Christmas came early for Lloyd’s: in December its iconic HQ building, which this year celebrated its 25th anniversary, became one of the very few modern structures in the UK to be granted Grade 1 listed status.
Only a handful of post-war buildings and structures have been given Grade I listing, including Norman Foster's Willis Corroon Building in Ipswich (listed in 1991), Basil Spence’s Coventry Cathedral (listed in 1988) and the Severn Bridge (listed in 1998).
Being in the top 2.5% of all listed buildings Lloyd’s HQ now has the same sort of protection enjoyed by St Paul’s Cathedral and Windsor Castle.
Roger Bowdler, designation director at English Heritage, said the listing was fitting recognition of the sheer splendour of British architect Richard Rogers' heroic design: “Its dramatic scale and visual dazzle, housing a hyper-efficient commercial complex, is universally recognised as one of the key buildings of the modern epoch."
Heritage minister John Penrose said the Lloyd's building "stands the test of time with its awe-inspiring futuristic design, which exemplifies the hi-tech style in Britain. It clearly merits the extra protection against unsuitable alteration or development that listing provides."
Crucially, the building was designed to meet the Lloyd’s market’s future demands by allowing the underwriting space, the Room, to expand or contract as required by the market.
“The building is still modern, innovative and unique – it has really stood the test of time just like the market that sits within it,” said Lloyd’s CEO Richard Ward following the award.
An inside-out building, with lift services and “plumbing” all visible, One Lime Street followed on from Rogers similarly revolutionary Pompidou Centre in Paris. But as well as being defiantly futuristic – even 25 years on – it is also resolutely traditional because it incorporates the fabric of earlier Lloyd’s market buildings from 1928 and 1958. The panelled Adam Room came from Bowood House in Wiltshire and the Lutine Bell still hangs in the Room.
Having one foot in the past and the other in the future defines Lloyd’s design as a post-modern building. It has remained appropriate, the aesthetic reflecting Lloyd’s determination to be different in a global insurance marketplace where one global institution looks and acts increasingly like the next one.
Having one foot in the past is not altogether a good thing, though. As well as the pipes on the outside of the building, the internal pipework at Lloyd’s has also long been a topic of discussion.
But the Corporation is getting to grips with that post-modern legacy. According to its three-year plan, which will be overseen by new chairman John Nelson, Lloyd’s is going to focus on introducing new technology to automate manual processes and improve the standards of back-office processes, with the emphasis on claims. If all goes according to plan with the Claims Transformation Programme pilot, from July 2012 all types of claim will come under the new streamlined system, for example.
Nelson knows how important the next three years will be for modernising the market. The Grade 1 listing from English Heritage will only preserve the fabric of the building after all – it won’t protect Lloyd’s global franchise.