ITN’s building plans in mint condition 

10 January 2022 tbs.pm/74110

JONATHAN MUNRO finds out the latest on the new building – including its “polo mint” factor, and canvasses opinions from ITN staff about what they want in Gray’s Inn Road.

 

 

The Lens masthead

From ‘The Lens’, ITN’s house magazine, for April 1989

A few weeks after Martyn Lewis left ITN to join the Opposition, he appeared on one of the BBC’s endless programmes about themselves to talk about the new One O’clock News. “Sitting at my desk,” he said, “is like being at the helm of the Starship Enterprise.”

For those of us still in the independent sector, the working environment is more reminiscent of the Tardis than the Enterprise. Every time ITN takes on another project, it is somehow squashed into the same old space – the new ITV weather service has unseated the executive diners, and Channel Four Daily is adding to already over-used facilities in Studio 2 and on the third floor.

Another roll of the ubiquitous beige wallpaper in the Green Room can’t hide the simple truth – we’re bursting at the seams.

The man with the daunting task of changing all that is Ken Shuttleworth, head of the team of architects from the Norman Foster Partnership who are designing ITN’s new headquarters at Gray’s Inn Road.

“When I first went into Wells Street, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” says Shuttleworth. “It’s so cramped, everybody’s working in minimum space.”

 

A building covered in plastic sheeting

Ready for demolition

 

The Partnership knows exactly what it’s like to be in ITN’s position – it’s moving to its own new headquarters within the next six months. “ITN’s new building is a very prestigious project for us. It’s the first time we’ve done such a big scheme in Central London, most of our biggies have been in Europe and the Far East.”

Ken and his team of 12 architects working full time on the ITN project, aren’t short of experience in designing buildings for broadcasters. “We’ve done some work for BBC Radio, and I spent some time in Mexico working for the television network after its studios collapsed in the earthquake. But, the new government pulled the plug on the funds, and it’s currently transmitting out of an old gymnasium.”

Progress on the new ITN building is well advanced. Demolition will be finished by May 1, and soon afterwards work will start on the sub-structure. “It’s being built on a sort of raft – a metre of concrete that ‘floats’ on the soil’s ground pressure. The same principle as a ship, really. It means we’ll get a good even distribution of the load.” After that, the superstructure itself will emerge, starting with the basement areas which will house the new studios. The building is being designed for maximum flexibility, so that ITN can expand into the three floors which it plans currently to sublet.

On present plans, ITN will use the basement, lower ground, ground and first floors, and maybe the second. The restaurant will be on floors 6 and 7, and the central floors (“the middle of the sandwich”) will be sublet. Originally, the council wanted the building to be only five floors high, “But,” Ken says, “we persuaded them to allow seven floors by setting the top two back, making them smaller, so they can’t be seen from street level. It also has the advantage of providing a sort of terrace for the restaurant.”

 

A building, one side demolished

Halfway through

 

By Christmas, the superstructure should be up to roof level, and some of the interior fittings will be in place. “Most things come prefabricated, like the toilets, which come ready made with loo roll holders and ashtrays already in place, just waiting to be lifted into the frame.

“The outside of the building will be completely glazed. It will be a unique look. The idea is to push the building right to the edge of the site, and maximise the natural light right down to the basement with a big hole right down the middle, a bit like a polo mint. That’ll give the building a focus, and a heart,” says Ken.

That’s good news for those of us who permanently work under fluorescent light, and should satisfy Alan Mitchell – one of the “victims” of a Lens straw poll of priorities for the new building. “A lot of natural light in the newsroom” was top of his list. But then he does work in the shady world of the 5.40 writers desk.

Anna Capel, who can at least see the windows from the foreign desk, wants a rest room. “Not that any of us have time to rest,” she adds hastily. “Failing that, a champagne bar would do.”

Rest rooms, or at least quiet areas, were also top of the list for Aston supervisor Pat Watson and PA Leah Puplett. I lost count of the number of people who wanted car parking out of reach of the clampers – Jill Chisholm for one.

 

A empty building site

Flattened: The old Sunday Times building is gone

 

From Hilary Denness, a plea to the interior decorators. “No orange paint in the ladies loo. Looking at oneself in the mirror is painful enough, but surrounded by bright orange paint it’s excruciating.”

Albert Clack wants a much more fundamental change. “Work stations” should replace desks, with glare-guarded computer screens and more comfortable seating. And I thought World News already had the most comfortable seats in the building. There’s no pleasing some folk!

“What we need is a creche for all the kids,” says Libby Wiener, “and for all the mums and dads too.” Reporter Simon Marks spoke for many of us (doesn’t he always) “High speed lifts are the one thing we need most of all. As well as a sauna, of course.”

But, alas, it seems that hopes of a super-duper, no-expense-spared health club have been dashed. Among those who wanted to work out at work, so to speak, was programme director Jacqui Bromley. “If we can’t have a proper health club, the least they can do is provide us with a decent empty room with a stereo so we can do our aerobics.”

Health was the last thing on the minds of Peter Hood and Pat Harris, both of whom are convinced of the massive benefits for the company from a 24-hour bar! And, from News at Ten’s Nick Valentine, the most bizarre request, “a bike shed, so we can go behind it to have a fag.”

But the special Lens award for the simplest desire of all goes to PA Naomi Williams. “All I want in the building is a job.” Not even Ken Shuttleworth can promise that!

 

 

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