03 September 2020

How London’s Tottenham Court Road has been transformed

Londoners have never agreed on a centre for the city. For nightlife, is it Soho or Shoreditch? Where's the heart of business, the City or Canary Wharf? Theatre aficionados know it's the West End – but perhaps it's actually the South Bank, with the National Theatre, Bridge Theatre and Old Vic.

London does have centres of gravity – places of magnetism where you're drawn to spend time in, like eddies in a river. And now it has a new one with the regeneration of Tottenham Court Road, exemplified by the redevelopment of Centre Point. "The vision for Centre Point was to rediscover a London icon, a building that's in the centre of London culturally and geographically," says Kathrin Hersel, executive director at property company Almacantar, adding that the area has been overlooked of late. “Our vision is to breathe new life into it."

A decade ago, few would willingly head to Tottenham Court Road, though it was a spot impossible to avoid as it sits between so many central attractions, surrounded by Bloomsbury, Covent Garden, Soho and Oxford Street. "This part of London was never really that successful before now," says Gavin Miller, partner at Rick Mather Architects (now MICA), despite being a way point to so many other key London locations, perched at the quieter end of Oxford Street and surrounded by attractions – but never considered one itself.

But that is no longer the case. The brightly coloured high rises at Central Saint Giles house media giants NBCUniversal and Google, while Skyscanner’s headquarters are up the street and film production studios squeeze into the buildings off Tottenham Court Road. Startups toil at one of dozens of coworking spaces tucked away down local side streets, from WeWork to Central Working, helped by local consultancies like Startup Manufactory and investors Startup Giants.

When work’s done for the day, slip down Hanway Place to find Hakkasan, head north to Charlotte Street for dozens of restaurants and pubs, or turn to Tottenham Court Road’s new shopping plaza for Planet Organic, Hotel Chocolat, and a Waterstones complete with café and cocktail bar in the basement. Tottenham Court Road itself has been revamped at street level with bike lanes and pedestrian walkways, making it easier to navigate the shop-filled neighbourhood. Everything for a perfect London existence is now here, letting you work, play and live in the same central district.

The redesign of Centre Point has led this transition. The brutalist tower has been reworked from an office building into luxury residences, with a plaza at its base replacing a busy bus station — giving new life to the previously quieter end of Oxford Street. Part of that renaissance is the new public square at the foot of Centre Point, on which sits a foodie destination, Arcade Food Theatre, home to Tóu, Oklava and Flat Iron Workshop, among others.

And at the edge of the square is the home of The Outernet, an entirely new cultural space for London. Opening in early 2021, this immersive multimedia experience and retail amphitheatre will be home to the world's largest wrap-around screens as well as 250,000 square feet of premium retail and leisure space, including restaurants, studios and live music venues, making it a new cultural and entertainment hub at the centre of London.

Miller says that by redesigning the building’s footprint with a public square, cultural attraction and pedestrian walkways, this section of Tottenham Court Road is no longer a place to pass through on the way elsewhere. "By reworking the building this way, it becomes the exact opposite – it becomes a hub, it becomes a magnet,” says Miller.

That said, it's already easy to move through London from Centre Point and Tottenham Court Road, and that'll be further helped by the imminent arrival of a new high-speed transport link. Formally known as the Elizabeth Line but more commonly called Crossrail, this superfast, high frequency service on the doorstep of Centre Point will whisk you from Heathrow to home in 28 minutes, and into Canary Wharf in 12 minutes. As one of the few central London Crossrail stations, Tottenham Court Road will have additional gravitational pull, becoming a hub for business and residents alike.

"We felt this gave us a real opportunity to turn Centre Point into a hub for London — an amazing place for people to emerge from the underground and make their way towards Covent Garden, Oxford Street, Soho or Bloomsbury," says Mike Hussey, chief executive of property company Almacantar. "Whenever I arrive in New York, the Chrysler Building with its wonderful design is what catches my eye. It’s the landmark I look for, and I think Centre Point has the potential to take on the same significance for London now."

With regeneration sparked by Crossrail and showcased by Centre Point, the district will no longer be a byway, but a destination – and, perhaps, finally, a centre for London.

For more information, visit centrepointresidences.co.uk

Copyright Wired magazine - Doug Miller
Copyright Wired magazine - Doug Miller

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