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Gun Wharf, Dock Road, Chatham

A Grade II Listed Building in River, Medway

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.389 / 51°23'20"N

Longitude: 0.5241 / 0°31'26"E

OS Eastings: 575719

OS Northings: 168578

OS Grid: TQ757685

Mapcode National: GBR PPP.TK7

Mapcode Global: VHJLV.1CF0

Entry Name: Gun Wharf, Dock Road, Chatham

Listing Date: 26 January 2015

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1422222

Location: Medway, ME4

County: Medway

Electoral Ward/Division: River

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Chatham

Traditional County: Kent

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Kent

Church of England Parish: Gillingham St Mark

Church of England Diocese: Rochester

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Summary

Gun Wharf was designed by Arup Associates and was built in 1976-8 for Lloyd's of London as their administrative headquarters. The building includes a number of surrounding hard landscape features, such as walls, paths and planters. The river wall is not part of the site.

Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the building's services and plant, and all tarmaced surfaces, are not of special interest.

Description

Gun Wharf was designed by Arup Associates and was built in 1976-8 for Lloyd's of London as their administrative headquarters.

MATERIALS: the building has a reinforced concrete frame, with external walls clad predominantly in red-brown brick. Brown ceramic tiles are used for internal flooring in circulation areas and selectively as internal and external wall coverings. External windows and doors are framed in brown anodised aluminium, and internal joinery is of light oak. The roofs are covered in grey concrete tiles, with courtyard walkways roofed in lead.

PLAN: built over five stepped levels with pitched roofs, the building has a figure-of-eight footprint around two internal courtyard gardens (a lower one on level 2 to the south, and an upper one on level 3 to the north). The site is bordered to the east by Dock Road, and to the west by the River Medway; the fall in land levels from east to west meaning that the main entrance off Dock Road opens into level 3.

The building's internal planning is rigorously informed by its square structural bays. Large open-plan spaces are punctuated by the vertical columns which mark the division between each bay, and bays can be flexibly divided and subdivided by the insertion of proprietary screens, to create new offices and meeting rooms – the smallest module achievable being a quarter bay.

The rational horizontal planning is married with more complex sectional planning which exploits the changing levels of the site, meaning that no two levels have an identical footprint. Only one stair, to the far north, links all five levels; the other five stairs, which are spread across the building, link different levels depending on their location. The lowest level of the building, level 1, is given over to plant and storage; level 2 has office space, the post room, stores, IT department, training rooms and the service yard. Level 3 contains the main reception area, the canteen, suites of meeting rooms, and office space; level four contains more office space and occupies only the north and east part of the footprint; and level 5, comprises a simple L-shaped range of offices framing the north-east corner.

The building stands within a site of approximately seven and a half acres, which includes a car park at entrance level to the south-east, and terraced gardens stepping down towards the river to the south-west. The gardens comprise lawns and borders with mixed planting of trees and shrubs. A row of poplars and hedging screens the car park to the west, and within the car park the rows of parking bays are separated by standard trees (originally hornbeam, some now replaced with field maple). There are fixed brickwork planters to the front of the building, and further areas of garden and informal planting to the north and west.

EXTERIOR: the building has a low horizontal emphasis, its composition dominated by expanses of red-brown brickwork, and deeply recessed windows set beneath overhanging eaves or within long slots, supported vertically by distinctive paired concrete mullions. Accessed from Dock Road to the east, the main entrance is central, announced by a large entrance canopy formed from two of the internal structural bays roofed in lead, and to the right a pair of tiled lift shafts around a glazed lobby providing a contrasting vertical element. At level 2 a terrace wraps around the south-west corner of the building, linking to a south-facing veranda overlooking a lawn known as the 'bowling green'. To the west the terrace terminates with steps down to river level.

INTERIOR: there is a strong aesthetic coherence to the interiors, achieved by the exposed structural columns and a consistent palette of materials and detailing. The structural columns comprise four cruciform-section concrete uprights clustered around a metal-cased service core. They support the shallow, truncated, four-sided pyramids of the ceiling; lighting and ventilation strips are arranged around the outer edge of the pyramids, and in the centre. The circulation spaces are floored in red-brown ceramic tiles laid in herringbone pattern, and internal walls are clad in light oak flush panelling or red-brown ceramic tiles. External walls have a high proportion of glazing, with heating vents and services in brown metal casings beneath. Meeting rooms and private offices are enclosed by glazed and solid light oak panels, which are designed to be easily moved in order to reconfigure the size and location of rooms. The main communal interior spaces are described in further detail below.

Reception (Level 3)
The principal entrance opens into a large reception area, beyond which a flight of stairs descends into a double-height space next to the lower courtyard garden, and a secondary entrance/exit opens out ahead towards the river. To the right of the reception area the floor level steps up to a waiting area enclosed by low-level oak and leather banquettes, and an open-well concrete cantilevered stair, which rises around four cruciform-section concrete newels; a playful reference to the building's structural make-up. Beyond this is a view through to the upper courtyard garden.

Courtyard gardens (Level 2 and 3)
Circulation space surrounds both courtyards, which are enclosed by fully glazed walls, and accessed by sliding glazed doors. The courtyards are filled with informal planting and the outer perimeter is shaded by steeply pitched lead-covered roofs, or, in the case of the double-height north side of the lower courtyard, the glazing is screened externally by brise soleil panels.

Canteen (Level 3)
The upper courtyard garden is overlooked to the north by an area that was originally a staff bar, and remains as overflow seating for the canteen and for informal meetings. It is separated from the surrounding circulation space by low tiled walls which continue to the north around the outer edge of the large sunken dining area and servery which form the canteen.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES FORMING PART OF THE LISTED BUILDING
The building survives with a high level of preservation inside and out, including two figureheads acquired by Lloyd's in 1980, which the maintenance department restored in their spare time. One of these is Jupiter or Zeus, with a pair of recumbent lions, which came from HMS Howe, launched at Chatham in 1815. This is displayed on the outside of the building, to the left of the main entrance. The other figurehead is female and her provenance is unknown. She is displayed inside the building by the lower courtyard.

The footprint of the Gun Wharf building occupies approximately one third of the total site, with the rest being occupied by the car park, service yard, terraced gardens, riverside walk, and circulation routes connecting these spaces. A number of hard landscaping features which form part of Arup Associates' original scheme define, contain, or stand within this designed landscape setting. These include:

* walls, retaining walls and fixed planters, built in brickwork to match that of the main building;
* steps, paved surfaces, and footpath boarders, laid in brick, stone, concrete slab and granite setts;
* car park lamp columns comprised of plain black metal uprights with pairs of spherical lamps;
* low level lighting to the car park and riverside walk comprised of tapering square rough-faced concrete bollards with a pyramidal top and a clear rectangular lamp on one face;
* nine cast-iron C18 cannons unearthed during construction and mounted on replication wooden carriages made by Lloyd's carpenters; these face out towards the river, seven of them on the lower lawn to the south of the building, and two of these on the level 2 terrace.

MAPPING NOTE: the scale and extent of the subsidiary features is such that mapping them accurately is difficult. For this reason, while all original hard landscaping features within the curtilage form part of the listed building, they are not individually marked on the List entry map.

History

Gun Wharf was designed by Arup Associates for Lloyd's of London as their administrative headquarters. Work began on site in 1976, and was completed in 1978. The job architects were Clarence Macdonald and Stuart Mercer.

The 1970s was a period of expansion for Lloyd's - one of the most important global insurance markets, and a foundation of the City of London's wealth. Faced with mounting central London office rents and increased staff costs, it was decided that the administrative departments should be decentralised. The search for a suitable site for the new offices began in 1970, with over one hundred sites considered before the site at Chatham was chosen as the most suitable in 1973. By March 1974 negotiations for the purchase of the site were complete, and Lloyd's had selected Arup Associates, one of the largest architectural practices in the country, to design the new building. Bovis were appointed as management contractor in summer 1975, and construction started in January the following year. Following its completion the building won a Civic Trust Award (1980) and the RIBA Architecture Award (1981).

Lloyd's move to Chatham coincided with the international oil crisis, and a time of increasing ecological concerns. It was also a time of architectural fracture following the perceived failure of Modernism. There were new imperatives for architecture, and Gun Wharf reflects the three which Arup Associates most notably addressed in its commercial work at this time: contextualism; the creation of humane spaces; and environmental management.

Gun Wharf stands on the sloping east bank of the river Medway, over-looking a sweeping bend. The site was the approximate location of the original mid-C16 royal dockyard, and remained in admiralty use as a wharf – known as the gun wharf – after the main dockyard moved to the north. Marine barracks had stood on the upper levels of the site from the C18, with various naval stores on the lower level adjacent to the river. The whole site was cleared for the construction of Gun Wharf; nevertheless it remained flanked by important historic buildings. To the immediate north is Chatham Historic Dockyard, with a quarter-mile run of C18 dockyard stores sharing Gun Wharf's aspect onto the river; to the south are the former St Mary's Church, and the early-C18 Storekeeper's House – now the Command House public house. Lloyd's were keen that their new building should respond to its important setting and, through the use of low, stepped, horizontal forms, deep red-brown bricks and grey tiled pitched roofs, Arup Associates achieved a stylish C20 reply to the adjacent C18 stores. To the south, the terraced gardens provide a soft, verdant, buffer between the building and the comparatively diminutive church and pub.

The drive to create a more humane office environment within large, open-plan, spaces was a particular concern of Arup Associates, and the firm developed in the 1960s a distinctive gridded planning system, referred to as a 'tartan' grid, which they applied to a number of their educational and commercial projects, including Gun Wharf. The grid system was first used by Arup at the Mining and Metallurgy Laboratories at Birmingham University of 1963 (listed Grade II). It was developed further on other projects, including Gateway House (now Mountbatten House) in Basingstoke (1973-6) for Wiggins Teape; and for the Central Electricity Generating Board in Bristol (1973-8). At Gun Wharf the grid is made up of 7.2m bays formed of four concrete columns supporting a truncated pyramid roof, which in turn supports the floor above. The pyramidal ceiling allows space for services above, and a vertical service duct is formed where the columns of the bays meet. The grid system not only integrates structure and servicing, but also breaks the large internal spaces down to a more human scale and allows for flexible subdivision into offices and meeting rooms with glazed panels.

The issue of sustainability was tackled at Gun Wharf in several ways. Firstly, through building permanently and solidly, in a way that was easily adaptable, so that services could be upgraded without altering the interior spaces. Other energy-saving strategies were also adopted: the need for air conditioning was reduced by having over-hanging eaves, screens, blinds, and opening windows to reduce solar gain; the need for lighting was reduced through the use of large windows and internal courtyards to minimise the depth of the plan; and lastly, the main entrance was placed on the central third level to reduce the reliance on lifts.

Arup Associates was formed in 1963 with partners Philip Dowson, Ronald Hobbs and Derek Sugden, joined in 1969 by Peter Foggo. The Partnership developed the multi-disciplinary cooperation fostered by Ove Arup's consultant engineering practice; Arup having worked closely with architects since the 1930s. They brought an analytical, developmental and collaborative ethos to the design of buildings for commerce and industry, and their best works possess a combination of rigor and design flair. Arup Associates comprised four groups of architects, structural, mechanical and electrical engineers, quantity surveyors and technicians. Each group worked on different commissions, but joint 'crits' (critiques of one another's work) ensured ideas were disseminated across the practice. Gun Wharf was the work of Group 3, the job architects being Clarence Macdonald and Stuart Mercer. In the landscaping of the grounds the architects were assisted by landscape consultant James Russell. Russell (1920-1996) was a prolific landscape designer who worked with Arup Associates on a number of their schemes, including the very important contribution he made to Gateway House in Basingstoke, Hampshire.

Lloyd's occupied the building from 1978 until 2006, after which it was bought by Medway Council as a new civic headquarters.

Reasons for Listing

Gun Wharf, built as an administrative headquarters for Lloyd's of London, 1976-8, to the designs of Arup Associates, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
*      Architectural interest: the use of traditional materials and roof-forms, married with innovative planning, architectural rigor and creative flair, combine to produce a highly successful piece of contextual modernism;
*      Quality of internal planning: a generous and humane office environment is created by large areas of glazing, the building's structural bays which break up open spaces, and the sophisticated sectional planning;
*      Quality of materials and detailing: the building, its interior, and its surrounding hard landscaping uses a limited but consistent palette of high quality, durable, materials; carefully detailed and executed with a high degree of precision and craftsmanship;
*      Structural interest: typical to Arup Associates' work of the 1960s and 70s, the building uses an ingenious engineering solution to integrate structure, services and plan, maximising the building's flexibility and long-term sustainability;
*   Use of site and quality of setting: Gun Wharf was designed and built as a complete, integrated, work of architecture, exploiting its sloping site to sit sensitively within its surroundings, and combining hard and soft landscaping to demonstrate an exemplary singleness of vision; 
*      Level of survival: the building, its interior, and the hard landscape features of the site, survive with a remarkable degree of preservation.

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