Dr Jonathan Foyle scales iconic structures to reveal their secrets. He investigates the high-tech architecture of the Lloyd's Building in the City of London.
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I am halfway up the outside of an inside-out building.
No work of architecture better expresses London's dual status
as a capital of cutting-edge culture and as an economic machine.
This is the Lloyd's Building.
This is Climbing Great Buildings and throughout this series
I'll be scaling our most iconic and best loved structures,
from the Normans to the present day.
I'll reveal the building's secrets and tell the story
of how British architecture and construction developed over 1,000 years.
The Lloyd's Building is home
to the world's most famous insurance market.
It takes its name from Edward Lloyd
who founded a coffee shop about half a mile or so from here in 1688.
It's a long journey from mere coffee house to global institution,
but today this bastion of history and tradition
is housed in the most futuristic-looking of buildings.
Like a giant machine looming over the City of London.
In order to explore the world of modern high-tech architecture,
I'm going to climb up this mammoth structure.
I'll be bouncing off the walls to get a unique view
of the building's futuristic design.
Look at that. What a view! That's amazing.
Getting up close and personal with the sanitation system.
I'm cuddling a sewage pipe.
Oh! Oh, it's the toilets. Yeah.
And abseiling 236ft down the building's colossal atrium.
As ever, I'll be joined by one of Britain's best climbers, Lucy Creamer.
And a team of riggers, an intrepid cameraman, Ian Burton,
on my quest to discover the secrets behind
one of London's most striking and controversial buildings.
At the end of the 17th century, London recovered from its Great Fire
as a hub for maritime commerce.
With that came an increasing need for ship insurance.
Lloyd's Coffee House became a popular meeting place
for sailors, merchants and ship owners to discuss insurance deals.
Over 300 years later,
Lloyd's of London has grown into the most established insurance market in the world.
In 1978, Lloyd's of London found their old headquarters
here on Lime Street cramped and outdated.
So they sought consultancy advice from six architectural practices
on what their best options might be.
The people who came forward most strongly were headed by Richard Rogers,
but Lloyd's were concerned about taking Rogers on,
because he'd only recently finished the Centre Georges Pompidou
in the middle of Paris,
a brightly coloured and avant garde building.
Is that the kind of style they really wanted?
But they took a risk and the result was this.
Britain's most dynamic and controversial building of the age.
Construction on the foundations started in 1980.
The building would provide some 600,000 square feet of office space.
And it was to become something of a modern landmark in the city.
Now this isn't like any other building we've climbed. It's not.
I feel like we're in some sort of Pink Floyd video or something from the Seventies.
It is more like a machine than a building. Yeah, it is.
Isn't it? Yeah. Like some giant piece of equipment.
Or something from War Of The Worlds. Yeah. I know exactly...
You can imagine it getting up and walking away like a giant robot.
It's so complex looking. Legs and tentacles everywhere.
Underlying its machine-like look is a pretty ruthless logic. Right.
And I think one of our tasks
is to get to grips with why it's designed this way.
Yeah, I'm intrigued.
There's always a reason and this is celebrated as a masterpiece,
so it's got to be good. Yeah.
We've got to find out why. All right.
I'm climbing up what's known as Tower One,
which reaches a height of around 300 feet.
It's one of six towers which surround the core of the building.
One of the tower's key features is its use of steel.
I want to get a closer look at this material.
It's a totally new thing for us to see steel like this.
Wow. Isn't it? Yeah, it is.
It's like the outside of a fridge.
A giant fridge door or something.
So far, our 20th century buildings, like the Liver Building,
which was concrete frame covered in granite
and Coventry, which again was concrete but covered in stone.
Now we've got an industrial material
that has no particular belonging to a place. No.
Or any natural quality.
It's about purely machine-made.
Given that Lloyd's started out by insuring ships,
Rogers' choice of steel to clad the facade of his modern structure
is very appropriate.
It was after all the material that built some of the world's biggest ocean liners.
See those boxes stacked one above the other up there like shipping containers? Yeah?
They do look like large containers.
Well, they're all linked by this giant pipe. Yeah.
Do you know what it's for?
Erm... Rubbish bin, I've got no idea.
I'll give you a clue. I'm cuddling a sewage pipe.
Oh, no! It's the toilets! Yeah.
The Lloyd's Building is popularly known as the Inside-Out Building,
because it puts everything on display
from the staircases to the soil and ventilation pipes.
The term coined to describe this type of architecture is "high-tech".
High-tech was pioneered in Paris
in the Pompidou Centre also designed by Richard Rogers
with his then accomplice, the Italian Renzo Piano.
Putting the services on the outside
left more display space on the inside.
The same approach has been used here at Lloyd's.
It was the first time any building in Britain
had taken this radical step.
Hey, Lu, you've got a long rope.
Shall we give it a bounce
and see if we can see the whole facade of the building?
Bounce-back? Yeah. Yeah, let's do it.
Let's make the street emerge, shall we? OK.
Are you ready, Ian Burton? Are you ready, Lucy Creamer?
I'm ready. In three, two, one, it's the Lloyd's bounce.
Woo-hoo! Look at that.
Wahey! Oh, no.
I've now climbed 182ft
and I've reached the seventh floor of this massive structure.
Did you enjoy that? I did, really.
Well that's quite a height already, Lu.
I think we made a dent in that.
Yeah, well, hopefully we didn't actually make a dent in it.
Yeah, not literally. Metaphorically.
Completed in 1988,
this is the fourth building to house Lloyd's of London.
I want to find out more
about what Lloyd's wanted out of their brand new building
when it was first commissioned.
And what better way to do this than to meet the architect who designed it.
There were two criteria.
Number one was flexibility.
Lloyd's had been in four buildings in under 50 years
and every time they'd designed a building something had happened,
they grew too fast, there wasn't enough space for mechanical services.
So this was going to be the fourth.
They said "We're not in the building business,
"we want a building that will last into the next century."
The other thing is this is a market. It's a market space.
As traders we want to be able to see each other.
It has to have an atrium in the middle.
Now why are all the services on the outside of the building?
Quite a radical thing to do.
Part of the building that goes out of date quickly is the mechanical services.
The engine of the car, the ship, it breaks down before the rest does.
You remove it outside, you can get to it,
you don't have to close the building down. Work can continue.
And you don't stop people working by having builders or plumbers inside their building,
so you put all that on the outside,
so you have a juxtaposition between the service towers and the buildings.
There's a dialogue between these two.
I'm at the start of my second climb here on Tower Five
because this is where Rogers' functional inside-out design
really comes to life.
We also see here how Richard Rogers was way ahead of the game
in designing this building when it came to protecting the environment.
But the environment's not the only thing that needs saving. Slowly.
This is all a bit awkward.
It's proving a little bit tricky to get to grips with my second climb.
If I can get around here...
The point was to get you round this side to look at these pipes. They're funky pipes.
They are funky pipes. I like funky pipes.
They're like some sort of giant robot's ribs.
What they do is very clever indeed. Industrial looks off-putting.
It looks like it's energy producing but these are all energy-saving.
This building is triple-glazed. Right.
The point of the pipes is that they take out stale air
which is warmed through the triple-glazed glass. Yeah.
They pump back in fresh air
and that means that in winter the building hardly loses any heat
and in summer it keeps it at a pretty even temperature,
so it doesn't gain too much.
I want one. You do! I do!
It is a machine. It's constantly changing, working and... Breathing.
Yeah, it is. Blowing out air, breathing in air.
Yeah. It's so busy it becomes part of the dynamic environment
that these people work in.
One of the defining features of the building's exterior
is the array of 12 lifts gliding up and down all around us.
Ian, have a look over there where the lifts are.
Get a sense of the dynamism of this place. Have a look.
People on view going up and down in this building. Oh, yeah.
Beautiful. They're great, aren't they?
They're the first in Britain on the outside of the building. Right.
They are fast. Aren't they great?
They say that architecture is theatre.
As soon as you start thinking this is a machine, it's industrial.
Then you see thrilling things like that
and you think actually it's very humane
because it involves people.
It shows them the whole view of London.
It reminds them where they are.
It's quite generous in that respect.
It's got windy again.
We've reached the end of the second climb
but there's still more to discover at the top
where we can see how Rogers has once again designed this building
with the future in mind.
Amongst a ring of towers around the core of the Lloyd's Building
are several of these service towers.
They look for all the world like great shipping containers.
They're bigger than they were intended to be
because it's not just the lift services in there
and air-conditioning, but electrics too.
In 1980, only about 4% of Lloyds' staff
had new-fangled things like computers.
But Rogers and his staff knew that there was about to be an explosion
of information technology, can you imagine?
And so the scale of the services was increased
and the provision of electric cables massively improved
and this building was made fit for the future.
OK, Lu, we're off.
Let's lead the charge up the service tower.
Rogers kept these giant blue cranes at the top both as a feature,
but also because the building's designed to be modified in the future.
The highest crane sits at 312ft on top of the north-west tower.
That's where I'm headed now.
There's no better place to get a good look at the building's layout.
It also gives us a chance to take in some of the sights of the great city of London.
Well that's it, Lu.
Look at that! Wow!
That is a view of London to die for.
Hold on, Lu!
It's like being on a motorbike at 70.
"What did he say? I'm 70?"
Oh, we're being pummelled.
Here at the top we can make sense of the plan of the building.
So now we've found a shelter from the wind, it's time to draw.
On plan, it's quite a simple building really.
It's like, if you think of it as being a square doughnut. Right.
If you take the basic idea as being like this
with that atrium in the middle. Yeah.
And then around the outside, are all the offices and galleries. Yeah.
I don't know if that reminds you of anything?
Maybe that we've seen before on our many travels?
A ring with towers around the outside?
What about Caernarfon? My mind's bl... Yeah.
I did think castle.
Richard Rogers had the idea, he studied concentric castles
and thought that if you could free up the space on the inside
and then have all of the services and towers around the outside,
much as Caernarfon had those courtyards.
Or wards. And then everything was stuck in towers around the outside, similar thing.
Amazing how that concept leaps the centuries.
The Lloyd's building can be seen as Rogers' modern-day castle,
but his design was also influenced by the surrounding buildings.
One rectangular giant doughnut, that's all very well.
But there are adjacent buildings
and they had what are called rights of ancient lights. Right.
They don't want their light obscured.
Absolutely. They don't want it to be interrupted so...
The ancient right of lights nibbled away the south side
and it ended up rather more stepped. Ah!
So what you end up with then, is the tower has been more fully expressed
and the south side nibbled away
so that the southern elevation
with this great cathedral-like cliff of glass
is the result of having responded to historic buildings on the site.
It makes it much more dynamic, interesting, responsive.
And really getting a sense of how that final arrangement was arrived at... Yeah.
..Is the point I think of this little journey.
I'm now going to traverse
from the 312ft north-west tower over the atrium,
so I can get a bird's-eye view of the building's arrangement.
But I'll need to be careful along the way.
Right, well, it's not going to be the fastest zip this one,
cos obviously we don't want to crash into the crane on the other side.
But I think we're going to enjoy the views. Yeah? Yeah.
And it will help us get a real sense of the building
and how it all slots together. Well, I hope so.
You don't normally get the aerial view but that's where the plan
that the architect puts on paper normally retains its expression
as it comes through the roof.
OK, let's go, shall we?
Doctor Foyle. Ma'am?
I think you've had way too many weeks of initiation.
It's your turn to take the plunge.
You chucking me off first? Lead the way, yeah.
Are you happy with that?
OK? Right, go for it.
Now the whole thing makes sense.
That was brilliant actually.
Yeah. Wasn't that great?
Yeah. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
You've turned me into an adrenaline...
Adrenaline, what is it?
Adrenaline... A gibbering wreck?
Pretty cool view as well.
Now, have a look.
See, here's the building at full height
and the atrium sails through towards the south.
But look where it starts to step down.
Oh, yeah, I see.
See? And there are doors and gantries and walkways.
See the cranes up here are 50 metres higher than down there.
So the whole lot steps down.
Up here looking down at this striking structure,
it's hard to believe that Rogers' building
had a negative public reaction when it was first constructed.
But it wasn't the first time
this had happened to one of London's landmark buildings.
Buildings are of their time.
All good buildings are modern of their time.
We get used to it, whether it's St Paul's...
St Paul's had much worse problems being accepted by the public
than we had with this.
And we had some serious problems when this building was opened
because there was a considerable resistance outside.
Now this is seen to be
one of the pioneering examples of high-tech architecture
which you are recognised as the daddy.
What is high-tech? I never know.
I never made that statement.
I suppose this building was built at a time
when most modern buildings were glass boxes.
I think this broke down the building into components and so on
in a functional mode in response to changing needs,
but also in response, like all architecture,
we try to give rhythm, we try to give poetry,
we try to give beauty as well as function. So you marry these two.
In that sense it's no different to a Gothic or Classical building.
25 years after this was completed,
how do you look back on the building, how do you view it now?
I'm very proud of this building.
Very proud. We had a fantastic team and a great client.
If there is quality which I hope there is in this building,
it's the joining together of client, architect, technology
and the environment we set the building in.
I've explored the exterior of Rogers' landmark building
and now I want to see how his hi-tech design is engineered
to meet the needs of those who work within.
To achieve this, I'm going to abseil over 200ft down the atrium.
Oh, boy. We're in trouble, Lu.
It's a vast space, isn't it?
This is probably about as high as St Paul's all over again.
I shall face my fears straight off
and I shall not be a gibbering wreck holding on squirrel fashion.
Let's go for it. Let's try, and see what happens.
The Lloyd's Building has 130,000 square feet of glass to keep clean.
Reached using this gantry.
But I'm going to use it for something else.
The gantry is going to roll over and bring the ropes to us.
Well we haven't had that before. We haven't.
We've had to go to the ropes.
But here the ropes come to us. It's all very convenient.
But I guess in a building like this, maintenance is such an issue.
How else do you clean the inside of those giant glass windows?
Unless you've got some kind of cradle.
Now we have to make our way down through this cradle
to get to a point where we can launch ourselves off.
It reminds me of a couple of phrases that involve cradle.
One is cradle of civilisation,
when you look over the City of London, it kind of rings true.
The other is cradle to grave - I don't even want to think about that.
This, standing on a cradle like this,
there's no normal geography to me of a cradle.
I can't really figure what's firm surface and what's...
There's nowhere to stand, there's no floor.
Shall we? Shall we go over the edge?
Yes. Nice and gently.
Right then, I'll let myself off the edge.
As if I'm slipping into a warm bath.
That's quite a bath. How high is this, guys?
It's about 200 feet. 200 feet?
OK, next stop, 200 feet.
Wow. That's actually a thing of beauty.
This is where I start to enjoy it.
Now that I'm comfortably suspended in the atrium
I can take in all of its wonders.
Divided into 12 levels
with escalators going up to the fourth floor,
the atrium is the heart of Rogers' masterpiece.
Even though we're inside a modern cutting-edge building,
from this perspective it's hard to ignore
how this structure relates to the past.
Impressive space, Lu, isn't it? Yeah, awesome.
Really, really awesome in fact.
I'm getting St Paul's again.
Are you? Yeah, I'm getting that St Paul's feeling.
It's a comparable scale.
Even if it's not the round shape but it's a rectangle,
it's got exactly that dramatic vertical space
which goes beyond any practical need.
But this is like a cathedral of commerce.
That's one way of looking at it. It feels that way.
One of the most prominent features of the atrium
is the six giant concrete columns that support it.
Rogers originally intended for them to be made of steel,
but due to fire safety concerns, he had to make them out of concrete.
The final product was still modern, yet with a powerful grandeur.
It's a very Gothic feeling space too, I think.
The way in which the skeleton of the building is exposed
around a really pure form,
so you've got this rectangle of big space,
but around it are these elements of support.
Big shafts like a giant skeleton.
It's almost like they've tried to make the concrete pillars
look like kind of stone pillars that you might find in a cathedral.
They remind me of that.
I think he's made a virtue of the fact he had to use concrete.
You tend to think of concrete as being just giant elephants' legs everywhere.
It's just crude and it's rough and it's ugly,
but it's beautifully textured, this stuff.
The whole lot was poured in one go so that you get that uniformity.
That chandelier is just ridiculous!
This office is totally...
They've made it. Chandelier, pink furniture. Need comfort!
It's like a real emotional plea.
It does look a bit incongruous though.
I'm admiring this building a good deal.
You just look at every little inch of it.
Every facet is so carefully thought through.
Incredible! Modern building often suffers from the idea
that old buildings are made using craftsmanship
and modern buildings are just thrown up industrially. Yeah.
But actually, the level of care and thought
in a building of this quality is absolutely comparable.
That's amazing to lay on your back and just look at that roof.
Up here I have a unique perspective of Rogers' cathedral of commerce.
What's more, with an empty trading floor,
we're given a rare opportunity to really take in
all of this magnificent space
without the hustle and bustle of daily business.
The atrium shows us that Rogers designed a space
to accommodate constant changes in the financial market.
A central requirement in the design of this building
was to create a trading floor.
It's called the Room from the early origins of Lloyd's in a coffee house
which allowed it to expand and contract as the market suited.
So these open levels, not just the ground floor,
but one, two, three mezzanine levels all just open-plan office space
linked by those fabulous,
transparent, yellow, black and grey escalators
that link the spaces together,
so that people can freely travel between them as traders need to.
And if the market then becomes an expansive one, a growing one,
you can simply open up more floors and add the escalators as you need.
It's answering that need to make the building flexible,
which makes this design so remarkable.
Whee! Ha ha!
Oh, boy! That's quite a good one.
# He flies through the air with the greatest of ease. #
All right, I'm going.
That was a fun slow swing.
I'm almost at the end of my abseil and at the bottom,
as if marking the altar in Rogers' cathedral
is a small piece of history with a strong connection to Lloyd's past.
It's nice to get face-to-face with the Lutine Bell.
Yes, it looks quite old.
The bell is taken from a French ship called the Lutine,
which was captured by the English and it was ours till 1799. Wow!
And then the thing sunk with a gold cargo insured by Lloyd's.
Of course, "would like it back."
50 years on there is a dive on it
and they came up with the Lutine Bell.
They just found the bell?
On finding the bell a tradition began whereby
whenever there was news of a ship that hadn't returned on time,
the bell would be rung.
Once if the ship had sunk and twice if it had safely come back.
It's only used now for major international disasters like 9/11.
Asian tsunami, that kind of thing.
But the losses of ships are still recorded down there.
Look. On those giant books. They are giant books.
Fitting really for this building.
I enjoyed the Lloyd's Building,
it's a modern Gothic masterpiece with all of the spatial excitement
and the inside-out structural honesty of a medieval cathedral.
It's still fresh looking, but it's now 25 or so years old
and there's a debate being had
as to whether it should be listed and preserved,
because this modern masterpiece
is itself becoming an historic building.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Dr Jonathan Foyle, architectural historian and novice climber, scales Britain's most iconic structures, from the Normans to the present day, to reveal the buildings' secrets and tell the story of British architecture and construction's development over the last 1,000 years.
Jonathan's journey takes him to the Lloyd's Building in the heart of the City of London. Built between 1978 and 1986, it is one of the finest examples of high-tech architecture in Britain and one of the great icons of London.
Aided by top climber Lucy Creamer, Jonathan abseils over 300 feet to reveal how this ultra-modern building was inspired by a Gothic castle. He scales the iconic stainless steel exterior to reveal why it is known as the Inside-Out building, and zip-lines across a sheer drop to investigate the building's humble origins as a coffee shop. He also meets Lord Rogers, one of the greatest architects of his generation and the man behind the audacious building.