Amid the pandemic, London mayor Sadiq Khan rolled out plans to create the largest car-free zone in any city, but the shift has been a long time coming — and that’s showcased by the redevelopment of a London icon: Centre Point.
Once a brutalist office tower, Centre Point has been reborn as luxurious apartments, complete with a two-storey penthouse with 360-degree views across the city. As astonishing as the top-floor views are, what’s happened at ground level is perhaps more significant. “I think one of the main criticisms of the building over the years was the way it hit the ground,” says Tim Bowder-Ridger, senior partner, Conran and Partners. “Tall buildings have two purposes – how they hit the sky and how they hit the ground – and while Centre Point was an iconic building in the former sense, it was flawed in the latter. It was a flawed icon.”
In 1966, when Centre Point was built, the car was king. The areas around the brutalist icon were jammed with vehicles and buses, waiting to turn on to Oxford Street or find their way across to Tottenham Court Road or Charing Cross Road. “It was built around the principle of creating a road gyratory – and that of course meant that most people’s direct experience of the building was horrific,” says Bowder-Ridger.
Cars are no longer the focus of London travel, giving way to active transport such as walking and cycling – and soon, perhaps, e-scooters. Indeed, as London closes roads to cars and opens more bike lanes and pedestrian-only zones, it’ll be easier and safer to navigate this city under your own power, be it to commute to work, drop off children at school, or explore cultural attractions – so long as you’re in a central location such as Tottenham Court Road, at least.
With that urban future in mind, after property company Almacantar began to rework the building in 2014, the road was removed and replaced with a new plaza, St Giles Square. “The idea was to create a public space for people – not for vehicles but for people,” says Bowder-Ridger. Perfectly situated between residential homes at Centre Point, shopping at Oxford Street, and offices in the surrounding streets, the new square offers an opportunity for residents and visitors to take a moment out of their busy lives and reconnect with the local area. The square acts as a pedestrian-friendly shortcut from Tottenham Court Road to Covent Garden and Seven Dials, linking that famous district full of pubs and shops with Soho, Oxford Street and beyond.
Indeed, the aim was to make it easier to navigate the area, but also to encourage passersby to look up and engage with Centre Point at ground level — rather than keep heads on the road avoiding traffic. “Pedestrian movement in the area has always been a big problem, because of all the buses and roads, which made it hard to access the building or even feel safe enough to pause and look up and appreciate it,” says Kathrin Hersel, property director at Almacantar. “Instead, we wanted to create a square – a meeting point for people with places for them to sit and relax.”
And more people will need a meeting point. London’s transport network is expanding, and Tottenham Court Road is one of a handful of spots in the centre of the city to be served by Crossrail, more formally known as the Elizabeth Line. The first new underground rail service across the city in more than 30 years, Crossrail will reach Heathrow Airport in 28 minutes and Canary Wharf in 12 minutes from here — much faster than any car, regardless of traffic. “As a resident at Centre Point you only have to walk about ten yards from the Crossrail station to your own front door,” says Bowder-Ridger.
But you need not step foot on public transport to explore the city from this location. On foot or bike, Centre Point offers easy access to key creative districts of the city, with the British Museum and literary history of Bloomsbury a few minutes to the North West, and the evening entertainment and dining delights of Soho a quick stroll to the South East. Retail therapy abounds with the flagship stores of Covent Garden and Oxford Street moments away, while cultural destinations from the National Gallery to the theatres of the West End are within a 15-minute walk, as are more than two dozen university campuses, from the London School of Economics to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
But there’s more to London than tourist attractions and culture. It’s also one of the leafiest capitals in the world, with green space covering almost a fifth of the city. A short cycle up the new bike lanes on Tottenham Court Road, and you’ll soon be at Regents Park, home to London Zoo and peaceful canals, or head west to reach famous Hyde Park in fewer than ten minutes. A few minutes’ walk from Centre Point is leafy Russell Square, or wander south 15 minutes to reach the river, opening up strolls along the Thames as well as the picturesque South Bank.
And that’s why conversions from office buildings to residential have such power. They offer central locations previously unavailable, opening up a city for people rather than forcing them to drive to access amenities. The future of urban living is local, letting you eschew commutes for spending more time with family and where you live. By making their home in a central location, residents can get to know their own neighbourhood, uncovering local small businesses on side-streets otherwise missed speeding by in the car or bus.
That makes Centre Point an historical icon that embraces the future of people-centric urban planning, ditching cars for living locally close to everything you need and love. “Centre Point offers a very different experience for people looking to live in London,” says Bowder-Ridger.
–For more information, visit centrepointresidences.co.uk