Former Old Street Royal Mail Centre modernised to contemporary workspaces by Orms and The Great Ropemaker Partnership

Architecture and design practice Orms has transformed the former Royal Mail building at 160 Old Street, London into a contemporary office building, attracting a major new occupier which has taken 116,500 sq ft.

The 166,300 sq ft refurbishment includes 153,000sq ft of office accommodation over eleven floors. Two additional top storeys were added in the redesign and four new retail units along the Old Street frontage have created 6,780, sq ft of retail and restaurant accommodation to enliven the street frontage.

The existing 1970s office building was in need of modernising. Perceived as ‘poor quality’ and with poor energy efficiency and ageing services, it was inflexible and did not meet modern occupier needs. The unappealing single-glazed, all-brown building sat uncomfortably above an open car parking chasm – contributing nothing to street life.

The Great Ropemaker Partnership, a 50:50 joint venture partnership between Great Portland Estates plc and Ropemaker Properties Ltd (the property nominee of the BP Pension Fund) worked with Orms to add space in multiple locations around the site, making the most of the existing structural frame and creating a 65% increase in usable space.

All upper levels have access to private external terraces and three courtyard spaces transform the basement levels. These lower levels have an heroic scale because of their former use by Royal Mail vans. They are now enjoyable, dynamically-configured, open-plan working spaces. At all levels, the complex building form creates an exceptional quality of daylight and outlook.

A new single storey pavilion forms the building entrance – moved from the corner of Old Street to the quieter Bunhill Row frontage. It connects the two original, but separated, lift cores with a direct internal link into the corner retail unit.

This pavilion gives a human scale to a large building and light has been carefully manipulated to ensure that people are constantly walking towards daylight with glimpsed views through openings to the outside world. The new pavilion has an overhanging green roof and green glazed volcanic brick piers which subdivide this generous reception space into a series of linked open rooms – a metaphor for the way the building is organised.

The external architecture responds to three different urban scales. Subtle detailing of the white and dark brickwork panels creates a fusion of vertical and horizontal elements. This unites the three separate buildings into a coherent composition. It uses a range of high-quality brick (with various different sheens), glass and zinc cladding to weave a series of visually intriguing facades. The height of the Old Street facade is balanced by a double storey colonnade and a zinc-clad dormer roof with ultra-tall projecting windows to crown the elevation.

Oliver Richards, director, Orms says

“The 65% increase in area which we achieved at 160 Old Street is a practice record for an existing building. Our challenge as designers was to enjoy the building’s unique history, using the strongest ‘found’ elements and balancing these within a confident but sensitive modern architecture. Securing world-class tenants prior to completion is enormously rewarding and demonstrates how working so closely together – client and design team – can add real value.”