The Smithsons’ Economist Plaza renovation by DSDHA is revealed
One of London’s most beloved architectural icons, the Economist Plaza by Britain’s brutalist pioneers Alison and Peter Smithson, is being given new lease of life after a loving restoration by architects DSDHA for commercial real estate specialists Tishman Speyer
The complex – consisting of a raised open space, the 15-storey Economist Tower, the five-storey Bank Building and an eight-storey residential building – was acquired by its current owners in 2016, who immediately set out to refresh and restore it into a thriving, vital part of its London neighbourhood.
‘We tried to find a team that had the same aspirations as us’, says Tishman Speyer managing director Dan Nicholson, ‘and we found DSDHA. They were the right people for the project and understood what we were talking about. And they are also a husband-an-wife team, like the Smithsons. It felt like the right fit.’
The architects took on the challenge gladly. ‘It has been amazing to be in conversation with Alison and Peter Smithson over the years’, says DSDHA’s Deborah Saunt. ‘They didn’t see [the Economist Plaza] as a building but as a fragment of the city. We immersed ourselves in research, anything we could find and we really understood this plaza as a place of movement.’
The Economist Building now features six floors of workspace, alongside retail and other uses, and remains true to the original architects’ vision – as befits its Grade II* listed building status. DSDHA worked towards restoring the existing fabric and incorporating new elements where needed; ones that would fit within the Smithsons’ intention.
Of course everything has been updated and brought into the 21st century with appropriate insulation, double glazing and so on, explains Saunt, who stresses that this evolution felt appropriate. ‘We found a quote by the Smithsons saying that buildings should adapt over time’, she adds, pointing out that, still, everything remains in keeping with the old designs. ‘We went back to its roots.’
The careful renovation extends to the complex’s beloved plaza, which now has a new rolling art program to match. Curator Alexander Caspari is behind the artistic direction, and the schedule kicks off with an installation by Swiss Olaf Breuning, entitled ‘Heads’.
The first sneak preview of the project was launched at the same time as the London Festival of Architecture. The building will become a highlight during the annual fair, hosting events and no doubt instigating debate about Brutalism’s architectural legacy, as well as the urban and public realms.
‘Hopefully now [the Plaza] will become a place you arrange to meet, and this renovation will put it back on the map’, says Nicholson.
In honour of its authors, and to mark this new chapter in the development’s life, the complex has now been renamed Smithson Plaza.