A hypnotic honeycomb. A beehive hairdo. An elegance worthy of a Wren steeple. London’s first Pop Art building. The design of Centre Point has attracted various descriptions over the years, but ‘anonymous’ isn’t one of them.
The architect behind it was Colonel Richard Seifert, a former lieutenant colonel in the Royal Engineers, who went on to become one of the key London architects of the last century.
Like all great designs, his made a virtue out of necessity. This was a plot of land pieced together from a variety of previous owners, right next to one of London’s busiest road junctions. Faced with severely restricted sight and light angles, the building had only one choice, which was to go upwards.
With most skyscrapers, there is the constant danger of monotony as one identical floor unit is stacked repetitively on top of another. With its H-shaped, subtly convex units, Centre Point turns that repetition into a design feature, creating a hypnotic effect that is softened by the rounded corners of the building.
Just as importantly, it doesn’t rise up in a solid block from the ground. Instead, the tower sits on top of an unusual base, made up of distinctive concrete slits and angular ‘dinosaur legs’.
The finishing touch comes right at the top, with the three-metre-high neon letters that have become a familiar sight for miles around. Adding the name elevated the building to the status of a landmark – a reassuring navigational aid in the West End for half a century.
You don’t have to be an architectural expert to work out which era gave birth to Centre Point. This is a building that could only have emerged from the restless, irreverent period of the 1960s. According to Building magazine, ‘More than any other building, Centre Point made London swing.’
This British Pathé footage, taken from the film ‘Buildings By Architect Seifert’, shows a number of Seifert buildings in London, with Centre Point as the main focus. There is no commentary, but the pictures tell their own story – you can imagine the impact the building must have had as it rose above the streets of 1960s London.