Who would of thought that Fulham would one day owe one of its most unique buildings to the chaps at the North Thames Gas Board (who would later change their name to British Gas)?
Whereas many corporate buildings are designed to communicate their occupant’s power and sway over the landscape (*cough* Shell Centre *cough*), the Piper building was designed, if not to blend into its surrounding landscape, then certainly to compliment it and live in harmony. The Architects Journal describes the birth of the Piper Building as a functionally led piece of architecture: “The North Thames Gas Board built a 23,225 m2 development here in 1959-62, with engineer Brobowski & Partners as lead designer. It consisted of a T-shaped, six-storey block accompanied by a series of lower blocks intended to house heavy technical equipment.”
Situated at the Southern end of Peterborough Road, the building is sandwiched between New King’s Road and the warehouses and industrial areas along the river, which certainly influenced its unique design. Using innovative concrete construction, the Piper Building stood out to both the trained, and untrained eye; but in commissioning renowned British artist, John Piper, to cover the building in murals, the North Thames Gas Board ensured that the building would have a legacy long after they vacated in the mid-80’s.
Piper was a painter, printmaker, set designer and stained-glass window maker of some repute. Inspired by the British landscape, his work appeared on numerous different canvases, from screen-prints and photography, to book jackets, fabrics, ceramics, and whole buildings. He also collaborated with beloved British poet, John Betjeman on his guides to the counties of Great Britain. Piper was commissioned by NTGB to create giant murals illustrating a theme of ‘The Spirit Of Energy’. Constructed from fibreglass, the swirling, colour-ful patterns occupy 76 m2 and still stand today.
When the building was vacated, there was a period where it looked like the demolition teams might be called in, but luckily for the Piper Building and the residents who now call it home, commercial developer Crispin Kelly recognised its potential, and, with the help of architectural practice Lifschutz Davidson, turned the main block into 70 apartments.
Although the building only covers five floors, each is double-height, which ensures it feels fantastically spacious. Lifschutz Davidson, who worked on the OXO tower down river, ensured that Piper’s work has been referenced throughout. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the light steel balconies which are all equipped with trademark ‘John Piper yellow’ electric sun blinds.
The apartments themselves were sold as blank canvases (another nod to Piper, perhaps?) that allowed owners to reshape and design them as they please. Ron Arad and Seth Stein have both designed apartments of various sizes, and In 2003 Architect Pierre d’Avoine was commissioned to design two modular rooftop apartments that were added to the main building above the common area stair and lift shafts.
Another, truly unique element to the Piper Building, is that it boasts a 2,000 sq ft gallery space which has been initiated by residents. A community space, the gallery is open to residents and guests by appointment. The Piper Building has already been many things, and it continues to evolve and grow a well deserved reputation as a mid-century icon, quietly overlooking the banks of the Thames in Southwest London.
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