Explore # 144
Centre Point is a substantial concrete and glass office building in central London, England, 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. The building was designed by Richard Seifert and was constructed by Wimpey Construction from 1963 to 1966. It is 117 m (385 ft) high, has 32 floors and 27,180 m2 (292,563 sq ft) of floor space and is the joint 27th tallest building in London. It was one of the first skyscrapers in London.
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.
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. Most people regard this theory as far-fetched.
Since July 1980, the building has been the headquarters of the Confederation of British Industry. In 1995 Centre Point became a Grade II listed building. Noted architecture critic Nikolaus Pevsner described Centre Point as "coarse in the extreme". In October 2005, it was reported that Centre Point had changed hands in an £85 million deal. Commercial property firm Targetfollow were named as the buyers and plans for the block are said to include a restaurant on the two top floors.
At 5:30 pm on Friday January 18, 1974, homeless campaigners (two of whom had obtained jobs with the security firm guarding Centre Point) occupied the building in a protest that the building ought to be used to help London's housing crisis. Although the occupation lasted only until Sunday January 20, this action inspired the housing charity Centrepoint, which took its name from the building.
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 paving forces 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.
London Light and Perspective Centre Point Building
Centre Point Building of London Night