Marmite buildings need love too

This week on, I published a case study about the refurbishment of Guy’s Tower, that impressive hulk of brutalist mid-twentieth century architecture which has dominated the Southwark skyline for the past 40 years.

That dominance has been replaced by its new neighbour, the gleaming scalpel-sharp Shard, but Guy’s Tower is still keeping it real, even though its grimy concrete has been ‘re-skinnned’.

You see for me, the Shard simply belongs over the river next to the Gherkin, because when I think of Southwark, I think of stone masonry, brick, and concrete of medieval cathedrals, Victorian warehouses and post-war brutalist municipal buildings.

I’m partial to a bit of brutalist architecture – the imposing solidity of the buildings makes me think of medieval fortresses, which I was slightly obsessed with as a kid. But then again I never had to live on the Aylesbury Estate and I can understand why these monolithic buildings are so often loathed.

Guy’s Tower most probably falls into that category, though I feel there’s a certain elegance to it, at least compared to the Southbank Centre. I definitely think it’s worth preserving, which is exactly what the Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust thought, when they commissioned architect Penoyre & Prasad to come up with a design for refurbishing the building’s façade. With the concrete deteriorating to a worrying degree, it was critical but also a chance to significantly improve the building’s energy efficiency.

When describing the refurbishment, project architect, Neil Allfrey, said, “A good retrofit is all about being able to closely understand the workings of a building for current and future needs, and then come up with a design that supports both.”

And that is exactly what Penoyre & Prasad have managed to do, not only lifting the weatherbeaten exterior, but improving the durability and the energy performance of the building for another 30 years.

And for me it is a fantastic demonstration of how to adapt and extend the life of an ageing – dare I say historic – building, even if one that falls into the marmite category.

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