Centre Point

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Fountains at the base

Centre Point is a substantial concrete and glass office building in central London, occupying 101–103 New Oxford Street, WC1, close to St Giles Circus and almost directly above Tottenham Court Road tube station. The site was once occupied by a gallows. One of the first skyscrapers in London, it is now the city's joint 27th tallest building.<ref name="Targetfollow news archive, 11/08/09">Targetfollow news archive, 11/08/09 Template:Dead link</ref> Since 1995 it has been a grade II listed building. An aggressive use of the "flashy and international style of crystalline concrete" that Richard Seifert developed with his partner H.G. Marsh, the 380-ft tower stood empty for five years after its completion in 1967.


Centre Point was built as speculative office space by property tycoon Harry Hyams, who had leased the site at £18,500 a year for 150 years. Hyams and Seifert engaged in negotiations with the London County Council over the height of the building, which was much taller than would normally be allowed and was highly controversial; eventually he was allowed to build 32 floors in return for providing a new road junction between St Giles Circus, Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, which the LCC could not afford to build on its own. Hyams intended that the whole building be occupied by a single tenant.

The building was designed by Richard Seifert with engineers Pell Frischmann and was constructed by Wimpey Construction from 1963 to 1966 for £5.5 million.<ref name="Almacantar">Almacantar</ref> It is 117 m (385 ft) high, has 34 floors<ref name="Targetfollow news archive, 06/10/05">Targetfollow news archive, 06/10/05 Template:Dead link</ref> and Template:Convert of floor space.

The precast segments were formed of fine concrete utilising crushed Portland Stone and were made by Portcrete Limited at Portland, Isle of PortlandPortland Dorset. They were transported to London by lorry.

On completion, the building remained empty for many years. With property prices rising and most business tenancies taken for set periods of 10 or 15 years, Hyams could afford to keep it empty and wait for his single tenant at the asking price of £1,250,000; he was challenged to allow tenants to rent single floors but consistently refused. The prominent nature of the building led to it becoming a symbol of greed in the property industry. Some campaigners demanded that the government of Edward Heath should intervene and take over the building, and at one point in June 1972 Peter Walker (then Secretary of State for the Environment) offered £5 million for the building. Eventually Hyams agreed to let the building by floors but the arrangements were stalled.

A more intriguing speculation was that the government was paying Hyams "a heavy but secret subsidy to keep it empty" for its own purposes. Various conspiracy theories circulated about what those purposes might be. One common theme was that since the building was 100% air-conditioned (a rarity in London at that time), and sited over Tottenham Court Road tube station and its deep tube lines, this would somehow make it useful to the government in the event of nuclear war.Template:Citation needed

Since July 1980, the building has been the headquarters of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). In 1995 Centre Point became a Grade II listed building. Noted architecture critic Nikolaus Pevsner described Centre Point as "coarse in the extreme". In 2009, the building won the Concrete Society's Mature Structures Award.

New ownership

In October 2005, Centre Point was bought from previous owners, Blackmoor LP, by commercial property firm Targetfollow for £85 million.<ref name="Targetfollow news archive, 06/10/05"/> The building was extensively refurbished. It has since been purchased by Almacantar, who have received planning permission to further refurbish the building to plans by Rick Mather Architects.<ref name="Almacantar" />

Occupiers in the building now include US talent agency William Morris Agency; the state-owned national oil company of Saudi Arabia, Aramco; Chinese oil company Petrochina; and electronic gaming company EA Games. Its longest-standing tenant is the CBI.<ref name="Targetfollow news archive, 11/08/09"/>


In Autumn 2008 Paramount was opened at the top of Centre Point. Initially operating as a private members club, however this policy was changed in 2010 with Paramount opening its doors to the general public. Occupying the top three floors of the building, Paramount was designed by British designer Tom Dixon, and includes event space on the 31st floor, bar and restaurant on 32nd, and a 360-degree viewing gallery on the 33rd floor – the top floor of the building. Views from the venue are described as spectacular,. Pierre Condou, owner of the club, negotiated a 35-year lease with Targetfollow on the 31st, 32nd and 33rd floors for the space.

Apartment 58

In February 2013, the global members club for creative industries, ‘Apartment 58’, launched APT58 at Centre Point. The members club, on the lower floors of the building, features a night club, meeting rooms, a locker and mail service and a young creative lounge. The venue also includes a late-license ground floor street-food concept restaurant.

The Centrepoint charity

At 5:30 pm on Friday, January 18, 1974, homeless campaigners (two of whom had obtained jobs with the security firm guarding Centre Point) squatted the building in a protest that the building ought to be used to help London's housing crisis. The occupation lasted only until Sunday January 20 and is often said to have inspired the housing charity Centrepoint, which took its name from the building; this is not, in fact, the case, as the charity had been around for five years prior to this. In fact the charity was named for the fact that its first night shelter was at the centre of the Soho parish. The name co-incidence was accidental, but when it was pointed out to the founders, they were quite pleased that the confusion might raise awareness of the plight of the homeless. Another urban myth surrounding the use of the name was that the subways and pedestrian underpasses beneath the building were popular places for rough sleepers.


File:Centre Point fountains postdemo.jpg
The Centre Point fountains have been removed as part of the demolition of the plaza for Crossrail

The promised transport interchange and highways improvements were not delivered following the original plan. The pedestrian subway attracted anti-social activities. On June 19, 2006 the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment pointed to the building as an example of bad design, where badly-designed pavements force pedestrians into the bus lane as they try to pass the building and accounts for the highest level of pedestrian injuries in Central London. With the planned redevelopment of Tottenham Court Road Underground Station a framework has been adopted to redevelop the traffic island beneath Centre Point as an open space.

The site of the plaza and fountains will be a work site for the Crossrail and station expansion works at Tottenham Court Road station. The plaza is being demolished and the fountains have been removed.

Cultural references

  • Centre Point is featured in the 1977 classic horror film 'The Medusa Touch'. A Boeing 747 aircraft is seen to hit the top of the tower and destroy it. The resulting collapse engulfs the Dominion theatre next door.
  • The Centre Point building is visible in the beginning of the music video for "Check the Meaning" by Richard Ashcroft. It also appears in the background of the music video for "Midnight Madness" by English electronic music band The Chemical Brothers, and during the music video of "Bang" by Blur.
  • Centre Point is one of the locations Jim (Cillian Murphy) walks past in the 'deserted London' scenes of UK horror film 28 Days Later (2002). Director Danny Boyle also references this (as "a famous empty/partially empty building in London") on the DVD commentary.
  • The character "Old Bailey" camps on top of Centre Point at one point in Neil Gaiman's novel Neverwhere. He describes it as an "ugly and distinctive Sixties skyscraper" and goes on to remark that "the view from the top was without compare, and, furthermore, the top of Centre Point was one of the few places in the West End of London where you did not have to look at Centre Point itself".
  • The building is mentioned in the sixth episode of the BBC comedy series The Thick of It. During an inquiry into the UK government's culture of leaking information to the press, Stuart Pearson, a Conservative spin doctor is asked about an analogy he has made between government transparency and the Pompidou Centre. A member of the inquiry suggests that rather than creating a "political Pompidou Centre," Pearson has created "the opposite, Centre Point - I mean everyone sees it looming over them but nobody has the faintest idea what happens in there." To which Pearson replies, "I think there's some kind of club on the top floor."
  • In the sixth episode of the second series of the UK comedy programme The IT Crowd, the view from Jen Barber's new office looks out across to Centre Point.
  • The building is also the location of the final battle scene and the headquarters for 'The Tower' in Kate Griffin's 2009 novel 'A Madness of Angels'.

See also

  • Tall buildings in London
  • List of skyscrapers




External links

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