City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Notes: Richard MacCormac on Broadcasting House

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I can hardly ignore an article in today’s Guardian on the BBC’s architecture scheme, having trumpeted it in the past. I can hardly comment either, but the article is well worth a read, covering the recent exit of MacCormac Jamieson Prichard (MJP) from the Broadcasting House (where I work) scheme at the hands of the contractors, Bovis; a similar departure of David Chipperfield from the BBC Scotland project; the inertia over the White City Music Box project by Foreign Office Architects; and the tortuous details of the difficulty of conducting private-sector partnerships in public sector buildings.

I sincerely hope that MJP’s vision is realised at BH – not for the selfish reason of working there, but remembering how inspired I was by a talk on the project that Richard MacCormac gave at the Royal Academy in February 2004. I’ve been meaning to post the notes I took that night since then, but never got round to it. Now seems a good time to do it. MacCormac spoke with passion, poetry and pragmatism, talking us through slide after slide of architectural drawing, sketch and photograph, and influencing the way I’ve since thought about the organisation as well as architecture. I’m posting in the rough, un-edited form in which I took the notes, and I hope they capture some sense of the thrilling vision MacCormac has for the building.

Sir Richard MacCormac RA
Broadcasting House talk 2nd February 2004, Geological Society
(Part of Royal Academy of Arts Architecture Programme)

MacCormac Jamieson Prichard – Founded in 1972

Interested in urban design and architecture … worked with “public buildings”, in particular academe (Oxford), and in cultural field (Science Museum), transport (Southwark Jubilee Line station) …

engaged with visual artists … member of RA, Chairman of Architecture Committee etc. – “visual and plastic arts” – holistic approach …

There’s a relationship between BBC and RA – in public realm, but not part of market

Apologised for lack of jacket …

Several teams of consultants – enormously collaborative process – over 40 people within their practice alone …

* Real committment on part of BBC to this part of London – city of Westminster – important city in European sense …
* Commitment to architecture
* Iconic character of BH
* Asset to BBC (commericial aspect)
* BBC – organisation of quite brilliant people – expect environment that will excite them – keep up constant dialogue with staff of BBC – produce environment to keep and attract staff into BBC

Concept sketch – competitive process didn’t ask for enumerable detailed drawings but come up with more creative ‘sketches’ …

“Tribal organisation” – interstitial spaces at boundaries of divisions – boundaries of natural ecologies (e.g. seaside at most dramatic) – might be richest location …

interstitial spaces may be areas with most exchange of ideas i.e. recreation spaces, or re-creation …

diagram of ‘shared territory’ round back of old BH building … south of new production areas, replacing big extension … primary cross-section, all lifts focused around that space – v important potentiality … circulation isn’t just how you get from one place to another – circulation has potential to be most interactive social space in building – social/intellectual place of exchange

cross-routes – “market place”, “high street”, “forum”, “thoroughfares” – communal, sitting areas, breakout areas, coffee etc.

in period that Birt was DG, BBC had fierce internal marketplace – finally very divisive strategy – Greg wanted to bring communities together = One BBC …

Use building/circulation to create social/intellectual entity – community of broadcasters can use various buildings – (5 buildings, different divisions in each?) – with their entrances to represent their divisional areas – therefore identity within threshold spaces – can brand their own working places, off these communal thoroughfares …

acoustic independence of studios (at back – north)

thoroughfares have different cross-over points e.g. double-height space, with interlocking walkways, transparency etc. – gives you sense of where you are in building …

concave inversion of BH in middle – “privileged relationship with London” down Regent Street etc.

Thoroughfares are organised as double-height spaces, with sitting areas, with galleries running across, with “perches” on them to enable informal meeting areas … staircases on each side are big enough to enable informal meeting places on stairs – Remembers meeting with World Service: “Ah we have all our important meetings on stairs”


Branding an entrance into central production buildings …

Meeting rooms perched over double-height thoroughfares – “social core of building is very animated” …

Top floor: could be BBC Club – could be production space – interweaving with catering spaces …

Newsroom is core of building – All radio divisions, TV news, World Service

Very important symbolically

In some ways like a kind of iceberg

Resting on “incredibly complex arrangements for resilience” – can broadcast if bits are incapacitated by terrorist attack – didn’t want to go into detail on that!

Dramatic space for news

Large television studio in the basement

“Kind of underworld”, which is the great newsroom

Possibly Gaudi’s World Chapel in Barcelona

Underworld, Middle World (tapered atria), Upper World (same height as predominant height of Portland Place, view across rooftops, across Regents Park – “building describes itself to wider situation”)

Profile of BH is important part of response to its situation – in particular to spire of All Souls

Response to 2 listed buildings on site: BH (Grade 2*) and All Souls (Grade 1)

Standard commercial space i.e. 18-metre deep, but then very highly-serviced for radio production

Newsroom: geometry of transfer section – structural grid is 9-metre grid – rib vaults picks up columns of 9-metre grid … galleries around open central space – “newsgathering is an extraordinary theatre” … “this theatre becomes icon of news – becomes background to news transimission … becomes 21stC image of BBC”

Part of 1st phase if removal of curtain wall, revamp internal space of old BH (in line with conservation officer and English Heritage) …

Old BH: Labyrinth, confined scale (width of corridors, and height of ceilings) – opened up longitudinally …

Worked with painter Anthony Malnovski(sp?) – paint studio tower red vermillion – new rises going up outside of tower are dark grey – then with flashes of red

Production spaces – “Workshop environment” – quite deliberately industrial.

Reviewer of BH in 1932 – said it was a “sound factory”

Developed a palette of colours – basic derivations ..

1930 photo of Radio Theatre – “German expressionist filmset appearance” – spooky, dramatic atmosphere ..

Blitz photo – BBC staff taking refuge during war … sound recording of 2 direct hits on building, continuing to read news …

Radio Theatre – Uplit Pilasters etc. to recreate interior – “strange and wonderful”

External form of building –

The siteline between Portland Place and Hallam street is bisected by axis by Regent Street – All Souls lies exactly on central axis of Regent St. Obvious to make building react or respond to geometric fact – therefore open section of building, opening up that space, continues Regent Street … an arcade (tho not arched) – in tradition of West End arcades (Burlington etc.) … what we might get is exhibition, cafeteria, new foyer to Radio Theatre, new main entrance (waiting area looking over newsroom), kiosks, shop areas, education areas …

Make clear relationship of entrances …

Security issues throughout project i.e. have to protect newsroom as well as open it up.

Spaces in arcade inside building have potential for artworks (Modus Operandi are consultants) as well as performance etc.

Lifts and atrium glimpsed through glass …

Exciting public art programme – Vivien Lovell from Modus Operandi … archival works (e.g. William Furlong ‘Acts of Inscribing’ about sound effects store; Brian Catling, Katherine Rasp, Nick Danziger etc.)

Rachel Whiteread’s Room 101 – volumetric record of old Room 101 …

Showed concept sketch – the urban architecture of the project … yin-yang idea – if BH is great convex solid, rather masculine, object which sits at top of Regent Street in very assertive way, perhaps complement it with its negative – represents solidity of BH, but as its volume

Just as in nature, we understand a lot of natural experiences by existance of opposite without which it wouldn’t be able to be explicable (night:day, heavy:light, male:female) – in architecture, its inside:outside

Also unders:overs etc.

Convexity: Concavity – Assertiveness:receptiveness – Opacity:transparency

Follow logic of opposites enhancing each others …

20 years ago would’ve had to follow ‘style’ of Val Myer (original architecture) – eventually English Heritage and Westminster were useful …

New attic on BH? Mustn’t touch parapet of BH – didn’t want to go on up with fenestration (tho Val Myer did originally want to do this).

Attic wouldn’t touch stone – should be kind of groove … might articulate facade …

Beautiful drawings …

Fabric of BH hangs from it …

BH appears to be built off ground in Portland stone …

Glass elevation would be worked in various ways – i.e. could be penetrated – which might represent what was going on behind

Fright about glass – (being transparent, reflective etc.) … developed glass laminate with enamal print of 6cm squares with millimetres in between, on outside is glass etched with strips syncopated with enamal print inside – to protect against pollution erosion etc. – calibrated to tonality and chromatic value of portland stone (which varies enormously across building, therefore calibrated by area which touches stone)

Beautiful architectural drawing by Pete Howell

Protective layer 1200mm between it and building envelope …

Public space – real new public space for London – interface between incredible organisation and its public – world public due to huge audience of World Service …

500-600 people in the space as open air concert/theatre space – could link in with Regent St festival

Mark Pimlott – ‘World’ – marked out paved surface of longitudes/latitudes, with names of places BBC reaches around world …including fictional, like Ambridge!

During day glass will appear rather opaque (except windows) … as twilight falls and internal light increases, building goes transparent – as no production space behind concavity … can put light levels down to 350lux to 180lux (on working surfaces) – level of light behind church could go right down … reflects fact this is a night-time building … can bring it back up at dawn … “make this building into a kind of theatre”

Glass has a kind of grain to it, can change appearance extremely subtley …

Can become very strong concave surface or could dissolve and reveal this busy building …

“Supplicant convexity” – features of BH are all projects – features of our little supplicant are all recessed – axis is aligned with spire – deferential – doesn’t try to compete …

(Post Office tower part of scene in background)

Two spires – All Souls, and then supplicant radio mast on BH – could we develop third spire – an artwork under development – ‘breathing’ by Catalan artist – spire which has same geometric dimesions as All Souls – upside-down, penetrates top of building … projects beam of light a kilometre high into sky – beam of light switched on at time of news – memorial to journalists who’ve lost their lives … inverted cone …

RA person sums up: BBC recognised not just its obligation to its viewers, listeners, neighbours, etc. – but that all constituencies need to have some sort of relationship to its building … extremely complex interweaving – light, structures, – relationship with other artists, sculptors etc. Relationship between architecture and institution … Has prosaic and poetic ends … Part of way in which public realm is generated … BBC does this through in aether, internet, airwaves – also through Richard MacCormac’s building at Portland Place. Architecture can also symbolise the public realm …

Broadcasting House

The Guardian: Did the Beeb bottle it?
RA Focus: Richard MacCormac’s Broadcasting House


3 responses to “Notes: Richard MacCormac on Broadcasting House”

  1. marty Avatar

    As the excellent Guardian article mentions, the book ‘Building the BBC: A Return to Form’ was available from the BBC Online Shop for only 4 quid. I ordered a copy this morning, so I can see the original vision and gauge just how bad the Beeb has blown it.
    Unfortunately it’s sold out since, but might be back in stock soon. But they might be rueing the irony of calling it A Return to Form.


  2. Dan Avatar

    Some more notes I found on my hard disk – an article by MacCormac from somewhere. I also found an image of his competition sketch referred to below:
    “The Vision of the New W1 Project
    by Sir Richard MacCormac
    of MacCormac, Jamieson, Prichard, the architectural partnership working on the W1 Project
    An empathetic setting…
    One of the principal arguments in securing planning approval for the scheme, was that the form of the redevelopment would enhance the setting of Broadcasting House and All Souls, Langham Place and terminate the view up Regent Street, arguably one of the most important vistas in London.
    The iconic Portland stone promontory of Broadcasting House facing south down Regent Street is balanced by a subordinate curved stone facade on the Egton site oriented towards the spire of the church. A tripartite conversation engages Broadcasting House, the new development and All Souls Church.
    The convexity of Broadcasting House is complemented by the concavity of a translucent façade, which creates a cyclorama around the new public space behind the church.
    A new public space…
    A new public space is created by widening Langham Street and animated by the new entrance at its apex and by the café and shop on each side.
    The public arcade, running through the centre of the site, provides a much-needed foyer for the Radio Theatre and other public facilities such as a café, exhibition area and shops. For the first time, the BBC in central London will have a public face easily accessible to all.
    The arcade is comparable in scale to the historic West End shopping arcades. This should be a stimulating destination with a variety of attractions, education facilities, multi-media spaces, shops, kiosks, cafés, exhibition and performance areas to engage visitors and BBC staff.
    Off the arcade, is the main staff entrance and visitor reception. Through this the transfer structure over the newsroom can be glimpsed.
    The new public space in Langham Street is large enough to be used as an open-air theatre, where events could be staged on special occasions such as the Regent Street Festival, and complements the Radio Theatre within Broadcasting House.
    Transparency and opacity…
    Studies are currently being undertaken with internationally renowned light artists to develop the visual potential of the glass façade at night and its relationship with the floodlighting of the spire of All Souls. Varying the relative levels of internal and external lighting at night can create dramatic variations in the transparency and opacity of the specially designed glass façade.
    Circulation in the building…
    My competition sketch suggested the idea of ‘interstitial spaces’, forming informal meeting and breakout spaces between production areas. This translated into the idea that the primary circulation space should be social space.
    Primary circulation routes at every level give access to all the production areas. This circulation is conceived as a social and intellectual marketplace with coffee points and various adjoining informal meetings areas, and spectacular views of All Souls.
    The main stairs in the centre of the building have generous landings, large enough for impromptu meetings, and overlook the circulation and breakout areas within double height volumes.
    These volumes interlock with the cafeterias, bridging Langham Street to create a spatially complex and highly transparent environment. Visual connections are achieved both vertically and horizontally and will enable staff to know where they are both within the building and in the wider context of London.
    The double-height cafeterias over Langham Street form transparent bridges between the production areas. The bustling cafeterias create an exciting social core to the building, complementing the animated public space they overlook.
    The cafeteria on the 6th floor of the bridge link enjoys a south facing view of London, overlooking All Souls Church.
    The news hub…
    At the heart of the building is the newsroom, a column-free space, surrounded by technical areas and day-lit by the 8-storey high atria above. About twice the size of the largest floor available in Television Centre, this will be the largest live newsroom in the world.
    The vaulted forms of the transfer structure articulate the space. As the backdrop to television studios, the newsroom will form part of the iconic public identity of the BBC.”


  3. alex Avatar

    thx about this
    i wanna some information about broadcstin house for exaole: floors plans and somthing like this
    i’m student in architecture major and i’m researching about this project.


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