite, in the external public space, is The Bower’s art wall ‘Windows of Time’ designed by Dutch artists DeMakersVan. The commission uses the crittall windows of Shoreditch as a metaphor to illustrate the thousands of changes that have run through this part of London over the years.

With a BREEAM Excellent rating for Offices and a BREEAM Very Good for Retail, the collection of buildings that make up The Bower add value both economically and experientially, re-engaging the site with the city and creating a new destination for businesses, the local community and the wider public.

AHMM associate director Philip Turner commented,

“This project shows a commitment to architecture of economy and elegance. The urban scene is re-defined with the introduction of the courtyard and the street, which create a new location and connect to the wider public network of routes and places.”

AHMM founder Simon Allford commented,

“The Bower builds on AHMM’s experience of re-using and recycling buildings, and re-making pieces of city to reflect contemporary requirements and anticipate the future. As a by-product of the new mews, the new buildings form as thin and irregular wedges – the polar opposite to Elsom’s Cartesian grid approach. But interestingly, the spatial character and unusual volumes they generate means that they have let extremely well.”

Gerald Kaye, Chief Executive of Helical commented,

“Helical are delighted to have completed the development at The Bower, completely reinventing an outdated set of buildings as high quality accommodation to suit today’s discerning occupiers.”