The relevance of those skyline features becomes clear on the sixth floor directors' and clients' terrace. At ground level, the development blends in to its established surroundings (SHCA)
To further ensure the new architecture does not dominate, the upper floors are set back and finished in lead. The façades of the various buildings have been treated differently to relate each to its purpose and surroundings. A cornice line is defined by a projecting canopy whose underside is clad in warm-toned terracotta, echoing neighbouring buildings. With windows, the frame rather than the glass is stressed in all cases, making the wide bays seem less dominant. Brick slips applied as pre-fabricated sections that took over a million saw cuts to achieve are used on some of the lesser façades and the terrace-end block. Portland stone is reserved for the principal elevations, especially on the corners and where they face the church and park. In addressing Giltspur Street, the carefully designed west building continues a sequence of stand-alone “palazzos”, as Walker calls them, serving Barts to the north and the Central Criminal Court across Newgate Street to the south. It is Walker’s favourite part of the entire scheme.
The Edwardian GPO blocks were restored, although that on King Edward Street – now used for large-scale events – needed an entirely new western façade where it was attached to the old depot. Finally, the southern end of King Edward Street was swung back to its earlier, pre-widening alignment. This in turn allowed the original footprint of Christ Church to be reinstated as a dwarf wall and gardens created within the church shell in 1989 enlarged accordingly. A campaign to rebuild the church exists; the new stone footings have been designed to accommodate this should that succeed.
The Merrill Lynch Financial Centre represents some of the best architecture seen in the City since the war. None of the new buildings follows a particular style yet all are coherent and attractive. Vitally, they have been folded into the existing fabric and geography of an awkward site with great skill, not least via a network of adapted and made routes that use lighting, trees and railings in a way that serves the city as much as the client. The arcade, elegant, warm and welcoming, is exceptional. Even if the promise of full access implicit in the design concept is not entirely fulfilled in reality (Minerva Walk is also gated after hours and at weekends), this is an interpretation of a centuries-old City tradition on a significant and generous scale. The craftsmanship is uniformly superb and the detailing crisp and precise outside and in. As Walker says, “To do it takes discipline, rigour – to observe it is joy.”
Not until Bloomberg a decade later would anything comparable happen in the City again. Indeed, Walker is clear: “It was a real special moment because, you know, before and after they wouldn’t have been able to do it; we were really lucky.”
Posted 3 December 2020, restructured from a piece written in 2009 when I visited the building with David Walker and my group and, a few weeks earlier, with Terry Gagg of Merrill Lynch to scout the route. Quotes come from those visits and discussions with Walker then and earlier