As part of International Women’s Day 2021, we are celebrating the achievements of women in our practice who have risen to the challenges that arise when creating beautiful architecture.
Since September 2018, Part II Architectural Assistant Alexandra Baker has been part of the team working to deliver 120 Moorgate, a 12,400sqm retrofit office in Moorgate. Here she tells us about the challenges that she and the team faced whilst working on this major workplace refurbishment.
“It sits right on the boundary of the City of London, on the corner of Moorgate and South Place; a ‘Gateway to the City’ as they like to call it, so quite an important location. As a practice we took the project through every Work Stage, including Cat A and Cat B, I was part of the team delivering Cat A.
The original building was, shall we say, a little less desirable. It was not listed and the design from the 1970s had not dated well compared to other brutalist architecture from that era.
The whole of Moorgate has undergone this major transformation over recent years, so we had to make sure that we were producing a building efficient, aesthetically pleasing and more befitting of the modern context of Moorgate.
I think it is so important that as a practice we continue and expand upon our delivery of retrofit schemes. Where possible, from an environmental perspective we should reuse, rather than demolish and rebuild, and 120 Moorgate was no different.
In the past I personally have worked on schemes that have elements of both new build and refurbishment, but 120 Moorgate provided an exciting challenge for me that was entirely retrofit.
The parameters which come with working this way can be challenging. Every now and again you could find yourself in a situation where you are literally opening up spaces, not entirely sure what was going to be on the other side. There are situations with developments of this nature and it is crucial for us to be flexible once we’re on site so we can deal with new and unforeseen challenges every day.
Overall, the end result of 120 Moorgate looks unrecognisable from the original, which is extraordinary considering that we actually kept the structure. It looks entirely different and pulling off this kind of transformation is really exciting. It really highlights what can be achieved with refurbishment to breathe new life into a building of this nature without having to resort to full demolition.
Even though the original building was dated, that did not mean that we could not find ways to celebrate original aspects of the design. One good example of this can be found in the lobby where we retained the existing column that once stood on the exterior; we have since brought it inside the envelope of the building, refurbished it’s appearance and it is now a prominent and unique feature of the entrance experience.
The Challenge of Changes on Site
In the early stages, 120 Moorgate was intended to be a speculative office. When we took on the project we did not have a tenant signed up so elements of each floor plate were very similar, in order to create a blank canvas for a tenant to come in and make the space their own.
However, a few months into my involvement with the project during the technical design phase, we found out that co-working specialist WeWork would be taking the space. The brand identity of a company like WeWork is very clearly defined and they have a strong and established aesthetic that they wished to achieve. Whilst it did not affect the exterior of the building, internally we significantly redesigned of all the internal cores to better suit their requirements.
The requests brought about some valuable additions to the scheme, including adding things like Prayer Rooms and Mother’s Room for mothers who need to express milk, which would not have necessarily been standard as part of a speculative office design.
Fundamentally, we want to fulfil the expectations of both client and any prospective tenant, so it was important to be fluid in our approach to delivery of Cat A and Cat B fitouts. As much as we would like to set our designs in stone, design changes are an inevitably challenge that have the risk of creating delays to the overall programme. We must ensure we do everything we can to keep the project on schedule, managing expectations of all key stakeholders, without compromising the design.
Fortunately, we built a good collaborative relationship with WeWork’s architect at the time which helped the process run as smoothly as could be expected. Being able to manage the relationships across the team is so important; we need to place a lot of trust in each other to achieve what we want to, and it is worth every effort to do so.
A bit of critical distance is often required to truly appreciate what we achieved. We are so close to each building that we create, we pour our heart and soul into each project and when things don’t go 100% to plan it can be challenging to adapt and find new solutions. But in doing so, we can find new ways of problem solving and in some circumstances, we will end up with better solutions than we initially thought possible.
With 120 Moorgate, there were inevitably intense moments throughout the construction, but I can now stand at the intersection of Ropemaker Street and Moorgate, looking at the corner of the building and think ‘Yeah, that looks really good’.
No one person can ever truly claim responsibility for the design of a building. Working in the built environment you can sometimes encounter over-inflated egos, but it is important to remember that no matter what your role, whether you are an Architectural Assistant or a Director, you are an important member of the team and valuable to the delivery of the project.
It takes a team effort to bring architecture to life and 120 Moorgate was a great achievement by the Cat A and Cat B project teams who removed their egos from the equation to work above and beyond to deliver something special in the City of London.