City A.M.
Kasmira Jefford

Centre of Attention

Both reviled and admired, London’s Centre Point tower at the east end of Oxford Street has stirred controversy ever since it was first erected in 1966.

Aerial view of Centre Point skyscraper and letters in London - Large

A beehive of concrete and glass, its brutalist-style was regarded as an eyesore on the skyline and the fact that a building of its height (it is 117 metres tall) was granted planning permission was also unprecedented at the time.

Its biggest sin was to lie empty for nearly a decade after its completion as the developer, property magnate Harry Hyams, held out to find a single tenant. Homeless protesters camped out at the tower in 1974, decrying it as “the concrete symbol of everything that is rotten about our society”.

The Richard Seifert-designed building later won over critics, however, and it was given listed status in 1995, in part because it was symbolic of 1960s “swinging London”.

English Heritage paid homage to its “ingenious” use of pre-cast concrete panels to clad the building. The Royal Fine Art Commission went as far as to praise it for having “elegance worthy of a Wren steeple.”

Almacantar’s Kathrin Hersel believes time has dispelled much of the initial prejudices: “This is often the case with art and I see architecture as part of art. Some things just need time to be loved.”

Berlin-born Hersel is spearheading the redevelopment of the Grade II listed office tower, which is to be transformed into 82 luxury flats with a public square surrounded by shops and restaurants at its base. The neighbouring Centre Point House will have 13 affordable homes.

The property company, led by former Land Securities executive Mike Hussey, kick-started work yesterday, with the makeover scheduled for completion in 2017 in time for the arrival of Crossrail at Tottenham Court Road and millions of new visitors.

Hersel, who joined Almacantar in 2012 from Land Securities where she worked with Hussey, said its architects Conran and Partners and Rick Mather Architects will “reinterpret the sixties in a very modern way”.

A “wrap” designed by British fashion house Eley Kishimoto will also go around the tower during the construction featuring sixties-style prints.

The company plans to begin marketing the flats as soon as next week, with prices ranging from £1.8m for a one bedroom flat to as much as £55m for the five-bedroom duplex penthouse on the 33rd floor.

“We think that for what it is and where it is, it is a spectacular product,” Hersel said adding that the group hoped to attract UK-based buyers with no roadshows planned for overseas.

Commenting on London’s eclectic architecture, Hersel said: “I love the relationship between old historic buildings, listed buildings and super modern buildings. I love that you can have a tower right next to a very historic building like the Tower of London. It gives the skyline such an edge – because it is so interesting to look at.”

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