Features An interview with AHMM

From a Royal Mail sorting office to a 21st Century London headquarters.

Simon Allford is co-founder and director at London-based architectural practice AHMM. The team has been responsible for a series of landmark projects since it was established in 1989, such as the Saatchi Gallery, the Barbican Centre and the recent master planning of Television Centre. AHMM has spent the last five years guiding the architectural plan for The Post Building—overseeing its re-creation from a disused Royal Mail sorting office to  a brand new, post-industrial building of epic scale and volume, which has been selected by McKinsey & Company to be their London headquarters. 

How did the original sorting office building inspire your master plan? 

When we walked around the sorting office we were inspired by what we found. The building had a volume and generosity you don’t really ever discover. We were astonished that this hadn’t been destroyed – it is something you will never be able to build again. So, the building itself is an inspiration. 

What else provided inspiration?

We thought about the Fiat factory in Turin [built in the 1920s and made famous in The Italian Job] where cars drove around up to the roof on a test track inside. We thought about the great office buildings of the 20th century such as the Seagram building in New York by Mies van der Rohe and the simplicity of the structure, the spatial order and commerce. We were also inspired by the Beinecke Library at Yale: this room within a room. We tried – in a 21st century way – to transform the way you move through a building. 

How will The Post Building regenerate this part of London?

This is an ancient and historically important part of London. The Post Building is at the heart of a new urban quarter, surrounded by a hub of key institutions, the Knowledge Quarter, UCL, the British Museum, theatre land, and the river beyond.  The east end of Oxford Street is changing dramatically. Centre Point is becoming a very high-end residential development; above Tottenham Court Road tube there will soon be a new office building, theatre and a new public park that connects to Soho Square. Crossrail will soon deliver the people to animate the streets – to revive, regenerate and refresh the area. Different people, different businesses, different sizes will all come together in that rich, creative London mix. 

What sets the building apart?

Its scale and volume.  The offices will be up to six metres tall floor to ceiling, with floorplates of one acre. Its unique and differentiating point is this scale and volume. 

How will the architecture reflect and redefine the changing face of the workplace today? What unique assets will it offer workers?

One of the benefits will be forgetting email and actually talking to someone. That’s what we’re really trying to do, to provide little incidents where you might bump into someone, or places to pause, to reflect, to leave your desk, walk away for five minutes and come back. There will be roof terraces, the staircases, the entrance lobby, the generous lift lobby: they’re all the places where you can escape to reflect and a building can facilitate that and encourage a different way of thinking about how you interact with people and how you interact with your work.

What do you hope the legacy of The Post Building will be?

The Post Building will come alive with different organisations and different people passing through it. We want to walk around three years after it’s finished and discover it’s being used in ways we hadn’t thought of, that are better than ways we thought of. My hope is that in 10, 20, 30 years’ time, this building is continuously being re-invented by those who use it. That’s what a good building is, it’s an offer for them to take onto a new level.