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Cemex House, Formerly Rmc House, Runnymede

Description: Cemex House, Formerly Rmc House

Grade: II*
Date Listed: 10 July 2014
Building ID: 1420102

OS Grid Reference: TQ0297668821
OS Grid Coordinates: 502973, 168834
Latitude/Longitude: 51.4092, -0.5208

Locality: Runnymede
Local Authority: Runnymede Borough Council
County: Surrey
Postcode: TW20 8TD

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Listing Text


Headquarters building, designed from 1986 and built in 1988-89 to designs by Edward Cullinan Architects (ECA). Structural engineers, YRM Anthony Hunt Associates; Services engineers, Max Fordham Associates; landscape architects, Derek Lovejoy Partnership.

The complex adjoins the early-C19 Meadlake House and the Grange, of c.1890. These structures, while of lesser intrinsic interest, play a significant role in the overall composition of Cemex House, and are therefore included in the listing. Eastley End House is already listed at Grade II and the subject of a separate List entry (NHLE 1028928).

Minor structures in the grounds of Cemex House, such as the Lodge and the corrugated-iron outbuilding east of the Grange, are not of special interest and are excluded from the listing. The 2001 infilling of the loading bay of Cemex House is not of special interest and is also excluded from the listing.

Reason for Listing

Cemex House of 1988-89 by Edward Cullinan Architects is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Architect: a key work by Edward Cullinan Architects, a seminal British architectural practice with several listed buildings to its name, including two at Grade II*;
* Ensemble planning: an outstanding example of contextual planning on a green-belt site, weaving together new and historic elements to create a seamless and site-specific design;
* Architectural interest: an inventive and sophisticated design which brings visual richness, colour and humour to the commercial office, using a contrasting palette of materials and a uniformly high quality of finish. The former owners use of their own RMC materials in the fabric of the architecture is also of interest;
* Integrated landscape: an exceptionally accomplished and richly-detailed landscape design combining courtyards and rooftop gardens;
* Innovative design: a successful and influential example of low-energy sustainable design;
* Interiors: innovations in the design of the work spaces include a move from deep to shallow floor plates, local environmental controls and user comfort. The former swimming pool area is a striking space with an intricate top-lit ceiling and views to the lake beyond;
* Influence: a renowned design whose influence can be determined on several late C20 commercial offices;
* Commercial history: a prestigious purpose-built international base for RMC, then a leading supplier of building materials. The company introduced ready-mixed concrete to Britain and was a key player in the aggregates industry;
* Group value: the Grade II listed Eastley End House is carefully integrated into Cullinan’s scheme and forms a strong visual and contextual interrelationship.


The present site corresponds to the grounds of the Grade II-listed Eastley End House, a late C18 house described at auction in 1800 as a ‘modern-built Brick Villa [with] Coach-house for 3 carriages, and Stabling for 11 horses’. The stable block, today known as Meadlake House, is of probable early C19 origin. The Grange, originally named Thorpe End, was built c.1890 for J.C. Fraser on the site of the neighbouring Cuckoo Farm. The Grange was acquired by Ready Mixed Concrete Ltd (RMC) in 1968 as a result of its acquisition of Hall and Ham River, an aggregates supplier which operated several gravel pits in the vicinity. The Grange was converted to serve as RMC’s technical and training centre, and was soon joined by a cluster of prefabricated buildings.

Ready-mixed concrete, an ‘instant’ product which did not require mixing on site, was first developed on a commercial basis in the United States in the early C20. The technology came to the UK when the Danish civil engineer Kjeld Ammentorp founded Ready Mixed Concrete Ltd in 1930 in Bedfont. RMC was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1962 and John Camden, an important figure in the firm’s global expansion, took over as chief executive in 1965. A strategy of diversification included the redevelopment of the worked-out gravel pits next to Eastley End House as the Thorpe Park theme park, which opened in 1979 and remains a popular visitor attraction. The development involved extensive landscaping including the creation of Manor Lake to the south of RMC House through the successive excavation and infilling of several gravel pits. RMC purchased Eastley End House in 1984 with a view to its conversion and extension as an international headquarters.

After turning down a traditional design commissioned from another practice, RMC approached (Sir) William Whitfield to suggest a number of suitable firms, among them Edward Cullinan Architects (ECA). Cullinan recalls sketching out his proposal at the initial interview with John Camden. ECA’s detailed design, published in the Architectural Review in January 1986, was refused planning permission by Runnymede Borough Council on policy grounds, chiefly relating to the greenbelt status of the site. RMC appealed against the decision, and after a public enquiry in September 1986 full planning permission was granted subject to minor alterations. Construction commenced in January 1988, completing in December 1989; RMC occupied the building in January 1990. The total cost of the project was £16.5m (the equivalent cost in 2014 is around £31m).

Within a decade, RMC’s requirements had changed. Group training facilities had been replaced by computer-based courses at regional offices, the concrete testing laboratory and storerooms had become redundant, and staff numbers needed to double. In 2001 Aukett Europe reordered the entrance/amenity area of RMC House and Meadlake House. This work included the remodelling of the reception area, the enclosure of the swimming pool and the relocation of the staff restaurant to Meadlake House. The former loading bay was infilled with white cladding, the design of which matches Cullinan’s exteriors. In 2004-05 RMC was acquired by Cemex, the Mexican cement producer. Cemex removed most of the cellular partitions to open up workspaces and floored over the indoor swimming pool c.2006. Since then staff numbers have been reduced as elements of the business were relocated.

Edward (‘Ted’) Cullinan was born in London in 1931 and studied at the Cambridge School of Architecture, going onto the Architectural Association in 1954. In 1956 he won a fellowship to the University of California, Berkeley, where he was influenced by the American Arts and Crafts tradition of Greene & Greene and Frank Lloyd Wright (whom he met), and the Californian houses of Richard Neutra and Rudolf Schindler. On his return, Cullinan spent several years in Denys Lasdun’s architectural practice, working on Christ's College, Cambridge, and the University of East Anglia. At the same time he designed and largely self-built his own house in Camden Mews, London (1962-5, listed Grade II*). Edward Cullinan Architects was established as an employee-owned co-operative in 1965 (it was renamed Cullinan Studio in 2012 but continues to operate on this basis). The first projects were a series of houses for friends and family which included the Garrett House, Eltham (1966, Grade II); the Knox House, Maltings Chase, Suffolk (1967-8, Grade II) and the Law House, Beacon Hill, West Sussex (1966-68, Grade II).

ECA’s varied output includes an important sequence of ‘green field’ conference or training centres, often incorporating historic buildings and sites. They include Minster Lovell Conference and Study Centre, Oxford (1967-74); the residential wing of the Olivetti Training Centre, Haslemere, Surrey (1971-72, Grade II*); and Uplands Conference Centre, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire (1982-84). Later works include the Fountains Abbey Visitor Centre (1987–92); the Archaeolink Visitor Centre, Aberdeenshire, (1994–97); the Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge University (1995–2000); The Centre for Mathematical Sciences, Cambridge University (1996-2003); Docklands Campus of the University of East London (1996-99); the Weald and Downland Gridshell, Sussex (1997–2002); and the Newcastle Maggie’s Centre (2010-13). Cullinan received the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 2008.


Corporate headquarters complex, designed from 1986 and built in 1988-89 to designs by Edward Cullinan Architects (ECA). Structural engineers, YRM Anthony Hunt Associates; Services engineers, Max Fordham Associates; landscape architects, Derek Lovejoy Partnership.

MATERIALS: reinforced concrete frame, cast in-situ from RMC concrete; internally fair-faced and painted white, externally clad with white vitreous enamel fascias. The cylindrical columns are of pre-cast concrete, and incorporate rebates for internal partitions. They are located on a 6×6m structural grid. Much of the external detailing, including columns, Vierendeel trusses (ladder-like frames without diagonal members), rainwater goods, stairs, handrails, seating and ventilation shafts are of white-painted steel. White powder-coated aluminium frames to double-glazed windows.

The roof construction is built up from the concrete roof slab, with layers of polystyrene insulation, asphalt, topsoil and gravel incorporating drainage and irrigation systems. The roof garden additionally incorporates precast concrete, pebbles, paving slabs, brick retaining walls, glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) planting boxes, steel and oak seating and glass block rooflights. The outer walls of the complex, and the elements adjoining Eastley End House, Meadlake House and the Grange are faced in handmade brick, reflecting the prominence of this material in Thorpe. A variety of materials and planting are employed in the courtyard surfaces and the surrounding hard and soft landscaping (see EXTERIOR below).

LAYOUT AND PLAN: RMC House is an extensive and continuous complex of low-rise buildings and landscaped spaces. The overall layout is informal and asymmetrical, yet incorporates symmetrical and formal elements. Axial planning and long views play a role in orientation and establish visual connections between constituent parts. The complex is planned around three retained buildings. Eastley End House to the north became the directors’ suite and boardroom. The trainee accommodation was originally based in Meadlake House to the west (later converted to the staff restaurant with offices above). Meadlake House, the former stable block, is a two-storey, nine bay structure of red brick and tile. Staff training functions were accommodated in the Grange, a villa of c.1890. This is a two-storeyed building in the idiom of R. Norman Shaw, combining red brick, tile hanging on the upper floor and half timbered gables. Its plan is informal and includes an annexe to the north.

The buildings of 1988-89 are largely single-storey with a continuous roof garden, with landscaping by the Derek Lovejoy Partnership. Two-storey or higher elements of the complex read as pavilions in a formal garden. The office accommodation is arranged into a series of linear spines, disposed around three landscaped courtyards. Meadlake Court adjoins and is aligned with Meadlake House, the opposite end has tapering sides, reflecting an existing boundary. Eastley End Court is symmetrical about its axis with Eastley End House and the circular entrance court to the south. The intervening Fern Court is a narrow space which lights two strips of offices. A central axial route connects the brick additions to Eastley End House with the main office spine and amenity and reception areas to the south. A series of external stairs provides an external route between the courts and roof gardens. Another cross axis links the main entrance, reception area, former swimming pool (now floored over) and access to the lake inlet. A route to the Grange peels off to the south.

EXTERIOR: the various parts of the complex, and the architectural aesthetic of the whole, are articulated through a palette of contrasting materials, colours and textures. This comprises the white, reflective and smooth surfaces of steel and glass defining the courtyard walls and the edges of the roof garden; the solid, orange-red brick walls of the outward-facing walls, boundary walls and extensions to retained buildings; and the verdant landscaping of the courts and roof gardens. The integral landscaping was intended by the architects to read as a continuous formal garden scheme when overlooked from Eastley End House and surrounding areas such as St Anne’s Hill. Notwithstanding, the planned vistas and ease of circulation between the courtyards and roofs is consistent with a multi-level composition.

The courtyard elevations are light, intricate and layered. Structural bays are defined by concrete columns with vitreous enamel casing. The intervening full-height glazing units combine wide sliding doors with narrow casement windows. The cantilevered planting boxes of the roof garden form a broad overhanging fascia, helping to shade the offices below. They are overlain by Vierendeel trusses, spanning two bays and bearing onto slender tubular steel stanchions with jowled heads and tall concrete bases. External stairs ascend from each courtyard to the adjacent roof garden. These are described by ECA as ‘mounting block stairs’: a steel open stair with balustrade and wooden handrail, descending to a stepped, tiled base with a curved end. Variants include two diagonal flights converging at the stairhead (Meadlake Court) and a double return stair, with diagonal flights converging at a half landing (Eastley End Court).

Each courtyard has a different landscape treatment although consistent details can be identified. A tiled margin incorporating a drainage channel runs alongside the buildings. Beyond lies a broad gravel footpath (gravel being a key element of RMC’s operations), shrubs and herbaceous borders and a central lawn. Eastley End Court incorporates a formal pool edged with York stone paving. Meadlake Court features a symmetrical design of borders, gravel beds and a raised circular pool which responds to the geometry of the surrounding buildings. To the south is a mature walnut tree. The narrow Fern Court is surfaced with cream tiles to reflect light into the offices, and incorporates fern beds and a grey granite-lined water rill, which leads from a bubble fountain to a diamond pool which frames the staircase.

A formal garden of around 4500m² in area occupies the entirety of the flat-roofed, single-storey buildings. Circulation is around the perimeter, defined by overhanging rectangular planters for clipped yew hedges and holly topiary standards in cylindrical planters. The hedges conceal safety handrails and an irrigation system. Built-in seating and white metal handrails indicate the corners of the courtyards. The perimeters are detailed with a white vitreous enamel fascia to the parapet, a pebble margin and concrete paving slabs. The lawns are bordered with granite edging and brick coping defines raised beds. The roof garden is mainly laid to lawn with hardy borders of juniper, cotoneaster and pyracantha to create a sheltered microclimate. A linear strip of ‘Luxcrete’ glass blocks lights the central office spine below.

The roof garden incorporates a series of follies, gazebos and pavilions. The roof-mounted air handling units are masked by large pergolas covered with wisteria vines. The metal extract vents take the form of giant chess pieces, painted white or red, in a reference to Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking-Glass’. To the south, splayed steps with broad walls lead to a lakeside belvedere. This is diamond in plan with a tiled chessboard pattern. Its gabled gazebo is ECA’s homage to Joldwynds, Philip Webb’s long-demolished house in Surrey. The diverging walls are a trick of perspective: when viewed from below they appear parallel, exaggerating the apparent distance of the belvedere. At the centre of the two principal axes lies a two-storey entrance pavilion, dubbed by its designers the ‘Villa Rotunda’ after the Palladian villa of that name. This originally contained the executive dining rooms (now offices). Its upper floor rises above the roof garden with four double-height spaces flanking a cruciform ‘crossing’. A continuous ribbon window separates its red brick walls and a virtually flat roof with broad eaves.

The design of extensions to the retained buildings acknowledges their individual architectural idioms. To the west of Eastley End House, a bow-fronted addition originally housed the directors’ dining room. Of red brick in a Georgian idiom, it features six-over-sash sashes with gauged brick voussoirs and a dentilled and panelled parapet. A linking section with multi-paned French windows and a veranda leads to Eastley End House. Meadlake House is adjoined by brick and tile cross wings, which complete a U plan. Dovecote-like square corner towers and square end pavilions with tall dormers are connected by a link block whose pitched roof is lifted clear of high brick walls on a slender steel frame and ribbon window.

The outer edges of the complex are treated as ‘inhabited walls’, taking their cue from the historic boundary walls of Eastley End House. They are of red brick with a dentilled parapet, small square windows, and rainwater goods cast with the inscription ‘RMC 1990’. To the west, the boundary walls include a steel ramp and walkway bridge over the lake inlet, the latter partially concealed by brick arches. The curvilinear external walls to the east recall traditional ‘crinkle crankle’ boundary walls. The circular entrance court incorporates a central fountain and curved and pierced screen walls.

INTERIOR: the workspaces were originally planned with cellular offices at the perimeters at the client’s request. Administrative staff were located along a open-plan spine which doubled as a circulation route. The offices were converted to entirely open-plan spaces in the early C21. The work spaces incorporate fair-faced, white-painted concrete columns, beams and ceilings and carpeted raised-access floors. The fully-glazed exterior walls provide natural lighting, supplemented by fluorescent lighting. The deepest parts receive top light from glass blocks set into the roof, now concealed by translucent panels.

The reception hall originally flanked four double-height spaces: pairs of squash courts and staff dining rooms. The semi-open swimming pool and kitchen and storerooms lay beyond. The reception and amenity areas were remodelled in 2001 with the relocation of the staff restaurant, the flooring over of the swimming pool and the infilling of a loading bay to give additional open-plan workspace. The squash courts were converted into meeting rooms. Surviving original elements of the reception hall include the grey and black granite floor and the exposed columns, beams and ceiling. The elaborate ceiling to the former swimming pool also survives; it rises to an 8.5m diamond waffle slab, above which is a smaller, orthogonal grid of glass rooflights.

The structure and services of the building employ passive cooling techniques to achieve a ‘thermal flywheel’ effect without the need for air conditioning. The high thermal mass of the roof build-up flattens daily temperature fluctuations, absorbing daytime heat while the exposed concrete soffit radiates cool thermal storage from the previous night. The concrete floor slab also acts as a cooling element for incoming air circulated by an underfloor mechanical ventilation system. The full-height glazing units maximise daylight penetration to reduce the need for supplementary artificial lighting, while internal and external solar shading minimises solar heat gain. Openable glazing units, intended to be controlled by occupants, induce cross ventilation to the work spaces. Ground water supplied by a borehole is used to cool the air in the reception areas and to irrigate the gardens.

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