The Brits Who Built The Modern World

Embankment Place

Built

1990

Location

Embankment Place, Victoria Embankment, London, seen from the South Bank

Looming over the trains arriving into Charing Cross station, the two stepped arches of Embankment Place are a gateway for passengers into the station and central London. 

Popular Post-Modernism at its best

When British architect Terry Farrell designed an office block for a site above the platforms of Charing Cross, the terminus regained the prominent barrel-vault roof that it had lost in a disastrous roof collapse in 1905. Farrell’s Embankment Place opened in 1990 and not only restored the form of an earlier landmark, but it also intensified the use of this corner of London and revitalised the streets below and around it.

This large Post-Modern intervention works on many scales. From the street much of Embankment Place is hidden, carefully screened by 18th century Grade I listed terraces on Craven Street to the west, and EM Barry’s Charing Cross Hotel on the Strand to the north. The south is exposed to the Thames and Farrell’s presence on the riverside skyline can be fully appreciated from the river’s south bank. To the east on Villiers Street parts of offices are reduced to four storeys and broken down into smaller blocks, more in keeping with the mass of older buildings on the other side of the street. A public arcade below the platforms cut across the large footprint of the site, connecting west and east and offering additional space for retail and leisure. 

the most visible part of a wider plan for improving this dirty, chaotic and congested corner of the city

Embankment Place was designed for a single client, one of the companies that would later merge to form PricewaterhouseCoopers, and who are still tenants today. Behind the aluminium and granite cladding are large floor plates of different sizes across nine storeys to accommodate up to 400 to 500 people per floor. It was designed to allow flexibility in how private and shared workspaces could be reorganised in the future. These floors are suspended from the arches that give the building its external form. Two light wells punch through all the floors to allow natural light into the heart of this deep building. These rest on 18 large columns, arranged in two rows along the platforms of the station to avoid impeding the flow of commuters at one of London’s busiest train stations.

Sir Terry Farrell, 1989

Before Embankment Place

Before Embankment Place and even before Charing Cross station the site was already a busy crossing point on the Thames with opening of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s suspension footbridge in 1845 and the area had served for several hundred years as Hungerford Market. The market reached its peak in 1833 with Charles Fowler’s colonnades and covered hall, but fire damage and lack of trade led to its decline. The market and suspension bridge were replaced by Charing Cross railway station and Hungerford Bridge, which opened on 11 January 1864 and were designed by engineer Sir John Hawkshaw. A major roof collapse on 5 December 1905 led to its replacement with a flatter roof, itself superseded by Embankment Place. Like many large railway stations of the era, Charing Cross had its own grand hotel, now Grade II listed. Since its opening in 1865, the French Renaissance-style Charing Cross Hotel, designed by Edward Middleton, has been the main façade of the station from the Strand. 

Charing Cross Hotel and Eleanor Cross, Strand, LondonDesigns for Hungerford Market, Charing Cross, London: south view of the market from the riverEmbankment Place, Victoria Embankment, London, seen from the South Bank

QUOTES ABOUT embankment place


‘It exudes a feeling of strength and has many dramatic spaces...
Roger Reeves of  Coopers & Lybrand in Architects’ Journal , 22 September 1993, p.48

‘…popular Post-Modernism at its best.’
‘…the most visible part of a wider plan for improving this dirty, chaotic and congested corner of the city.’
Colin Davies in Architects’ Journal, 22 May 1991, p.31

‘Embankment Place is a living organism, 11 storeys high, that can sustain itself in social, economic and architectural terms. It is in effect a throbbing microcosm of Britain’s metropolis.’
Martin Spring in Building, 25 January 1991, p.50

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