March 30, 2018
BBC TV Studio, Home to ‘Monty Python,’ ‘Fawlty Towers,’ Converted to 4,000 Luxury Apartments and More
The Television Centre, masterplanned by local architecture firm AHMM, retains mid-century elements and introduces boutique exclusivity.
In the center of the circular courtyard which forms the inner ring of London’s Television Centre is a 10-foot-tall bronze statue. The statue depicts Helios, the sun god of Greek mythology designed to symbolize the radiation of television light around the world as part of the opening of the purpose-built BBC headquarters in 1960. As the gilded herald to the home of classic productions such as Fawlty Towers, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Absolutely Fabulous, Top of the Pops, and Doctor Who, Helios represents a certain idea of British-ness, as much as he does of television light.
Today, standing atop a fresh new base, Helios remains as the centerpiece of the spectacular courtyard, although he has new neighbors: 4,000 new homes, as well as a cinema, hotel, gym, stores, and bars.
The reincarnation of the Television Centre, which opens next month, is the result of a five-year mixed-use redevelopment project masterplanned by Paul Monaghan of local firm AHMM. It is a highly complicated combination of adaptive reuse, restoration, and a series of new buildings. Entering from the street, the complex seems welcoming—a steady incline draws visitors up via planted lawns and small public plazas between the open arms of studios to the left, and a new AHMM-designed office building, set to house fashion, technology, media, and telecom businesses, to the right.
The refurbished studios are managed by BBC Studioworks, a commercial subsidiary of the BBC and will continue to produce shows on site for British broadcasters such as ITV and Sky, as well as the BBC itself.
With its striking atrium showing board-form concrete, muscular cut-outs, and criss-crossing walkways, this new office building seems textbook AHMM, reminiscent of two recent London projects, the White Collar Factory, and its Stirling Prize-winning Burntwood School.
The public walkway continues up and through to Helios’s courtyard. Save for the addition of two floors, the original exterior features have been kept intact—a dotted mosaic pattern lines the walls, a hallmark of the site’s midcentury design pedigree. Moving inside, the cantilevered south stairway—with its finned walls, terrazzo floor, and white balustrading—is a particular highlight of the original building.
The new apartments make some allusions to the history of their surroundings: the terrazzo floor of the stairway is mimicked in the kitchen surfaces, and the midcentury Modern furnishings are supposed to be a nod to the period design of the site.
Ali Shaw, managing director of the site, argues these are “not just another show flat,” although with the ubiquity of midcentury design it’s difficult to see this as anything other than just that, especially when the starting price for a one-bedroom apartment is over a million dollars.
Shaw is similarly ebullient about the mixed-use nature of the property, claiming it’s “very different to anything else.” While the inclusion of television studios on an otherwise residential and commercial site is indeed unique (what’s not unique about living in the former headquarters of the BBC?), it seems worth questioning the point of a mixed-use site that doesn’t attract a mix of users.
The facilities on-site that aren’t office spaces or residential units include a “deli” (think cheese and wine, not pastrami sandwiches), a boutique cinema, and Soho House—an exclusive members-only club. These amenities will clearly be welcome for those who can afford the apartments at Television Centre, and perhaps some of the workers in the studios and office spaces. However, the idea that this might benefit the “whole community” seems misplaced. Television Centre is amidst one of the most mixed districts in London. Notting Hill is a stone’s throw away, as is the Grenfell Tower.
The main benefit to the area may be the opening up of the public space at the street-facing forecourt, which continues from the central courtyard through a passageway to a park on the outside of the concentric rings. Now that Helios no longer radiates solely television light across the globe, however, those iconic, concentric rings are starting to appear a little more insular.