London, United Kingdom
Sea Containers was designed in 1974 as a waterfront hotel to promote British tourism but upon completion was converted to office use. In 2013 the studio won an invited competition in conjunction with workplace specialists BDG to create 20,000 sqm of workspace for a group of ten media companies, which previously were located across a number of sites throughout London.
The existing building consists of three elements: a concrete two-storey base cantilevering over the Thames Path, a central stack of low, horizontal floor plates and a recently completed two-storey glazed roof extension. The design concept proposes a specific response to each type of space.
The base consolidates executive and support functions over large floor plates, while providing good river views. The interior is defined by the muscular quality of the existing waffle concrete structural system, in combination with exposed services and a new, continuous concrete topping slab.
The central stack consists of six floors of low, horizontal plates. These are divided conceptually into three towers. The east and west towers contain workspace for various companies, connected by new internal stairs and openings. The middle tower is dedicated to shared spaces, configured to support informal working and chance encounters. These spaces act as a buffer zone between individual companies in the east and west towers, allowing them to expand temporarily without additional fit-out or capital costs.
Within this central space, a terrace of new openings, stairs and suspended platforms creates long diagonal vistas through the building, reorganising the structure into a collection of neighbourhoods connected by common areas – a direct reference to the city itself.
By locating working space in the lower parts of the building, the upper two floors are liberated for shared staff and hospitality uses, including a 200-person amphitheatre, café, bistro, private dining and a new roof terrace. These spaces double as work settings – from small and intimate to large and noisy – and together to define a shared architectural identity for the group companies.
Many buildings along the Thames Path have become important London landmarks. The Royal Festival Hall, National Theatre, Tate Modern, Oxo Tower and Shakespeare’s Globe are all established cultural points. At an urban scale, the ambition with Sea Container’s is to make shared and common activities visible from the river, drawing it back into the cultural, creative and commercial life of the Thames.
Client: Ogilvy Group/WPP
Location: Southbank, London
Status: Invited competition, first prize 2013; completed 2016
Partner architect: BDG A+D
Photography: Maris Mezulis