August 06, 2003

High Rise Window Stairwells

Category: Architecture

London: The Centrepoint Tower in London is one of the most beautiful high rises I've ever seen. However, it has an irritating flaw. Two of the four corners of the building are taken up by stairwells.

On a low-rise building, having stairwells near the windows is a great idea, as people can get a bit of sun while going up and down the stairs. But on a 32 story segment of a tower, no one will ever use the stairway unless the building is on fire, or they just happen to have a colleague within a floor or two.

The two stairways on Centrepoint are not only against the windows, they're in the corners, which means 64 corner offices are done without. Or, if you're feeling more democratic, 64 meeting rooms or lunch rooms with really great views are eliminated in favor of a space that will rarely if ever be utilized.

Since Centrepoint is so narrow, there may in fact be a structural reason that the stairwells weren't put in the center of the building, but I've seen this phenomenon on other, fatter buildings that could certainly have done without it!

This photo, taken at night, shows the northwest stairway more clearly.

Posted by Nick at August 6, 2003 09:30 AM | TrackBack


Reminds me of the (former) Montgomery Wards building here in Chicago, designed by the WTC's architect (I'm not coming up w/ the name off the top of my head) that placed all of the elevator shafts and hidden mechanical elements along the thick corners of the building. This eliminated corner offices reflecting the more democratic structure of the company as well as making the floorplans more versatile.

Still, I can't quite see the rationale for this feature on the Centrepoint Tower, but on the Ward's building (despite the garrish company logo adorning the top and its unfortunate location) the uninhabitable corners make it one of Chicago's more underrated designs.

Posted by: Jeremy on August 17, 2003 09:24 PM

I agree that the stairway is a waste of great corner space. Another design option is to make more corners. The 111 Huntington building in Boston has 20 corners on every floor.

Posted by: Andrew on August 21, 2003 08:01 PM

It might be a nice building, but it's hard to divorce the structure from its surroundings. (See here for some criticism.)

When the building was developed I believe the developer (or someone) did a deal with the London council of the time that gave the council the ownership of the roads on the site, in exchange for letting the building be taller than would otherwise be permitted. Something like that.

I'm not a fan myself. I'd like it a lot more if that "water feature" was replaced with a pavement and a useful public space with greenery that would make one of the most unpleasant junctions in central London a little more pleasant.

Posted by: Phil on August 28, 2003 10:02 AM

I was just doing a search on centre point in london, and found this site, I was one of the architects working on the recent refurb.
I have to admit I never liked the building untill I was involved with the project and discovered there is more to the building than meets the eye.

As a speculative 60 office development a surprising amount of thought has gone into the detailing and finishing of the building.

Posted by: rick maund on October 8, 2003 10:21 AM

So someone finally built a modern highrise and was more interested in safety and evacuating people in the event of an emergency then they were in the view. From a firefighters perspective what a refreshing change.

Posted by: Dan Cook on May 11, 2004 06:59 AM
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