The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Listing for Lloyds?

The Society is setting up a group to consider how best to assess which buildings of the 1970s should be listed. The thirty year rule means that all buildings that started on site up to 1976 are now eligible for Grade II listing, and by the time our researches are completed the whole decade will probably be within the cut-off period.  But at a recent casework committee meeting, there was one building that we all felt confident should certainly be listed in due course – it clearly being an iconic building of the period.  Perhaps  surprisingly this is a building that was built at the cost of an earlier twentieth century listed building that, had it survived, would now be one that we would rate very highly. However, when we heard that there were plans to change some interior entrance areas, we thought we should investigate if listing was a sensible option.

That building is the Richard Rogers and Partners’ Lloyd’s Building (1978-86).  It is one of those rare buildings that has clearly been outstanding from the day it opened (if not before—it already looked exciting on the drawing board). Listing a building under 30 years old is only possible if it is both outstanding, and at risk. So far the Lloyd’s building has been well cared for and certainly not threatened with major alterations—so listing has been neither possible or appropriate.  However we have recently heard of plans to change the interiors and entrance areas— might listing be sensible at this point?

Built on the site of Sir Edwin Cooper’s Lloyd’s (1928, GII) building, Rogers’ design has had international stature since it was built. It features alongside the contemporary Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank in Hong Kong by Norman Foster and the James R Thompson Center in Chicago by Helmut Jahn in most publications on twentieth century architecture. Since its inception Rogers’ building has probably been the most celebrated as well as the most controversial building in London.

Had The Thirties Society been up and running when Roger’s proposals were first muted, it is likely that a significant campaign to save Cooper’s building would have been mounted – and history might well have been very different.  The disappointment over the loss of this building is voiced in the second Thirties Society Journal when Alan Powers describes the entrance as “one of Cooper’s most original and accomplished inventions” but the article accepts the demolition as inevitable and notes with regret that “the retention of fragments of the original in the new Lloyd’s will not compensate for the loss of what has claims to be Cooper’s most sustained creative effort in the Classical style.”

These ‘fragments’ included the rostrum from the 1928 building as well as the Lutine Bell that is now set up in the centre of the atrium. The Adam Room (Robert Adam, 1763) was also brought over from the 1928 building that had been its home after it had been bought at auction from the Earl of Shelbourne and installed there.   The traditions of Lloyd’s have also been retained.  The double height underwriting room is laid out with boxes where the underwriters sit and negotiate with brokers. The ground floor has been designed as part of the public realm: it is a café—partly in acknowledgement of the origins of the Edward Lloyd’s establishment as a coffee house near the Tower of London.   And finally the large glass arch that forms the atrium adopts the Palladian arched windows of the earlier Lloyd’s building that can be seen on Terence Cuneo’s painting of the building that is displayed on Gallery 11. These features are highly important as a contrast with the high-tech environment and as a link to the long heritage of the world’s largest insurance market.

However it is the hi-tech externally expressed prefabricated service pods and circulation which have most captured the public imagination, not the features of the earlier building nor the traditions of Lloyd’s.  All service components are located on the perimeter of the building: here are located lifts, ductwork, fire stairs, lavatories, supporting structure and even the permanently installed cranes that are used for servicing and maintaining the façades.   Providing for the company’s expansion formed part of the brief and this was resolved by building a soaring 80m high atrium surrounded by 12 levels of open floors.  The main structural system is a concrete precast and in situ framework with stainless steel bearings that transfer the loads and allow for movement and tolerances in construction.

The strength of this architectural style lies in the legibility of the individual components, none of the parts are concealed, everything is there for you to see. The components are held separate from one another to emphasize this.  This is an exceptional building with a design integrity that can be seen in every detail both internally and externally. Lloyd’s is a landmark and has taken architectural discourse forward on a worldwide level. It announced a new stage of Modernism.

So the architectural and historic interest of the Lloyd’s building is incontestable, but is it “at risk”? – we would need to be able to demonstrate that it was to get it listed under thirty years old. We were having trouble either getting clear answers to our queries about proposed alterations or gaining access to the building, and so having carried out our historical research we had drafted a listing letter, and were poised to post it to DCMS. However, at the last moment, we were pleased to be contacted by Lloyd’s and invited to come to a meeting to discuss their attitude to the building and their future plans.

As we go to press, this meeting has just taken place, and it has been reassuring. For the short term at least, we hope that the constructive way forward will be to support Lloyd’s in drawing up a conservation management plan, with the assumption that once the building is thirty years old and can be listed without being demonstrably “at risk”, policies will have been established to ensure that listing will not be a burden. Rogers always intended his building to be flexible, the task will be to define within what parameters change can take place without being significant, and look at ways where more major changes can be carried out to complement the building rather than detract from it.

Eva Branscome