18 Feb 2013
Clearing out a cupboard during an office move the other week I found two startling photos of Parliament Square with a 1960s-designed concrete office building where our current Waterhouse Headquarters stands.
They are pictures of an architect’s model for a proposed redevelopment of Parliament Square including the RICS HQ, displayed in the building in December 1963.
Back in 1958, RICS had bought the freehold of the site. The journal of April 1959 announced that rebuilding had been under consideration for some time and a rebuilding fund was to be started. It reported that the current premises were too small for requirements and 11 Great George Street – which makes up half the premises today – had been affected by subsidence and needed serious underpinning.
In August 1961, Denys Lasdun was appointed as consultant architect. Planning permission for the new building was submitted exactly 50 years ago in February 1963 with the support of the London County Council and Royal Fine Arts Commission. Lasdun was also working on designs for the Royal College of Physicians in Regent’s Park and Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.
Lasdun described the site as 'one of the most important sites in London'. His proposed building was set back from the current building line with projecting first and second floors. The Council Chamber was due to be on the first floor and the Lecture Hall in the basement, both joined to the reception area by wide staircases. The upper four floors were to be office space with the President’s flat and housekeeper’s quarters in the tower on the top. An article in the Times on 28 January 1963 called it 'a design of monumental scale and presence'.
So what happened? The planning permission was referred to Parliament, who decided to review the future of the whole of Whitehall and Parliament Square and commissioned a report which proposed a major overhaul of the area. Lasdun, undeterred, went on to create his most memorable design: the National Theatre on the South Bank.
So: lucky escape or missed opportunity? You decide.
Also let me know if you’d like to know more about the report on the redevelopment of the area and the problems that caused for RICS at the time.
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