Forty years after the Wilton Centre was officially opened in 1975, the Centre is reflecting on what has changed, and what has not, during that period.
Originally commissioned by ICI’s Petrochemicals division as a headquarters and office and research complex for 1200 staff, the new Wilton Centre building was much heralded from the outset, something which has not changed significantly since.
The brief for the architects required a “sound functional design … with a standard of prestige fitting the size of the organisation and its place in the petrochemicals industry”.
Minutes from a meeting in 1969 to discuss the appointment of the architects may have expressed “slight reservation in respect to their apparent obsession about the use of open plan offices” and that they “might spend too long looking for perfection” but the result was an award-winning building.
Designed by the now internationally acclaimed architecture firm, BDP (Building Design Partnership), the Wilton Centre was recognised as being a “building excellent of its type making full use of a fine site” by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in its Architecture Awards in 1976 which were chaired by Sir Hugh Casson.
Wilton Centre’s site director, Steve Duffield, said that the original investment in producing a flagship building and the attention to detail that went into the building is still paying dividends 40 years on.
“It was described as a ‘courtly giant’ in an article in the Architect’s Journal in 1977, which is a reflection of the importance of the project and the quality of the building that was produced.
Steve added: “The focus on quality and investment has been retained to this day. The Centre was innovative when it was built, both in terms of its design as well as the work and research that took place here, and that hasn’t changed 40 years on either.”
A significant change that has occurred is that, whereas in 1975 everyone worked for one company, in 2015 there are over 60 tenant companies in occupation.
The Architect’s Journal noted that in 1977, “it still retains, British fashion, an elaborate hierarchy of spaces mirroring the organisational hierarchy which ensures that there is forever a great gulf between the ‘them’ in the board room and the ‘us’ at the drawing board or desk”.
Today the board rooms and former directors’ dining rooms are no more. In their place are the Lakeside Gym and the contemporary design of the Lakeside Conference rooms.
Steve added: “It is rather poignant that we have just replaced the lift in the restaurant block, which was the one originally installed when the Centre was built.
“Working practices have also changed dramatically over the past 40 years and the Centre has developed to reflect this. People who worked here in 1975 would hardly recognise some areas of the building today.
To mark the anniversary the Centre has embarked on a number of initiatives. This includes an exhibition for tenants of images illustrating ‘then’ and ‘now’ and sponsoring a bursary for a promising architecture student on Northumbria University’s MArch course.