The Twentieth Century Society

100 Buildings 100 Years

1975: Willis, Faber & Dumas building, Ipswich

Type: Commercial/offices
Architect: Foster Associates
Owners: Willis Group Holdings
Location: The Willis Building, Friars Street, Ipswich, Suffolk

The Willis Faber Dumas headquarters in Ipswich  is one of Foster Associates’ earliest schemes. It houses some 1,300 staff in open plan offices. It was the youngest building to be Grade 1 listed.

It sits on land virtually surrounded by roads. A grid of concrete columns in the middle support the cantilevered concrete floor and roof slabs, and the perimeter is enclosed with dark glass suspended from their edges. There is a staff restaurant on the top floor, and a swimming pool was originally included.

It is a landmark building in the development of the high tech architectural style. The glass external wall flows around the back edge of the pavement, defining the extent of the building and reflecting its neighbours. The escalators generously move up to each floor in a straight line rather than doubling back. And the roof around the staff restaurant was one of the first to be covered in grass!

by David Thomas

Listing description

Architectural Review article by Christopher Woodward