55 Whitehall

55 Whitehall
©Richard Biggins, Frederick Gibberd Partnership
55 Whitehall, staircase hall
©Richard Biggins, Frederick Gibberd Partnership

Region: London

Local Authority: Westminster

Owner Type: Government

Funding Body: Defra

Year of Intervention: 2005

Summary: The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have refurbished their buildings in Whitehall to create high-quality modern office space.

Description: The Edwardian baroque 55 Whitehall was built for the Commissioners of Woods & Forests in 1909 by J W Murray, and is listed grade II*. Its extension, 3-8a Whitehall Place, was built in 1952 by Ministry of Works architect C E Mee in a stripped classical style, and is incorporated in the same listing. Both buildings have fine portland stone exteriors, but while the interior of 55 Whitehall had a cellular layout with panelled rooms arranged around an elegant staircase hall, 3-8a Whitehall Place had a basic and functional office interior with no fine spaces.
Issue: 55 Whitehall had been unoccupied for some years, as it had inadequate means of escape and fire compartmentation, no wheelchair access, no reception or security points, plenty of asbestos, failing services and a flood-prone basement. Accommodation at 3-8a Whitehall Place was of poor quality and limited by the existing U-shaped layout of the upper floors, which did not make full use of the site.

Both buildings were refurbished, but in different ways. The historic interest of 3-8a Whitehall Place was recognised as being the external envelope, and English Heritage and Westminster City Council agreed to the infilling of the U-shaped plan as part of a new build construction behind the retained façade. This allowed a greatly increased floor area of modern fully-serviced open-plan office space. The exterior of the building was refurbished, with a disabled access lift incorporated next to the main entrance, and the two top floors were enlarged behind a rebuilt parapet to accommodate plant rooms. The building achieved a BREEAM ‘excellent’ rating and won the RICS Sustainability Award in 2005.

At 55 Whitehall, a more conservation-based approach was required. Unsympathetic modern alterations were reversed to restore the principal spaces to their original proportions. Lobbies were formed within subsidiary offices to satisfy fire regulations without compromising the stair hall. The entrance was carefully adapted to accommodate an access lift, and a reception point and security circle-locks were introduced. Original mosaic and terrazzo floors were revealed and repolished, and a decorative scheme reinstated, based on an Edwardian colour palette and evidence found beneath layers of magnolia paint. The building has natural ventilation, supplemented by forced air using the original vent shafts which draw air from roof level, and has the highest practical BREEAM rating for an existing building.

Outcome: Defra’s two Whitehall buildings were brought up to modern sustainable office standards for their continued occupancy, while retaining their historic interest.


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