Office, formerly head office. 1968-1974. Designed by the Building Design Partnership (BDP) for the Halifax Building Society. Ashlar York stone, brown anodised aluminium framing with brown tinted glass.
Reason for Listing
The Halifax Building, Trinity Road, Halifax, of 1968-1974 designed by Building Design Partnership (BDP) as head office for the Halifax Building Society is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: a visually striking building; its distinctiveness confidently reflecting the Society's economic supremacy in the town;
* Design: a highly intelligent design which by raising the main open-plan office floor on four enormous legs and placing the document storage system underground, enables the bulk of the building to be removed from eye level; this enables open aspects at ground-floor level, thus initiating an interaction between the building and the historic urban environment in which it stands;
* Planning: well considered planning based upon Burolandschaft principles to provide a more collaborative and humane work environment, means that the building, though no longer a head office, continues to function as a highly efficient commercial building, fulfilling its brief as high-quality office space with communications and an original automated document storage and retrieval system as an integral part of the design;
* Architects: the supreme commercial building designed by the multi-disciplinary practice by BDP, the largest of such multi-disciplinary practices which dominated the design of commercial buildings during the 1970s;
* Influence: a highly-praised development, which drew attention both here and abroad on many levels and was awarded both the RIBA Award for Architecture and the European Architectural Heritage Year Award in 1975;
* Materials: the building uses high-quality materials throughout, with a sympathetic partial interior refurbishment in the late 1990s by BDP again using high-quality materials thus having minimal impact upon the original design.
The Halifax Building Society (HBS) originated in 1853 as The Halifax Permanent Benefit Building and Investment Society. By 1913 it was the largest building society in the United Kingdom, opening offices in London in 1924 and Scotland in 1928. In 1928 it was also renamed the Halifax Building Society, following the amalgamation of the Halifax Permanent and the Halifax Equitable Building Society.
Since 1921 the Head Office had been at Permanent Buildings on Commercial Street, Halifax, and over the years the office was extended, adapted, and altered. However, by 1967, it was apparent that a new building was necessary to enable the efficient data processing and administration of the Society's business. In that year Thomas Ramsden's Stone Trough Brewery on Trinity Road was closed after its amalgamation with Leeds-based Joshua Tetley, and the site was acquired by the Society.
In 1968 the HBS President and Chief Executive, John Spalding, commissioned the interdisciplinary Building Design Partnership (BDP) to design a new headquarters' building that evoked the institution's 'strength and stability'. The requirements were for a building that would provide the best possible service for customers, through technical efficiency of services and maximum security of document storage, and allow personal efficiency through the provision of a high-quality working environment. The design brief had three main recommendations. The first was that the general office requirements should be planned using open office or burolandschaft principles, whilst the executive and directors' accommodation should be in self-contained offices. Burolandschaft (literally office landscape) was a type of office planning intended to provide a more collaborative and humane work environment. It was evolved in Germany in the 1950s and 1960s by Eberhard and Wolfgang Schnelle. Rather than the rows of regimented desks advocated by the American F W Taylor, burolandschaft disposed departments and furniture according to the flow of paperwork, information, and staff, and used organic geometry, curved screens, and potted plants, producing a casual look. The intent was to provide the greatest degree of flexibility, enabling growth and change in the general offices, whilst providing privacy and quiet for those whose work would benefit from such conditions. The second recommendation was for an automatic retrieval system for the storage of deeds and files. The system used, the 'conserv-a-trieve', was developed by the Supreme Equipment and Systems Corporation of Brooklyn, New York, and marketed in the UK by Roneo Vickers Ltd. The third recommendation was that the office should be completely air-conditioned.
The site was geometrically irregular. The building was designed to a major structural grid, which conformed to the shape of the site and the controlling dimensions of the conserve-a-trieve storage area. Overlying this was a minor grid, which allowed a rationale of building components and provided a guide to the form of minor spaces, thus enabling comprehensive use of the total area. The recommendations of the design brief were to strongly influence the final design.
The whole of the general office accommodation (approximately 50,000 sq. ft) was placed on the third floor, whose plan took up the total area of the site. This enabled a horizontal relationship of working groups or departments, rather than the splitting of larger departments on to more than one floor. Working conditions were enhanced by the panoramic views over Halifax as the neighbouring buildings, except for the adjacent Computer Building, were lower. The conserve-a-trieve storage area was situated below ground to obtain maximum security, with the enclosing sub-basement structure designed to withstand fire, explosion, or collapse of the superstructure, as well as flooding. Placing it below ground also avoided obstructing space in the occupied areas, and lightened the apparent bulk of a large building. The recreational facilities were planned in association with the staff restaurants and were intended to be accessible after normal working hours. Thus the design for the social accommodation was grouped round the main entrance hall at ground and mezzanine levels. As the area required for this accommodation was less than the total area of the site it enabled the generous provision of external covered public areas; this also provided open aspects for the smaller surrounding buildings. The third floor needed fire escape staircases at regularly spaced intervals; one was positioned at each corner, where they were accommodated within a supporting tower, which avoided a forest of supporting columns beneath the overhang of the upper floors. The large spans of the upper floors required considerable depth of horizontal structure to support them and this structural void was used to accommodate most of the air conditioning equipment at second-floor level; the toilets for the third floor were also located here. It enabled much of the distribution ducting to be accommodated out of sight and in a position where maintenance work could be carried out without disturbing staff working on the third floor. A close grid of under-floor power and telephone points was installed to assist evolving working methods. The air conditioning had a self balancing heat recovery system, which reclaimed and redistributed the heat from many sources, including the lighting. The fourth floor was more traditionally arranged, with an internally located directors' suite comprising a boardroom, meeting rooms, lounge, dining room, and overnight accommodation, all of which was connected to perimeter offices via interlocking roof gardens of reflecting pools, sculpture, fountains, planting, and seating, by landscape architects Derek Lovejoy & Partners.
High quality materials were used for the building, which showed consideration to local character and had a limited colour palette to give a total homogeneity. The base of the building, including all paving and retaining walls, the four corner supporting towers, and the central core were clad in York stone. The glazed screening used brown tinted glass, reducing glare and excessive heat, set in brown anodised aluminium framing. Internal materials were colour co-ordinated and also high quality, including orange carpeting, and textured acoustic ceilings.
The BDP Head Office was linked to the adjacent Computer Building on the west side of the building by a basement service tunnel, and a first-floor bridge link. The Computer Building was built shortly prior to the headquarters' building; the architect is unknown.
The Building Design Partnership had its roots in the industrial north west of England, founded in 1961 by George Grenfell Baines, the son of a Preston railway worker. Its main offices were originally in Manchester and Preston, where the practice occupied a disused biscuit factory, which it converted to the first burolandschaft office in the UK. BDP was an interdisciplinary practice, with Grenfell Baines integrating architects, planners, and engineers, along the Bauhaus principles of 'different professions all under one roof'. It concentrated upon designing the new post-war infrastructure of public and commercial buildings, particularly the redevelopment of towns and cities in the north. Projects included Preston Bus Station, Blackburn shopping centre, Bradford, Surrey, and Ulster University buildings, hospitals in Nottingham and Boston, the ICI Headquarters, Wilton, and Granada Studios, Manchester, amongst many others. The practice remains thriving to this day, with commissions across many sectors, both in this country and abroad.
The main contractors for the building were John Laing Construction Ltd.
The HBS Head Office was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 13 November 1974. At the time of its completion it won awards; it was awarded the RIBA Award for Architecture (1975), where Sir Hugh Casson at the Awards Ceremony praised its 'truly Victorian self-confidence', and the European Architectural Heritage Year Award (1975). The building also garnered many comments, both positive and negative. The Architects' Journal (12 June 1974) referred to it as 'A splendid yet alarming building … from a distance curiously sympathetic to the environment which gave it birth', while the Architectural Review (April 1975) stated that 'It enters into a successful dialogue with its neighbours. You value each more because of the presence of the other. A good case can be made for saying that cities get their vitality precisely from the juxtapositioning of buildings of contrasting character … the placing of the building 'on legs' succeeds beyond wildest dreams'. On the flip-side, Stephen Gardner, writing in the Observer in 1974, said 'at one stroke Halifax has received a blow from which it can never recover', while the Yorkshire Architect stated that 'By no stretch of the imagination can it be considered a development which harmonises with the existing environment …the most contentious award made so far in the Yorkshire Region'. Critical letters to the latter publication led Bill Pearson, Richard Saxon, and John Ellis, the BDP architects and engineer responsible for the project to publish a response in the Yorkshire Architect. Two main perceived faults were raised; the inappropriate visual impact on the town, and the apparent lack of ecological awareness in its reliance upon artificial lighting and air conditioning. With regard to impact they said it was a bold building for a confident client, and suspected some detractors were confusing visual judgement with antipathy to a large organisation with financial power. It was also noted that while the building made its presence known alongside the huge industrial mills and tall flats, closer to, the topography and street patterns of Halifax are such that the building is only ever partly seen. With regard to the lack of ecological awareness, they conceded that the first-generation technology was not necessarily as fuel efficient as it might have been, but saw it as a rapidly developing field which should be supported as the aim should be to optimise the internal environment in relation to the people and processes it housed, and in the context of the client's needs and resources. The commencement date and length of construction meant that the building did miss out on the newest technology, including a wider range of heat rejecting glass. The building was also published in Europe, featuring in the German design magazine Baumeister (Nov 1974).
In 1997 BDP upgraded the catering facilities and interiors in the spirit of the original building. On the ground floor a staff coffee shop for 130 employees replaced the self-service restaurant, with a restaurant for 230 employees on the mezzanine level replacing some cellular office accommodation. A double-height glass screen was added to separate the entrance area from the coffee shop.
The Halifax was demutualised in 1997, and in 2001 it merged with the Bank of Scotland, forming HBOS, subsequently becoming part of the Lloyds Banking Group in 2009. In the early C21 there were alterations to the fourth floor, precipitated by it no longer being a head office. While the suite of rooms previously forming the directors' suite remained, the boardroom was no longer used as such, becoming an informal seating area. Some of the perimeter offices and bedrooms, and the roof gardens were removed to accommodate more staff in an open-plan office. The desks are now arranged in a US-style orthogonal planning grid rather than the organic, landscaped office planning of the Burolandschaft model. The adjacent computer building was also extended; there are now also two third-floor bridge links between the two buildings.
PLAN: irregular diamond shape. Lower and upper sub-basements contain the conserve-a-trieve document storage machine. The basement has car parking, a plant room, and tunnel link to the computer building. The ground floor and mezzanine contain an entrance hall, training areas, a coffee shop, and a restaurant (the mezzanine originally contained a recreation suite, billiards room, table tennis room, and bar). The first floor contains meeting rooms and open plan office space with a bridge link to the computer building (originally it contained the post room and office space). The second floor contains the main plant room and toilets. The third floor contains an open plan general office, with two later bridge links to the adjacent computer building. The fourth floor contains the former directors' suite, now used as meeting rooms and informal seating area, and an open plan office with perimeter meeting rooms and individual offices (originally the fourth floor was the executive floor with a directors' suite of a boardroom, lounge, dining room and two committee rooms, with the rest of the floor containing interlocking roof gardens, perimeter executive and solicitors' offices, and bedrooms). The floors are connected by four staircases in corner towers, and a central core of lifts and a staircase.
EXTERIOR: the main entrance of the building is in the north-west elevation fronting onto Trinity Road. The ground, mezzanine, and first floors are deeply recessed beneath the overhanging upper floors, which are supported at each end of the elevation by a quadrilateral stair tower (two of the four corner stair towers); these both rise through the upper floors to terminate in a tower projecting above the roofline of the fourth floor. The stair towers are faced in York stone ashlar laid vertically, each with a slightly inset full-height stair window with brown anodized aluminium framing and brown glazing. The blind second floor of shuttered concrete is deeply chamfered providing a supporting base from which the third and fourth floors rise vertically on the line of the site boundary. These floors have curtain walling with brown anodized aluminium frames, opaque brown glass spandrels, and brown glazing. Set back in the centre of the roof is a taller paired lift tower faced in ashlar. At ground-floor level the open spaces beneath the upper floors are landscaped with York stone paving. Approximately mid-point, beneath the overhang, is a triangular sculpture with a low stone wall encompassing a series of angled rectangular metal pipes; these originally performed a secondary function as outlets for the low pressure CO2 gas used to protect documents in the basements in case of fire (now replaced by foam). The land falls towards the left-hand end of the elevation, which forms a sharp angle with the return elevation on Commercial Street; there is an angled corner flight of shallow steps beneath the overhang, with two smaller angled flights underneath the upper floors, leading up towards the main entrance. The recessed lower floors have a number of angled wall planes with similar curtain wall glazing. The main entrance is via two glazed revolving doors flanked by a doorway on each side.
The three other elevations are similarly treated, with a quadrilateral corner stair tower at each end, and the upper floors identical in appearance. At ground-floor level, the majority of the north-east, Commercial Street elevation, all the of the south-east, St John's Lane elevation, and part of the west, St John's Place elevation have deeply chamfered plinths counterbalancing the second-floor overhang. The plinths are faced in vertically laid York stone ashlar. Built into the plinth around the mid-point of the St John's Lane elevation is an entrance into the underground car park. Beneath the overhang of the southern corner the low walls of a triangular fountain pool remain but the feature is now dry; other sunken reflecting pools have been infilled.
INTERIOR: the main entrance opens into a double-height entrance hall leading towards the central lifts to the rear. The lifts are located in two facing lift towers, which are joined by a floor at mezzanine level overlooking the entrance hall; it has a balustrade of glass with an aluminium handrail. The lift towers are faced in square granite tiles, which replace the original mosaic tiles. Beyond the lifts is an original staircase up to the mezzanine level, with a central flight dividing into two at a half-landing, with a balustrade with glazed sides and aluminium handrails; the rear wall beside it is panelled in blond wood veneer. The double-height coffee shop remains in the place of the self-service restaurant, on the west side of the building, but the inner glazed wall separating it from the entrance hall dates from the 1997 BDP refitting, as does the reception desk. The area to the east of the entrance hall, which was initially used mainly as a locker room, has now been sub-divided into training rooms. The mezzanine floor is used as a staff restaurant, with a large seating area replacing the original recreation suite. The first and third floors retain the grid-like acoustic ceilings; the circular columns supporting the ceiling are no longer tiled with narrow vertical tiles, and the central lift towers are also retiled with granite tiles. The corner staircase towers retain the original timber veneer panelling to the external walls, with glazed and timber doors opening onto the staircase wells. The staircases have terrazzo tiling and metal square-section balustrades and handrails. The conserve-a-trieve terminal in the open plan third floor has been removed. The working area desks are modern, and the floors now have a neutral floor covering, replacing the original orange carpet used throughout the building. The fourth floor retains the directors' suite of rooms on the west side of the central lift towers. They consist of a series of octagonal rooms opening off an octagonal foyer which has fully panelled wood veneer walls incorporating flush doors and wall-mounted veneered light fixtures, and is lit by an octagonal roof lantern. On the south side is a panelled lounge with circular ceiling lights. It leads into the larger former directors' dining room, which now has mainly plastered walls, replacing the full-height windows which formerly overlooked one of the roof gardens. It has an inset raised octagonal ceiling with a candelabra in the shape of a metal snowflake with radiating circular bulbs. On the north side is an anteroom opening into the former boardroom, now used as an informal seating area. It has an inset raised circular ceiling and full-height windows overlooking a former roof garden. There are also two elongated octagonal committee rooms, with inset raised ceilings, and male and female toilets, which retain the original mosaic tiling. In the lower and upper basements the automated conserve-a-triev machine for the storage and retrieval of documents remains in daily operational use; the original control panel survives though no longer in use. The basements are fitted with strong-room security doors. Some of the columns retain the original vertical tiling.
The adjacent Computer Building is not considered of special interest.
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.