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Viacom building, London

Pamela Buxton

Farrell’s famous postmodern building has been revisioned by Jacobs Webber and given a new face for 21st century working

For more than two decades after TV-am ceased broadcasting, its iconic Terry Farrell-designed Camden headquarters remained highly recognisable as the breakfast TV station’s studios, now owned by entertainment group Viacom.

But now, although the egg cup gables remain, this link has otherwise largely been broken following an extensive reworking by architect Jacobs Webber for Viacom, whose brands include Nickelodeon and MTV. TV-am’s original Hawley Crescent facade (above), with its sunrise motifs and elaborate keystone archway, is now gone, replaced by new curtain walling and a living wall-lined courtyard. The rear is more lightly altered, with careful insertion of new and adapted Crittall windows.

When the redesign was announced, the plans were greeted with dismay by fans of the postmodern landmark who wanted to preserve the spirit of the Farrell scheme, itself a reworking of an Art Deco garage and office. But substantial change was inevitable – Viacom needed to completely reorganise its studio and office space if it wasn’t to relocate. To make the project even more challenging, transmissions from the site had to continue throughout the 18 month rebuilding programme.

‘We didn’t want to compete with Farrell’s scheme – it was such a product of its time,’says Jacobs Webber director Nic Jacobs, who felt it was more important to find a way of fitting the building into the context of the history and character of Camden’s streetscape.

This included a strategy to utilise the neighbouring Elephant House, which avoided redeveloping with a much higher building. This allowed Viacom to bring creative, admin and managerial staff from other London locations to Camden.

When Jacobs Webber started work on a new masterplan for the site, the two large studios on the windowless south facade were virtually obsolete. Viacom needed less studio space and more modern, better-lit and creatively inspiring office accommodation – tricky in a building with so few windows. Jacobs Webber decided to consolidate the large black box studios away from the Hawley Crescent facade – and incorporated a rear studio too – into two new, smaller positions excavated deep within the plan along with other technical facilities which had no need for natural light. This new technical core freed up the perimeters for naturally-lit office space, and allowed them to make far more of the pleasant canal-side location at the rear to the north. Edit suites were positioned to the east. Farrell’s exuberant internal scheme had long since disappeared by the time Jacobs Webber reworked the main atrium and introduced a second to the east.

‘When we arrived there was not much of it left, apart from the egg cups on the canal, the archway and the solid metal cladding on the street facade – and the latter didn’t fit with creating a modern office building with users and green standards in mind,’ says Jacobs.

The front and rear facades required very different approaches.  On Hawley Crescent, the architect looked very hard at ways to adapt the windowless facade with its distinctive horizontal bands of sunrise colour. But the huge steel vertical trusses supporting the 2m thick build up between the facade and the inside of the studio made it impossible to insert new windows. So in the end, the entire front third of the building was rebuilt, though keeping largely to the previous line of the building.  

Repainted and refenestrated, the north elevation is a toned-down version of its former self – but keeps the eggs.
Repainted and refenestrated, the north elevation is a toned-down version of its former self – but keeps the eggs.

Bold use of colour seemed appropriate to the building’s tv production identity and references the previous facade

In choosing the windows, the architect had to balance the desire for daylight with a need for privacy, given that the building directly borders the pavement. The solution was Technal’s MX GD visible grid curtain walling, which gives, says Jacobs, a very simple aluminium window module with a 50mm standard profile, containing double glazed vision glass beneath a pewter-coloured solid spandrel panel. The window modules are combined on the ground floor with doubled up, vertical fins that abut the frame to give both privacy and visual impact. These extruded, polyester powder coated, aluminium fins are spaced at 500mm, hung from mullion brackets and tethered into the granite upstand by aluminium bottom stubs. Grouped in batches of five, these have different colours on either side so that when viewed obliquely the facade shows graduated colour. They continue the full height of the facade at either end and around the courtyard. Such bold use of colour seemed appropriate to the building’s tv production identity where colour spectrum is continually considered, and it also, says Jacobs, references the bold use of tone and shade in the previous facade and Camden high street.

‘The fins give a lot of privacy to the ground floor. It reads as a very solid building along the street. When you approach from one side it reads as a cool spectrum, and from the other a warm one,’ says Jacobs.

‘It was very important to carry the fins across for the continuation of the streetscape,’ says Jacobs. This was maintained with mesh instead of glazing over areas of original Farrell cladding to the south west where the plant was, and over toilet blocks and stairs to the south east. 

Rear window treatment was another matter entirely, and followed extensive discussions with conservation officers due to its canalside location on the edge of a conservation area. Here, the main intent was to preserve the original facade as far as possible, given that the blue and white of the Farrell colour scheme had already been replaced by beige and brown. 

Terry Farrell’s 1983  TV-am building
Terry Farrell’s 1983 TV-am building
The original Henly’s garage and office building
The original Henly’s garage and office building

The architects worked with the original Crittall steel-framed windows of the former industrial building, renovating them and adapting the frames to incorporate steel-framed louvres at the head of the glazing. This supplies the air-conditioning system with fresh air, the units accommodated within the ceiling to avoid placing any obtrusive plant on the roof.  Ten new double-glazed Crittall windows were introduced on the ground floor where the originals had been replaced or blocked up. First floor original windows were renovated.

‘Crittall still make the same sort,’ says Jacobs. ‘The double-glazed replacements have the same profiles as the originals. These formed part of the character of the canal side so our intervention was quite minimal.’

The courtyard off Hawley Crescent was still needed for secure intake of broadcasting vehicles and equipment. Now one third smaller, its appearance has been transformed with the removal of the distinctive but increasingly dilapidated courtyard canopy and the creation of three living walls. These grow around retained original Crittall windows plus eight new Technal FX165 double-glazed windows to the east. Steel brackets support the board for the substrate of the green wall, with an integrated pipe providing irrigation from rainwater stored beneath the courtyard. Timber decking on the metal gantries will encourage its use as external break-out spaces over the courtyard.

The result, according to Viacom managing director Dave Lynn, is far more in tune with the requirements and activities of a modern, multi­national media company.


The new atrium complements the existing one, which had already been radically remodelled
The new atrium complements the existing one, which had already been radically remodelled

‘We’re conscious of the site’s heritage as the birthplace of breakfast TV, but the UK media landscape has transformed out of all recognition since the 1980s and we felt we had license to transform the building too,’ he said.

While Po-Mo enthusiasts may well mourn the final loss of the Farrell scheme - itself controversial in its day – tellingly, Sir Terry Farrell himself is ‘fairly relaxed’ about the alterations.

‘The building was only meant to last seven years and the design was totally tied to the previous occupant, TV-am Studios,’  he says.

This wasn’t a building that could be lightly tinkered with and still deliver what the client required. By reworking the site extensively to give a more practical arrangement that maximises light into both facades, the changes have ensured its continued use for broadcasting. And we still, in any case, have those egg cups as a last reminder of its days as the home of TV-am. 

The living wall of the courtyard is a soft and surprising counterpoint to the vertical fins of the south elevation.
The living wall of the courtyard is a soft and surprising counterpoint to the vertical fins of the south elevation.


Client Viacom International Media Networks
Architect Jacobs Webber
Services engineer Hoare Lea
Structural engineer Chamberlain Consulting
Project manager EC Harris
Quantity surveyor MCMS, AAB Consulting Services 
Acoustic consultant Hann Tucker
Satellite consultant Trax communications
Traffic consultant Savill Bird & Axon
CDM consultant HCD Group
Planning consultant DP9
Main contractor Morgan Sindall


Curtain walling Technal
Fins Taurus Littrow International
External doors Fitzpatrick 
Revolving door Boon Edam
Insulated render Wetherby
Brickwork Ibstock 
Green wall Biotecture
Internal doors and ironmongery Leaderflush
Windows Crittall


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