AHMM has transformed a neoclassical fortress on London’s Embankment into an elegant, new building for New Scotland Yard and beacon for modern policing
Words by Veronica Simpson
AHMM won an open competition four years ago to turn the Forties’, neoclassical fortress on London’s Embankment designed by The Dorchester hotel’s architect, William Curtis Green, into a beacon for modern policing.
With admirable sleight of hand, the practice has done a huge amount while appearing to do very little. Two elegant, complementary extensions have been added to the original building, formerly used for forensics: a new wing to the left of the building marries modern glazing with the same stone cladding and proportions as the old building, and a substantially glazed rear extension adds a welcome splash of warmth through multicoloured brise soleil whose hues reflect the materials of the surrounding cityscape. An additional storey on the roof adds a space for meetings and corporate events — with one of the best roof-terrace views in London.
Radical work has gone on inside Curtis Green’s building, which had lain vacant since 2011. Narrow corridors and cellular offices have been stripped out and reconfigured. A central glazed lift-shaft now brings light down from the roof terrace and into the middle of the building, while new floor plans inject 21stcentury flexibility, not just in the multiple seating and working options but also in the kind of heavy-duty servicing required for a high-tech building occupied around the clock.
A new entrance, in the form of an elliptical glazed pavilion, with timber roof, allows the public to see into the foyer. Says AHMM director Paul Monaghan: ‘The brief was for transparency and a non-institutional atmosphere. The front-door experience is very different. We do have security, but it feels as light as it could be. You can get very close to the building; you could get close before, but not see inside.’
Despite state-of-the-art security, the building presents an open, civic face to the public, enhanced by paving stripes at the front, which mimic the terracotta and stone stripes on the adjacent Norman Shaw building. At night, blue lighting glows in the top-floor windows and in the entrance pavilion, updating the traditional police station ‘blue lamp’. And the iconic rotating New Scotland Yard sign has been relocated here.
Another old feature, brought into new prominence is the Eternal Flame — a Bunsen burner flame in a black box paying tribute to the police officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty. In the old building it was not visible to the public. Here it is placed outside the entrance pavilion, in its own black-tiled pool, while just inside the pavilion are two ‘books of remembrance’.
Multicoloured brise soleil on the roof terrace reference the colours of the cityscape
‘This is the corporate, open face of the headquarters, nationally and internationally,’ says Roger Harding, director of Real Estate Development and the man whose job it has been to reorganise the Met’s premises for the austerity era. Funding has been raised through selling real estate. Four years ago, says Harding, ‘We were one of the four biggest property owners in London… [with] a lot of red brick buildings in high-street locations. A lot of them were obsolete — small, cellular spaces, narrow corridors, lots of steps. Now there are nine hub buildings across London.’
The sale of the former New Scotland Yard building (to a Middle Eastern bank) raised £370m. But the relocation will save a proposed £6m a year, as well as running costs. Where the old building housed 2,500 permanent staff, this one has desk space for 550. But given its 24/7 occupancy — and the fact that many rooms will be used for lectures, meetings and seminars — the daily numbers through the door could still range between 1,000 to 2,000 people.
With AHMM’s interiors, bespoke furniture and steely greys dominate, with the odd ‘pop’ of pea green. However, there’s a lighter touch in the loos, with each floor referencing a different era in police-car design, from the Black Maria to the zingy blue and lime colouring of today. Says Monaghan: ‘We like that people realise there’s a sense of humour here, even though the job is very serious.’
Books of Remembrance sit in the new entrance pavilion, with the Eternal Flame sited behind it outside
The nature of that job has changed massively. Forensics has now moved out to a specialist hub in Lambeth. The latest innovation is digital forensics — 3D modelling used for reconstruction or speculation around crime or terrorism scenarios. Training — in Hendon — now involves sophisticated use of social media. Where this new-look HQ will probably prove invaluable is in PR and recruitment, and the drive to attract younger staff. Says Harding: ‘This building represents the past, present and future of policing in London.’