AHMM combines comfort and dignity in a new home for London’s police force, finds John McRae
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the lack of organisation and efficiency of early law enforcement was often a source of public controversy, and the introduction of Robert Peel’s 1829 Metropolitan Police Act established the Metropolitan Police as an integral part of London’s infrastructure. Its recent move to a new headquarters designed by Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM) is part of a drive to put bobbies first by selling off under-utilised police buildings and redirecting funds into frontline services.
The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) is returning to its roots in the Curtis Green Building, originally built in 1940 as an extension to the New Scotland Yard complex it occupied between 1890 and 1967. The building’s renovation is a bid to win the ‘war on attracting the next generation’. Once, joining the police meant a 30- or 40-year career, but it is now recognised that officers might serve for as little as 10 years. With this change, are police workplaces now expected to charm, woo and excite the next generation of potential officers?
As a workplace design project, however, the task of providing a new home for the MPS has its own particularly and fascinating challenges. A profession set up to ‘protect London and keep us safe’ cannot be seen to be sitting on bean bags, lounging in expensive chairs and generally having a great time. So how has AHMM addressed this, while redefining work patterns and capturing the identity and values of the Metropolitan Police?
AHMMs’ radical remodelling of and extensions to the Curtis Green Building – a pre-war neoclassical block facing the Thames – has provided a near 50 per cent uplift in floor area and includes the now commonplace move from cellular offices to open plan. This is coupled with an occupancy density of eight square-metres per person, optimisation of floor-to-ceiling heights by utilising the floor void as an air plenum, and use of agile working for greater collaboration.
However, you need to look more carefully to find the real transformations as they have been subtly and seamlessly integrated into the whole. A new glass entrance pavilion with floating elliptical roof provides a bold and surprisingly transparent ‘we’re open for business’ statement. With its prominent location near Parliament, the Met’s new headquarters is an interface for the world’s media, visitors and police forces across the country. The triangular rotating ‘New Scotland Yard’ sign, familiar from countless news broadcasts, has been transplanted from MPS’ former premises (with its type realigned and now backlit), and now sits on a brick ‘carpet’ that references the neighbouring Norman Shaw North building. An eternal flame is now proudly burning adjacent to the pavilion to remind us of the officers who have lost their lives in the course of duty. And the original entrance of the building has been turned into a display window that will host changing displays – the first being a statue of Robert Peel.
Once safely through the multiple layers of security – well-handled architecturally – a double-height entrance hall greets visitors and is a good orienting device, leading straight to the main meeting rooms on the ground floor and lifts that serve the upper office floors. An installation based on old police uniforms is in being commissioned and will be a welcome addition to complete the entrance hall experience.
As with any organisation split across a number of floors, connectivity and visibility are key (unless you are undertaking highly sensitive work) and is often solved by the use of an atrium and feature staircases. Here, AHMM’s clever solution is to centrally locate a bank of fully-glazed lifts and shafts to provide views into the offices from the lobbies, and glimpses when travelling between floors.
The toilets are an unexpected highlight. As in a smart suit, where colour and flamboyance are reserved for the privacy of the lining, AHMM has developed a design scheme for each bathroom that draws on the graphics of contemporary and historic police car liveries.
Externally there are three further extensions; one to the gable of the building, one to the rear overlooking Whitehall and one on top of the building. The gable extension and extended parapet are executed in high-quality Portland stone with stripped back string courses with roach bed used at the top to reference the adjacent cornice. Homes for sparrows and bats are carved into the facade; a humane touch.
The rear extension of coloured terracotta baguettes creates a colourful veil that is informed by nearby buildings and provides a welcome burst of colour inside when the sun strikes. The composition is completed by an elegant and well-executed bronze goalpost pavilion on the rooftop. While this is informed by the building and the context, the bolder glass box designed at competition stage could have added even more drama and dynamism. Perhaps the restrained solution is more in keeping with the brief.
Overall this is a serious building for a serious occupier and successfully provides a more transparent, agile and collaborative workplace for the Metropolitan Police Service. It will be interesting to see whether it helps the force to attract and retain the next generation of police officers.
Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
Project manager, costs
Structure, fire, and acoustic consultant
Gordon Ingram Assocs
Main contractor, principal designer
Metropolitan Police Service, Mayor’s Office for Policing & Crime
Cladding and windows
Laudescher Process Bois
Scenic lift cladding
Moleanos by Kinorigo
WC and shower tiling