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Former Central Electricity Generating Board (The Pavilions), City of Bristol

Description: Former Central Electricity Generating Board (The Pavilions)

Grade: II
Date Listed: 26 January 2015
Building ID: 1416085

OS Grid Reference: ST5625869548
OS Grid Coordinates: 356252, 169544
Latitude/Longitude: 51.4232, -2.6306

Locality: City of Bristol
County: City of Bristol
Postcode: BS13 8BX

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Listing Text


Former regional headquarters of the Central Electricity Generating Board (The Pavilions) designed by Arup Associates in 1975-8.

Reason for Listing

The former regional headquarters of the Central Electricity Generating Board (The Pavilions) in Bristol built in 1975-8, designed by Arup Associates, merit listing at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: it is a good example of late 1970s commercial headquarters by Arup Associates, that has survived well, expressing the renewed interest in the design principles of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Arts and Crafts Movement amongst a number of architects at the time;* Historic interest: it is an interesting example of an environmentally friendly 'campus style' office building inspired and influenced by the Central Electricity Generating Board's own environmental design principles;* Level of innovation: its low-energy and environmentally friendly design relied on advanced design and engineering techniques;* Interior: its internal layout and bespoke fixtures and fittings are of a high quality, using interesting and good quality materials;* Group value: it forms an unusually strong and coherent entity with its designed landscape and mature planting scheme which formed an integral part of its overall design.


In 1972 the southwest regional board of the former Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) decided to consolidate some 1200 staff, scattered across 14 separate offices, into a regional headquarters. The brief for the new building included offices, laboratories, workshops, telecommunications, computer facilities and a canteen with recreational facilities. A 7.3 ha 'green field' site was found two and a half miles south west of Bristol with access from the A38. In order to sharpen the brief the CEGB commissioned a series of papers from the architect Barry Poyner of the Tavistock Institute which established the three main principles for the design: the building's visual impact on the surrounding landscape should be minimal; the building should humanise the working environment and give a sense of personal and workgroup identity within the framework of an overall community and lastly, the building should be the major modifier of the external climate through its structure, form and external enclosure, to ensure a good internal climate with the minimum use of purchased energy. To achieve this, Arup Associates were commissioned to design the building, with Nicholas Hare and Don Ferguson as the main job architects. They worked closely together with CEGBs own in-house designers and the landscape consultant Peter Swann, who in 1973 had only just established his landscape practice. Swann had worked as a landscape consultant for the CEGB on a number of their power stations and overhead power line schemes. Throughout his career, during which he worked on many hospital sites for the Wessex Regional Health Authority, Swann continued to work with Arup Associates, for example at Legal and General House, Kingswood, Surrey, which won an RIBA Regional Award in 1992. The landscape work at the new CEGB regional HQ included the creation of an 'invisible' car park, the introduction of a continuous perimeter plant box to soften the connection between the building and its landscape, extensive ground-modelling and top-soiling, elm replacement along the north east boundary, external soft landscaping, and an extensive planting scheme both outside and inside the building. A landscape management plan was finalised on completion to budget for future maintenance. Arup Associates was founded in 1963 by the Danish engineer Ove Arup (1895-1988) who was specialised in concrete construction. Arup wished to fully integrate engineering and architecture, and as a result his became one of the first practices to employ both engineers and architects. Arup Associates also specialised in the integration of structure and services and under the influence of the American architect Louis Kahn they developed the so-called tartan-grid, as used in the CEGB building. The latter’s design resulted in a large but low profile building with overhanging eaves, in a style reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work. It consisted of seven interlocking pavilions each with a central courtyard, its style later termed by Lionel Esher (‘The Broken Wave’, 1981) as ‘romantic pragmatism’. Heating, cooling and ventilation were provided through an advanced, passive environmental strategy, devised by building engineer Tony Marriot, which harnessed the effect of internal and external sources of energy and the structure itself on temperature cycles. The building was specified and detailed for a long life, with high quality materials, including hardwood Iroko for the window frames, Spanish slate for the roofs and concrete blocks containing pulverised fuel ash from the CEGB’s own power stations.The surrounding landscape had a profound influence on the design concept. At the time, the Government placed a clear responsibility on the CEGB to respect and enhance the existing natural landscapes in view of the large scale power stations being built. The CEGB took this duty very serious and were one of the first large organisations to employ their own landscape architects to achieve this. In the case of the new regional headquarters in Bedminster, the particular prominence of the chosen site was identified early and the CEGB’s own landscaping techniques developed for their power station sites were used. The site, located on a high ridge overlooking Bristol, could be viewed from four prominent locations: from Clifton, Brunel’s suspension bridge, Ashton Court and the village of Long Ashton. Detailed impact and landscape studies were carried out which confirmed the need for a sympathetic, low profile building that not only follows the contours of the existing landscape, but aimed for a complete fusion between building and landscape. A continuous double wall, set away from the perimeter glazing of the new building, provided a foreground to the building and created a visual ‘dead ground’ concealing the car park from within the building. The concealing technique, used by the CEGB at their power stations and involving the creation of extensive earth-works and embankments from excavated spoil on site, was used at the CEGB site in Bedminster in order to screen the building and the car park to its south-east and south-west. A comprehensive planting scheme drawn up by Peter Swann was used for the hedgerows, the embankments surrounding the car park, and the staff recreation areas the north-west and south-east of the building, and a semi-automatic trickle irrigation system was installed. Within the building, planted courtyards and built-in plant boxes were to be an integral part of the interior design to further strengthen the link with the surrounding landscape. It consisted of ‘internal hedges’ with single species planting, and planted features around the main circulation and reception area. In total c1300 indigenous plants were grown hydro-culturally indoors, in lightweight porous clay aggregate. All planting was supplied by Row Farm Nursery Ltd. Outline planning permission for the CEGB building and its landscaping was granted in 1973 with full approval following in June 1975. Works were completed in August 1978, and the building and its landscape were widely discussed in the architectural press at the time. In 1980 it received a Civic Trust Award and a Financial Times Commendation.


Former regional headquarters of the Central Electricity Generating Board (The Pavilions) designed by Arup Associates in 1975-8, now in use as offices.

MATERIALS: the building consisting of seven linked pavilions, has a reinforced concrete frame with timber roof trusses, concrete masonry block walling and hardwood framed windows. Its slate covered low-profile roof-scape, with deep, projecting eaves, rises into pyramidal shaped roof lanterns.

PLAN: The building is oriented south-east to north-west, and has a deep plan, using a ‘tartan grid’ to integrate services. It consists of seven square shaped, linked pavilions with central courtyards. The accommodation is organized horizontally: the ‘industrial’ areas (mostly out of use) which contained former workshops, heavy laboratories, the rig hall, and storage and plant-rooms, are below ground level (cut into the hill side), and the ‘populated’ areas with offices and communal facilities are situated above it. The dining area with roof terrace lies to the rear north-west and projects out from the hillside. Circulation is via a central ‘street’, that runs like a spine through the building, and via lifts and stairwells surrounding the central pavilion giving access to the different levels. EXTERIORS: The building has two storeys with a partial basement. Its low-profile roof-scape and full height perimeter glazing and clerestory glazing to the taller pavilions in the centre dominate the main elevations. A broad flight of steps leads to the main entrance to the south-east, flanked by the projecting pavilions to either side. The entrance has recently been brought forward by glazing in the former space under the overhanging eaves. To the rear of the building, at lower ground floor level, the dining room projects forward and is flanked to its right by the fully glazed indoor swimming pool. The north-east elevation has a concealed loading bay at basement level, opening out onto an enclosed service yard with ancillary buildings. INTERIORS: The entrance and reception area has recently been refurbished and enlarged (see above). The open plan offices are grouped around a central atrium lit from above by a pyramidal shaped skylight. To each floor the atrium is surrounded by double concrete walls serving as plant boxes, some now covered or re-clad as part of recent office refurbishments. The circulation areas in the surrounding offices have flat ceilings (formerly clad with ‘egg-crate’ panels) which in the open plan office areas rise into exposed heavy timber roof trusses to the ceiling. Each has at the centre a clerestory with the incoming natural light screened by a bespoke, fixed system of tall, vertically hanging timber panels (formerly, the skylight mentioned above, also had this system in place). The lower ground floor offices to the rear have a system of shallow ramps and steps leading to divide and organise the areas, achieved by fixed concrete stone plant boxes surviving in some areas (though no longer in use). The square courtyards containing decorative planting schemes are overlooked by the ground floor offices. The social areas to the rear incorporating the dining room, bar area and swimming pool survive remarkably intact (now out of use), with egg-crate ceilings, ramps, steps, fixed concrete plant boxes and tiling to the swimming pool areas surviving throughout. From various points within the building there are extensive views of the surrounding landscape, including Brunel’s Suspension Bridge. The former industrial areas at lower level could not be accessed.SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: There are a number of contemporary ancillary buildings and structures that formed part of the overall scheme. Constructed to match the materials of the main building, they include the double perimeter wall functioning as a screen and plant box, the steps, terraces, raised plant beds, garden walls extending north of the building (over the underground staff restaurant), a small security guard’s lodge with a pyramidal slate roof to the north east, and a flat roofed ancillary service structure to the south east, situated in the car park.

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.