C20 Society propose heritage listing for Seifert’s Copyright House

The Twentieth Century Society has made an application to English Heritage to list a building on Berners Street saying it is among the best of architect Richard Seifert’s early works. Copyright House was constructed as a purpose built office block in the late 1950s and is a rare example of the architect’s work from this period. However, the building is under threat by its current owners Derwent London who are about to submit a planning application to demolish it.

Front of building.

Copyright House, Berners Street, designed by Richard Seifert and Partners was built between 1956 and 1958.

Derwent London purchased the building in December 2012. Fitzrovia News understands that the C20 Society had been in touch with them and had hoped that Derwent would refurbish the building and restore it to its former glory. However they later became concerned about its future.

Derwent have a formidable reputation and in March this year they announced plans to completely demolish it and two neighbouring buildings to build a new office block with shops and restaurants on the ground floors. Derwent told Fitzrovia News they were hoping Westminster council would make a decision in their favour by August this year and would begin demolition by the end of 2014 or early 2015.

Now the C20 Society, which campaigns for the conservation of the best architecture from the period, has submitted an application to English Heritage to have the building listed.

In a statement to Fitzrovia News Clare Price, conservation adviser, said:

“The Twentieth Century Society has proposed that the Former Copyright House, 29-33 Berners Street, London W1 be added to the statutory list as one of R. Seifert and Partners’ best earlier works.”

Price says Copyright House is a significant building as it is a rare example of Seifert’s early Latin American influences.

“Seifert is becoming increasingly recognised as a significant architect of the post-war period. Many examples of this prolific architect’s early work have been demolished in recent years, and this example shows the beginnings of the firm’s venture into more flamboyant styling with its distinctive pierced undulating roof feature. It was the first building to hint at the South American influence of Felix Candela and Oscar Neimeyer .

“The projecting canopy at high level is a distinctive 1950s feature which Pevsner characterises as ‘a playful undulating pierced roof canopy in the Festival spirit’,” she says.

The C20 Society question the need to demolish it and would like to see it refurbished.

“The site is a tight urban setting and followed the existing street patterns and building lines, it is hard to see how any replacement could offer any advantage in plot coverage or manage to significantly increase lettable floorspace.

“The Society believes that there is ample scope for the sympathetic refurbishment of this distinctive building. Its loss will only diminish Fitzrovia, not providing any demonstrable benefit through its demise,” says Price.

The application to list the building was welcomed by Fitzrovia’s longest running campaign group, the Charlotte Street Association. Last week its members agreed to support the C20 Society’s application to English Heritage.

Local resident and landscape architecture critic Tim Waterman also welcomed the application to list the building. He told Fitzrovia News that the building is an important part of Fitzrovia’s built environment.

“Fitzrovia is distinguished by a mix of buildings that have come to be cherished primarily because of their contribution to the lively but consistent scale and texture of its streets. Buildings of many eras, often designed with the élan and exuberance suited to a central location, provide both a record of each era’s aspirational aesthetics and a comforting assurance of continuity. Fitzrovia is one of the finest examples available that the city is a collective work of human endeavour over time,” says Waterman.

“Richard Seifert’s Copyright House, businesslike and muscular but with a touch of whimsy in its undulating canopy, is an important part of this cumulative work. Both its interiors and its exterior should be restored and maintained in this spirit. In particular its adjacency to the similarly important Sanderson building and other fine examples of contextual modernism in the area militate for its preservation as part of a local ensemble of twentieth century architecture.

“Sensitive restorations of other twentieth century buildings in Fitzrovia have helped maintain the area’s distinctive character. Development in an important area such as Fitzrovia should not fail to consider the contributions of twentieth century buildings and landscapes to its character and its value,” says Waterman.

Derwent are shortly expected to submit their planning application to Westminster City Council for the redevelopment of site. If English Heritage approve the application for listing a decision will then have to be taken by the government before the building gains protected status. It is likely Westminster City Council would delay any decision on the planning application if a government decision is pending.

We contacted Derwent London for a response but they declined to comment.

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