Merrill Lynch's new City HQ is the biggest building you'll never see – its groundscraping design has satisfied the needs of modern bankers and the heritage lobby
Slotting US investment bank Merrill Lynch into the jumble of listed buildings behind St Paul's Cathedral has proved an object lesson in how a 77,000 m2 project can be built on a sensitive site without it scraping the sky.

The Swanke Hayden Connell-designed building, which has just been handed over, is being held up by English Heritage as an example of how to build big without building high.

"It is a low-rise building of inestimable quality – exactly the sort of thing many occupiers want," says EH chairman, Sir Neil Cossons.

The scheme consists of four blocks. One contains the bank's two trading floors with three smaller satellites connected by glass bridges. The main building rises a mere seven storeys and works hard to fit in with the area's character, using solid-looking Portland stone and red brick on its facades.

Of the three other blocks, one is a grade II-listed post office, refurbished and converted for the bank. Another includes a Victorian terrace and a sorting office facade that EH wanted to preserve. "To work everything out took complex negotiations," says project architect David Walker. "It had to be a meeting of minds."

As part of the development package, Merrill Lynch agreed to refurbish the ragged remains of Sir Christopher Wren's Christchurch at the site's east end. This involved reordering the highway junction that road planners had allowed to slice through church land in the 1970s.

Another contribution to the area is the provision of a garden and public access ways threaded through the office precinct. These help to link up a project that might otherwise have lacked continuity.

Project manager on the development was GTMS, construction manager was Mace and quantity surveyor was Gardiner & Theobald. Arup was consulting engineer, Techcrete worked on stone cladding and Schmidlin on glazing.