Architect submits own building for listing as scaffolding goes up - and attempts to start national debate on post-modern architecture

Terry Farrell is engaged in an eleventh-hour battle to save one of his early post-modern buildings in the City of London from “damaging” alterations.

He has submitted an urgent listing bid for 76 Fenchurch Street which is currently being considered by the DCMS.

The former Midland bank, which predates Stirling’s celebrated No1 Poultry by a decade, is now covered in scaffolding, awaiting reconfiguring work.

Farrell’s campaign has been backed by the Twentieth Century Society as well as leading architects and critics including FAT co-founder Charles Holland and David Knight of DK-CM who have written to Historic England to argue for the building’s importance.

Knight said it was “a landmark building in the development of English architecture, a project in which a variety of formal and urban themes were developed which were of profound and widespread influence on the architecture that followed it”.

Its original developer, David King, has also got involved, describing the consented changes as “barbaric”.

Work began on 76 Fenchurch Street – also known as 69 Leadenhall Street as it stands at the apex of the two roads at the historic Aldgate pump – in 1985, making it eligible for listing. Last year the City approved a planning application to replace two entrances which was submitted by de Metz Forbes Knight Architects (dMFK) on behalf of an investment company. dMFK declined to comment other than to say it was no longer involved.

Farrell said: “I am passionately convinced that the present proposals could sabotage the essential nature of this building’s concept and character. The monumental doorways are exemplars of the ‘postmodern’ expression of the building, and they were a critical part of the design concept. The proposed alterations are purely stylistic and as Paul Finch has said, ‘The proposed changes are a needless disruption to the integrity of the existing building, and might properly be described as architecturally illiterate’. This building predates No1 Poultry. It is very well resolved in my view and one of the best buildings we designed in the Eighties.”

Adam Nathaniel Furman, a researcher at Farrells, described the existing entrances as “bravura examples of a historically refined, mannerist and high-tech approach to design” which used technical elements such as vents in a playful way.

Farrell hopes the campaign will kick-start a wider discussion about post-modernism as the style’s key buildings hit the 30-year listing threshold. His office has offered to help Historic England set the parameters for an appraisal of post-modernism.

Holland said: “Buildings from this period are only just beginning to be appreciated again after a period of unfashionability. Like brutalism before it, post-modernism will come to be seen as an important movement in architectural history and the short-sighted destruction of the best buildings from the period will be regarded as philistine short-termism.”

A number of Farrell’s buildings have already been lost, including the TV-am studios in Camden, Clifton Nurseries in Covent Garden and Queen Street, another City office, making 76 Fenchurch Street all the more important, he said.

Other significant post-modern buildings that have bitten the dust before they could be protected include Ian Pollard’s Egyptian-style Homebase in Kensington.

Profession backs 76 Fenchurch Street

David Knight, DK-CM:

I consider 76 Fenchurch Street to be a landmark building in the development of English architecture, a project in which a variety of formal and urban themes were developed which were of profound and widespread influence on the architecture that followed it, both globally and within the locality in the form of commercial and civic buildings in and around the City of London. The project sits as a key project in a line of formal development which perhaps begins with Terry Farrell’s work at Covent Garden/Comyn Ching Triangle and which reached a peak at Sir James Stirling’s No.1 Poultry and at No. 1 Embankment Place. Like at Poultry, the project asserts the historic grain of the city as a paramount concern and can be seen as exemplifying English architecture’s post-war (and post-modern) rediscovery of urban complexity, a lineage of ideas that, through Farrell, connects with globally significant ideas and philosophies, in the work of for example Louis Kahn, Venturi & Scott Brown and Kevin Lynch.

It would be a profound tragedy if 76 Fenchurch Street were needlessly ‘updated’ and its integrity as a key example of its type damaged by thoughtless interventions to its entrances or elsewhere, especially given its remarkably good condition decades after its initial construction, a fact which makes it all the more special and historically significant. I therefore offer my strong professional support to the building’s preservation.

Charles Holland, Ordinary Architecture:

69 Leadenhall Street is a significant part of London’s recent architectural history. It is not only representative of an important period of building in the city but is one of the finest examples of commercial office buildings of the last thirty years. 69 Leadenhall is an extremely sophisticated composition that adds significantly to its urban location. It is a building of great charm that has been meticulously detailed in robust materials that have aged extremely well. It is both an outstanding example of post modern urban design and a building that has stood the test of time. 

The proposed changes to the building would significantly impact on its distinctive character. The doorways in question are an important part of the overall composition. Their playful scale games and dramatic figurative qualities compliment the more restrained facades and form a family of materials and forms with the attic storey and corner turret. The composition of this building has proved extremely influential, not least on the nearby and clearly related Number 1 Poultry. It is a beautifully well-balanced little building and the proposed changes would be highly destructive. It is also one of the most important works from the period by (Sir) Terry Farrell and Partners (now Farrells). 

Buildings from this period are only just beginning to be appreciated again after a period of unfashionability. Like Brutalism before it, Post Modernism will come to be seen as an important movement in architectural history and the shortsighted destruction of the best buildings from the period will be regarded as philistine short-termism. It is important therefore to recognise the qualities of these buildings at a time when they are at their most vulnerable. I would urge you therefore to review the work taking place on the building and take action to stop the denigration of a fine example of London’s architectural heritage. 

Jonathan Glancey, critic:

These take the form of bland, or generic, flat-glass fronted entrances that might belong to any second-rate small city office block or high street department store. If these were to replace the existing monumental, yet playful, Post-Modern entrances, the building would be devalued both as a complete and convincing work of its period and as a notably fine example of intelligent urban design and good civic manners.

The Terry Farrell design is one of the most convincing Post-Modern buildings in the City of London. There are many unconvincing works of this era and style in the City, but 76 Fenchurch Street shows just how good a neighbour Po-Mo architecture could be in the hands of skilled and astute architects.

The building meets and turns street corners in a particularly satisfying manner. Its style may be flamboyant and, like No 1 Poultry by Stirling and Wilford, wayward to observers weaned on polite Modern and chaste Neo-Classical city banks and offices, yet it is a building that talks to its neighbours, a considerate design that demonstrates a real understanding of the grain of the City of London.

Many City buildings of the latter part of the 19th Century and early 20th Century were equally, and even more energetic than 76 Fenchurch Street, and like the Farrell design, many made an occasion of their entrances while following established and historic street sightlines and patterns. The grand entrances of 76 Fenchurch Street are fundamental to the character and integrity of the building. 

In years to come, and as Post-Modernism is re-evaluated as, for example, Brutalism has been, 76 Fenchurch Street will stand out as one of the best City of London buildings of its time. To damage its architectural integrity would be a shortsighted and even philistine measure, and for no apparent gain.

Hugh Pearman, critic:

The post-modern architectural period yielded relatively few gems, such as this building, which stand out from the commercial mainstream. Architecturally it acts as a junior companion to James Stirling’s larger Number One Poultry building, and the two are a reminder of how the leading architects of the time engaged with their historic context in a way that was soon to be ditched as the City went for gigantism.

It is a small-medium sized building, not extravagant and fairly plain on the upper levels, but it nonetheless imparts a sense of grandeur through its use of scale and mannerist architectural devices - in particular the extraordinarily fine large doorways on each flank, each expressed differently.

Postmodern architecture of this time, having been deeply unfashionable for two decades, can now be seen as an important period of experimentation: the ‘presence of the past’ attempted in a new architecture. It can seem eccentric, even weird, but the best examples are important and need to be preserved as part of the architectural timeline of the City and of the nation.

As an architecture critic and editor of the RIBA Journal, I am keenly aware of the cycles of fashion in architecture, and of the fact that the moment of maximum danger for any good building is always just before a style becomes generally accepted once again. The rising generation is fascinated by this period: it is starting to come right back into focus. 69 Leadenhall Street is one of those that deserves protection as one of the best examples of its kind. A true period piece.

Letters to Historic England