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The commercial terrace on Newgate Street is completed by a quiet new-build block - note the false cornice line - that houses the main entrance; within is the glazed galleria that continues west behind the terrace as Minerva Walk (both David Churchill/ Arcaid). The cloistered arcade, in turn, begins here, inside the building, but continues outside as a public amenity skirting the park made within the old churchyard

The third floor forms the base of an atrium which delivers natural light to the fourth and fifth floor office spaces. A suggestion to fully glaze the sides of the atrium to seal in noise was resisted; Walker points to a misunderstanding of how sound propagates and notes that an open structure is no noisier than a closed-in one. Keeping the glazing to handrail height also helped address the requirement to knit employees together by providing contact as well as visibility between different groups.

 

The atrium roof is adjacent to an external garden terrace on the sixth floor, which houses the boardroom, directors’ offices and the client centre, a suite of spaces for conferences, presentations and meetings (some conducted via a video conferencing system where one half of a conference table in the room combines with the opposing half visible in the remote party’s feed to aid the illusion of physical presence). At this point in the building, observes Walker, the views out are particularly considered and so the spire of Christ Church appears “like a sculpture inside the foyer”. Seldom appearing in publicity images of the building, the experienced atmosphere on this special level is that of a high-quality hotel, with generous corridor sizes, muted but luxurious décor including silk wall coverings and textured stone lift portals, and subtle touches such as shadow gaps between walls and floors instead of conventional skirting boards. This work was also carried out by Walker’s firm. “That’s what’s great about the job. We started […] looking at forty different sites, and we ended selecting the silverware for the executive dining rooms”, he recalled contentedly whilst exploring the floor for the first time in almost ten years.

 

A second, smaller building for general use was created to the west, with its own entrance on Giltspur Street. Linked to the main building by bridges, it is designed to be separated entirely if needed to allow for sub-letting. Walker discharged his client’s obligation to the City Corporation over the Roman wall by opening up the ground floor slab here to render the remains – suitably re-contextualised – visible from the street; Merrill Lynch continued the policy of public tours at basement level. I can recommend a visit, having done it myself. A small courtyard, laid to turf and never built on, lies between the two buildings. It is open to the north and south, and engages two east-west routes through the site.  

 

To the north sits the service road, which is entered from King Edward Street. It is a pleasant surprise to see a humble loading bay framed by gently-curving arches of Portland stone but this reflects provision for a pedestrian route joining Merrill Lynch to the main courtyard of Barts to the north, meaning this façade would become a public one [the idea was not in fact carried out, and subsequent construction of the immense King George V building for the hospital would appear to permanently rule it out]. To the south one finds Minerva Walk, running behind the shops on Newgate Street and with a small exit to that thoroughfare in a gap between two of them. There was pressure initially to infill this area to obtain a little more office space but “we fought that quite [hard],” says Walker. Instead, the upper floors of the shops (themselves refurbished and re-let) were converted to small offices and joined to the main building by more glazed bridges. In common with other paths encountered on the site, Minerva Walk is paved in a material sympathetic to the surrounding streets, avoiding the situation in most developments where “it’s clear the moment you step on the red carpet of stone whose area you’re in”. To the east this new street ends in a glazed galleria, overlooking the park and functioning as the main circulation space and principal entrance.

 

Sitting partly within a new block that completes the terrace of shops here far more attractively than an exposed, propped party wall, Walker explains how this space works. Traders come in to get a coffee from the cafe, take the escalators and cross the glazed bridges to reach the dealing floors, whilst others heading for the higher floors take the lifts. Importantly the passgates here stand to one side of and parallel to Minerva Walk, a legacy of Walker’s intention for full public access along the street’s entire length. Although not delivered this would not, he says, have even been countenanced had the building been designed after 9/11 rather than completed before that event. Opposite the passgate line is a dedicated reception area for visitors (Walker calls it a “club class lounge”), which is tastefully wood-panelled and as I can attest a comfortable place to await one’s host.

 

Outside, a generous cloistered arcade of Portland roach stone wraps the west and north sides of the park, which was restored. For Walker, the cloister operates as a “gathering device” for employees arriving from all points of the compass, bringing them to the entrance and uniting them despite differing origins, roles and destinations. For the passer-by, its sheltered walkway and stone benches complement the park, providing important additional amenity, and mediate between the offices and that existing public space. The cloister can also, of course, be read as a recollection of the former monastery.

 

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Chris Rogers  |  Writer on architecture and visual culture