Monday, 3 January 2011

Keybridge House, South Lambeth Road, London SW8

So here we are.  Run to ground at last.  British Telecom's Keybridge House.  An interesting Observer article from 2007 rightly chastizes BT for not looking after the building but wrongly catorgorises it as an eyesore.  That Julia Barfield says much the same thing is a depressing surprise.

Now, while I know the building really needs a clean up (think how beautiful all that stainless steel will look shining brightly in the occasional sunlight), this doesn't for a minute mean that it isn't a powerful and impressive piece of architecture in its current state - which I hope comes across in the photos despite the greyness of the day.

The Observer piece helpfully labels KH as Brutalist, something that didn't immediately occur to me although it could be read this way in some important aspects (compare the image below with the Mendes da Rocha block shown in this previous post).  I think a broadening of the term might be in order though as the tower itself also has aspects of many straight down the line commercial office buildings of the time.  Does that make all high-rise commercial buildings in an urban setting part-Brutalist??







22 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post.It was really helpful to solve my confusion,

    Occupational Medicine

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  2. I had the absolute pleasure of working in Keybridge House for four months in early 2011 and I loved every minute of it.
    While it hasn't been maintained as well as it might be, I always marveled at and wondered how beautiful and space-age it must have seemed in the early seventies as you walked to the front door looking up at its gleaming stainless-steel panels and the huge rocks placed by the front door. Star Trek springs to mind.
    But the delights do not end at the front door. Once inside everything about it screams Sventies at you from the semi-grand stair case with its chrome banister to the Orange and Brown colour scheme in the loos. Not to mention the plumbing of the day which struck me as so charming and the fantastic views over London from the canteen on the fourteen floor with its ceiling to floor windows.
    The building is so much of its time I half expected the Brady Bunch to stage a performance at any moment.
    I can honestly say that I loved every minute of my time there and would love to go back again.

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  3. Sounds brilliant and makes me want to see inside. Do you think they'd entertain a guided tour?

    Just looked again at my photos but can't see those huge rocks...sure you didn't imagine them??

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  4. Thanks for your reply but none of your photos show the main pedestrian entrance on South Lambeth Road.

    To see the rocks walk through the gates and note they are double gates and the outer ones,
    black in colour and robustly built close to form a V shape with the pointed end facing
    towards the street to ensure that not even an army tank could break through.
    The taller gate directly behind it has those anti-climb contraptions on top of it.
    Security is clearly of great importance.

    Once past the gates walk along the tiled pavement and notice how beautiful the garden
    must have been when it was well maintained and the lovely seating area to the right hand side.
    Notice also on the same side how you can walk under part of the tower but the area seems
    to be only used by feral pigeons these days.

    Continue down the path and just before you get to the stainless steel and glass doors
    you will see the Rocks on either side. They are about 3 by 4 feet (which are huge rocks to me)
    and are either of sandstone or man-made, I could never figure that one out but lean towards
    man-made for the purpose.

    Now once you have seen all this you can easily imagine how Space Age it must have seemed
    to its first occupants as they walked towards the entrance. The glass, steel, rocks and the
    gleaming tower must have been an awesome sight in the morning sunshine back in the early seventies.

    As for a guided tour, I suppose you could request one but I don’t know how it would be
    received. Especially now that the building is almost empty and will soon be closed altogether.

    I hope this helps to clear up the mystery of the rocks. I’m also glad I’m not the only one
    who likes Keybridge House for what it is and at least one other person can see past the
    grime and neglect.

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  5. http://tradescant.blogspot.com/2012/07/plans-to-redevelop-keybridge-house-take.html

    There are plans afoot for my favourite building... do we need to lobby?

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  6. Redeveloping Keybridge would be a real shame, I loved working there for the first four months in 2011. Perhaps we should lobby to save this wonderful building.

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  7. hi Celia/Anon

    I think we should, if you could email me direct at brutalismandbooze@gmail.com I'll have a think about strategy (or take your suggestions) and we can take it from there?

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  8. I work for BT, and used to work in Keybridge in the late 70's and early 80's. The gates someone mentioned are because this is a pre Thames barrier building, so the original gates were solid and water tight. That's also the reason for the strange raised stairs on the Lambeth road side, and the high, and very thick walls.

    As for the huge basements etc, yes, there is a ton of underground parking, that's where in years gone by the fleets of yellow vans were parked, but now it's got lots of security cages as equipment is removed from service and then stored before being sold.

    In the 80's BT used it as a test site for several projects, for example, the first Cellnet cellular switch was in Keybridge, along with an early cell site, hence the extra security.

    Inside it was an amazing building, the views are incredible, and when I worked nights, seeing the sun come up from the tower block windows was a sight to behold.

    Sadly, there are not many photos of the inside, as this was pre cellphone camera times, and unless there was a special event the BT engineers didn't usually carry cameras.

    Amazingly, at one time, like so many BT buildings of the early 80's, there was a full licensed bar in the building, so you will often find photos of birthdays etc being celebrated.

    Now, it's a sad shell, and feels as run down inside as it looks outside. Personally I think it would make for an amazing conversion to flats, but I fear it will end up being torn down.

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  9. Guys, BT have gone in to Lambeth with a planning application to demolish the building and redevelop the site.

    Ref No: 13/03935/OUT

    Direct link may work: http://planning.lambeth.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=externalDocuments&keyVal=MSAD06BO05W00

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  10. What a shame. Saw this building in the Luther finale, and found it quite striking.

    What on earth did what was ostensibly an office building need those huge smokestacks for, though? I understand the building was made for the Post Office, is that where they incinerated the undeliverables and can't-be-bothered-to-deliverables? ;-)

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  11. My father, Geoffrey Mills, the architect, whose funeral is today, told us that there were 5 floors of refrigeration equipment underground, to cool the largely electro-mechanical equipment involved in the nationwide telex switching Keybridge House was originally built to undertake. Perhaps the ''smokestacks'' were in fact the heat exhausts from the refrigeration? I can ask his remaining colleagues today.... It was Tony Benn, whose funeral is also today, who as Postmaster General, visited our house when my father's practice got the job. I was most uncharacteristically shouted at by my father, a kind and gentle man, for playing loud music upstairs while this critical visit occurred....

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  12. hi Anthony - very sorry to hear about your Dad but many thanks for getting in touch. Love the story about Tony Benn! Can you remember what loud music you were playing??

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  13. Not sure exactly, but it was a Phillips battery portable record player. Could have been the Byrds album 'Younger than Yesterday' , Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, or maybe Love, probably Da Capo rather than Forever Changes. Or some such similarly seminal stuff....
    My brother Nich and I, at least, would like to find some way of visiting and viewing the inside of this building if at all possible before it is demolished. Might you have any idea please of who we could contact to try arrange this?

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  14. Not really familiar with Love - just listening to Capo via Spotify!..Don't know if I can help with the building visit but if you send me an email via this address brutalismandbooze@gmail.com I'll see what i can do.

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  15. HI guys,
    Would you be able to let me know what films etc were filmed at the building? And did you ever get that trip?
    Many thanks
    Caroline

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  16. hi Caroline - don't know of any films featuring the building apart from the episode of Luther mentioned by gweil above. Re.the visit, i was contacted by one of the architect's sons asking if I could help organise a visit which I'd be happy to try to do but haven't had any subsequent contact from him so not sure if he's still interested. We'd have to get a move on though as consent for demolition was given by council recently despite our lobbying unfortunately!

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  17. The huge "smokestacks" were for the 6 massive Rolls Royce powered emergency generators in the basement.

    When they used to run these beasts up monthly to test them the whole building would vibrate.

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  18. As an apprentice (TTA) in the late 70's and early 80's I worked in several of the engineering departments in Keybridge House. I spent 5 years in Primex as a TO & TO(A) which was on the 2nd and 4th floor. We looked after customers equipment. Primex was an excellent place to learn datacomms in general working on all types of circuits and network management systems. It was a hands on job from cabinet work to running cables installing all different makes of multiplexers testing and commisioning and programming. It was a pro-active maintenance/repair role and I loved it. It was also the home of the International Packet Switching.......I remember working as an Apprentice in the basement where there were 2 huge diesel Generators that I believed come off battleships. The Power engineers would often power them up to make sure that they worked. A Great place to work...........And yes there of course was a great Subsidised restaurant on the top floor with great all round views.

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  19. we are in the proses of demolishing keybridge house if you need any photos just let us no.

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  20. we are also trying to move the generators there are v3 of them weighing 80 tonnes each.
    we think they was installed first and then they built around them.

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  21. hi Anon - thanks for getting in touch . Would be great to get photos of the demolition - send them over and will post them on the site.

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  22. Keybridge was also home to the Westminster District cash holding centre - were cash containers from payphones were stored before going to the Counting House. The key room was on the 12th floor as was a phonecard storeroom. In 1985/6 both these functions moved - cash boxes to Tufnell Park and Phonecards to Camelford House - next door to MI6

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