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Former Ibm Pilot Head Office (Now Lynx House), City of Portsmouth

Description: Former Ibm Pilot Head Office (Now Lynx House)

Grade: II
Date Listed: 26 January 2015
Building ID: 1422502

OS Grid Reference: SU6541904816
OS Grid Coordinates: 465419, 104816
Latitude/Longitude: 50.8392, -1.0723

Locality: City of Portsmouth
County: City of Portsmouth
Postcode: PO6 3XA

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Listing Text


Office building, 1970-71 by Foster Associates; structural engineers Anthony Hunt. The interior and the Portland Stone porch has been excluded from the listing, although elements of the porch are contiguous with listed fabric.

Reason for Listing

IBM Pilot Head Office (now Lynx House), of 1970-71 by Foster Associates, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Architectural interest: a seminal later-C20 office building, built for an archetypally ‘high-tech’ client, encapsulating a flexible, highly-serviced workspace within a fully-glazed envelope; * Technical innovation: attested by the gasket glazing curtain wall; bronzed solar glass; lightweight, self-bracing steel frame, and hollow columns doubling up as cabling ducts; * Architect: an important work by one of Britain’s foremost architectural practices; * Architectural influence: both on the emerging British High-Tech movement and Foster Associates' subsequent work.


In April 1970, the US computer giant IBM commissioned Foster Associates, the practice led by the young Norman Foster, to build offices for between 750 and 1,000 key staff on a site in Cosham, Portsmouth. The accommodation was meant to be temporary, as construction was soon to begin a few hundred yards to the west on IBM's new European headquarters, designed by Arup Associates; the project's original designation as 'pilot head office' reflects this. The clients wanted an off-the-peg solution that could be erected quickly and cheaply, the sort of proprietary pre-fab they had pressed into service elsewhere; Foster made this unpromising request into an important early commission by arguing that IBM could have a bespoke building of high architectural and environmental standards for the same cost. Designed in four months by a team that included Michael Hopkins, the building was completed nine months later. The programme was accelerated by overlapping construction phases and specifying readily available components. Construction required no more specialised plant than a fork-lift truck.IBM Cosham demonstrates early thinking about flexible workspace. It contains large areas of open-plan office space set alongside other specialised functions such as a computer room and staff restaurant, within a deep-plan, single-storey volume with the service runs concealed within an overhead service void. The idea of bringing all these functions together in one simple but highly-serviced building with a single image was influenced by Foster’s 1967 competition entry for Newport High School, Gwent; Ezra Ehrenkrantz’s Californian ‘School Construction Systems Development’ (SCSD) project of the early 1960s; and Cesar Pelli and Anthony Lumsden’s design for Teledyne Labs, California. At Foster’s later single-volume buildings, such as the Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia (1977–78, Grade II*) and the Renault Distribution Centre, Swindon (1981–82, Grade II*), the ‘serviced shed’ concept is extended to other building types. At Cosham, the planned M27 motorway to the south, bringing with it noise and atmospheric pollution, necessitated a sealed, air-conditioned interior. The floor-to-roof outer glass skin, unobstructed by perimeter partitions, allowed every grade of worker an uninterrupted view out whilst, from the outside, reflecting the surrounding landscape of lawns and sheltering rows of trees. The building was initially intended to last only three or four years, but IBM were so pleased with it that it became their research building after the permanent headquarters was completed. Foster’s association with IBM was renewed in the late 1970s with the design of the installation and distribution facility at Greenford, west London (designed 1974, built 1977–80, Grade II). In 1988 the practice returned to refurbish the interiors at Cosham, recabling the services and upgrading the roof covering and air handling units. Over the years of IBM occupation more cellular space was introduced as the number of general office workers declined in favour of more specialists. Also, the restaurant relocated, the computer room expanded and a new south entrance added. The building, now known as Lynx House, is currently (2015) occupied by HM Revenue and Customs.IBM Cosham was Foster’s break-through building, and established the reputation and career of his fledgling practice. The project is described in Foster’s collected works as ‘one of the most influential buildings in the Foster oeuvre’ (Lambot 1991, 141). It was published internationally, and won several awards including the 1972 Royal Institute of British Architects Award (south region) the Structural Steel Award. Commentators admired the rigour with which Foster pursued his rather unpromising brief, as well as the clarity and elegance of the finished product – which was felt to have set new architectural standards for office building.Foster Associates was founded in 1967 by Norman [now Lord] Foster (b.1935) following the dissolution of his earlier partnership Team 4. Along with Richard Rogers, Michael Hopkins and Nicholas Grimshaw, Foster was one of the pioneers of the British High Tech movement, which aimed to bring the techniques and aesthetics of industrial design to bear on architecture. In the wake of IBM Cosham, Foster Associates won international recognition with the Willis Faber and Dumas building in Ipswich (1971–75, Grade I). The firm’s global trajectory was confirmed in 1978 when it won the commission to design the HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong (built 1979–86). Subsequent landmark projects in the UK have included the terminal building at Stansted Airport (1985–91), the Greater London Authority Building (1998–2002), and 30 St Mary Axe (aka ‘the Gherkin’, 1997–2004). Known since the 1990s as Foster + Partners, the practice is today (2015) the largest in the UK.


Office building, 1970-1 by Foster Associates; structural engineers Anthony Hunt Associates.STRUCTURE: a single storey pavilion with a steel frame and fully-glazed neoprene gasket wall, raised upon a mesh-reinforced concrete raft. The steel frame, designed in collaboration with Anthony Hunt Associates, is a grid of 600m welded-steel lattice girder beams at 2.4m centres bolted to square-section steel columns. The roof deck incorporates a servicing zone, with hollow columns doubling as cabling ducts.PLAN: the deep plan, without a courtyard, was designed to be compact and hence economical. The interior is largely a single volume capable of flexible partitioning and divided down its long side by a ‘central street’ and surrounded on three sides by a perimeter walkway. In the original layout, this divided the large office zone to the south-west from smaller specialised zones (entrance lobby, reception area, staff cafeteria, computer suite and two service cores) to the north-east. This arrangement has been partially reconfigured, retaining the central spine and office zone, but with the entrance and lobby moved to the south and the other specialised functions rearranged.EXTERIOR: the building's outward appearance is of a long, low rectangular box, entirely sheathed in 4×2m tinted glass panels. A small number of the original panels have been replaced. The latter, manufactured by Pilkington, are held in place by black neoprene gaskets fixed into aluminium box-section glazing frames. These, and the internal structure of steel columns and lattice beams (originally painted yellow-brown), are clearly visible through the glass. The full-height mullions are supported on steel angles bolted to the concrete raft. The external elevations are punctuated by pairs of doors, of tinted glass set in frames of black anodised aluminium. The main external alteration has been the addition, in the middle of the south-east elevation, of an entrance ‘portico’ with a Portland stone surround and a glass ‘pediment’; this is not of special interest. The rear wall of the porch forms part of the listed glazed wall. On the roof are mounted air-handling units, railings and CCTV cameras; the rooftop plant* and fixtures* are not included in the listing. INTERIOR: the glazed perimeter wall is the main visual focus; the regular rhythm of full-height mullions in counterpoint with the more widely-spaced steel columns. Other internal finishes, including floor surfaces*, suspended ceilings*, partitions* and furnishings*, are largely or entirely later replacements. Above the suspended ceiling is a service zone. With the exception of the structural members, the interior* is not of special interest..* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.

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