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Western Morning News

A Grade II* Listed Building in Plymouth, Plymouth

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Latitude: 50.4139 / 50°24'50"N

Longitude: -4.1187 / 4°7'7"W

OS Eastings: 249561

OS Northings: 59261

OS Grid: SX495592

Mapcode National: GBR RG5.J6

Mapcode Global: FRA 278Y.M76

Plus Code: 9C2QCV7J+HG

Entry Name: Western Morning News

Listing Date: 22 July 2015

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1425964

Location: Plymouth, PL6

County: Plymouth

Electoral Ward/Division: Moor View

Built-Up Area: Plymouth

Traditional County: Devon

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Devon

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An integrated newspaper building combining office and production facilities.


An integrated newspaper building, combining printing and office functions in a single premises by Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners. Built 1991-93.

PLAN: ‘boat-shaped’ building orientated with the prow towards the north east. Three levels set into the steeply sloping site with a 22m high cantilevered ‘bridge’ housing the boardroom and observation gallery rising above. Access is via a footbridge at first floor level which leads a triangular central atrium which rises through the building. Accommodation for the printing presses was located in the ‘stern’ of the building, with open plan and private offices and meeting rooms in the ‘prow’.

MATERIALS: steel and concrete frame with point-fixed Pilkington’s Planar glass and a rear wall of ribbed steel cladding. A concrete column carries the bridge through the building. The gently curving roof is clad in aluminium. Slate Devon hedges define the approach to the building and car parking areas.

EXTERIOR: the principal facades are comprised of external steel columns known as ‘tusks’ for their unique shape formed from two curving steel tubes joined by a steel plate welded to each side. As they rise, the tusks taper and curve gently outwards to accommodate the increasing floor plate of the upper stories. The resulting tapered columns have a flattened oval section through which suspension arms for the 700 tapered panels of Pilkington’s Planar glass, which are designed as a series of faceted curves, become increasingly rhomboid in shape towards the ‘prow’. Each of the panels is 12mm thick and weighs some 120kg. The panels of the press hall have a regular square grid, with those of the two rows forming the ‘prow’ being specially shaped. The panels taper from 2m at the top of the highest panel to 1.911m at the bottom in the office area, giving a curved profile designed to reduce solar gain and to allow a view into the building without reflections from the sky. The panels are fixed by bespoke castings with spheroidal graphite arms linked to stainless steel glazing bosses which hold the panels where four corners meet. The panels are joined with silicone mastic. Belzona, a liquid metal, has been injected into the ball joints in order to fuse glass and metal into a single, more rigid structure. The rear, south western, façade is clad in ribbed steel cladding with porthole windows and with loading doors at ground level. The more minimal treatment here was deliberately chosen to allow for future extension.

The tusks also support the bowed steel roof beams which are pin jointed back to the concrete frame at a point c. 1m beneath their tusks, allowing both the steel and the concrete frames to flex in unison.
The board room, located on the northern side of the building, is in a cantilevered flat-roofed box on a tall concrete column housing a lift and a secondary staircase which rises though the building. The boardroom has a continuous glazed window to the south which provides extensive views of the city of Plymouth towards Plymouth Sound beyond.

INTERIOR: the building is entered at first floor via a footbridge. A small, low-ceilinged reception area with an office and reception desk to right opens into the large triangular atrium which rises through the building to a glazed triangular toplight. Here, a free-standing staircase with symmetrical ramps and half landings and curved balconies and light wood handrails provides access to each floor, with wide balconies overlooking the atrium and giving onto offices and meeting rooms. The interior is split into two -- offices and production spaces -- with a series of movement joints marking the dividing line. Although both have concrete frames on slab and thickened pad foundations, the construction methods differ. The front half, in the ‘prow’, provides 5000m2 of office space for editorial and administrative work and comprises a three-storey structure of concrete columns and flat slabs built in situ and supported by a core at either side of the building set towards the core. It is the north core which rises to support the board room. Private offices, defined by light wood partitions and glass*, are positioned in an inner ring off the balcony with the large open-plan offices beyond enjoying the expansive views given by the continuous external glass wall; these office partitions are not of special interest. Some offices have built-in basins* and cupboards*, but no original furniture survives. Each floor is open to full height, with a complex and visually expressed ventilation system providing air circulation through intake vents with outflow vents positioned angled downwards towards the glass wall.

A staff restaurant is located in the northern part of the building at ground floor with a fitness room and crèche to the south. The staff restaurant retains serving tables, tray drops, and small snack kiosks and can be accessed from both the office and production sites*; these restaurant fittings are not of special interest. The restaurant has views across the wooded valley to the north, and an external door allows access to an outside decked area. A fully fitted catering kitchen* lies to the rear of the restaurant; kitchen fittings are not of special interest.

The boardroom is panelled to the rear in light wood, with service and storage areas hidden behind some panels; there is no other fitted furniture. To the south, a continuous window with a light wood ledge at waist-height gives extensive views of Plymouth towards Plymouth Sound beyond. The main entrance to the room is through a secure door and gives onto a small lift lobby with a steel clad door with porthole window giving access to the stair. A second door from the boardroom gives access to a small fully-fitted kitchen behind*; these kitchen fittings are not of special interest.

At the ‘stern’ of the building, and separated from the office space by full height, fair-faced blockwork, are the printing hall and paper store. This area is of ribslab construction to allow forklift trucks clear runs. Cast in GRP moulds, the deeply coffered rib slabs allow flexibility in this very heavily serviced area while offering working loads of up to 15kN/m2 to support the weight of the machinery needed on the first-floor newspaper handling area. The interior is now largely empty and, other than the clearly expressed structural elements, any remaining fittings* within the production area are not of special interest. Printing presses were installed at ground-floor level with production areas in the publishing hall on the first-floor. This allowed the slope of the site to be used to advantage with paper arriving at the lower level and completed papers leaving the publishing hall on the first floor via doors with gangways across the ‘moat’ to the parking and loading areas at the front. Given the noise generated by the printing process and the proximity of the building to a residential home and hospital, substantial insulation was devised in consultation with Applied Acoustic Design. When operational, plant* (now removed) was painted yellow and grey, with the rest of the interior being grey. At first floor level, immediately beyond the fair-faced blockwork wall which separates office and production areas, additional partitions* and false ceilings* which continue to the external glass façade have been inserted to the north to provide additional office accommodation for a firm offering pre-media and pre-press services; these later fixtures are not of special interest.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the approach to the main entrance and the car parking areas are defined by dwarf slate and earth walls to a traditional pattern known as Devon hedges. To the north east of the site, the building is accessed through an opening in wide retaining walls faced with slate in a similar manner. These slate and earth walls (only) form part of the special interest, but the other car park surfaces* and fixtures* are not of special interest.

* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.


In the early 1990s, a desire to move out of overcrowded city centre offices and embrace new offset litho printing and communications technology led the Western Morning News Company, part of Northcliffe Newspapers, to invite four architectural practices to compete for the design of a newspaper and production facilities and headquarters offices at Derriford, a green-field site on the outskirts of Plymouth. The managing director of the newspaper, Jerry Ramsden, wanted a landmark building which would make an impression in local consciousness and was attracted by Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners’ design for the Financial Times print works in London Docklands, whose glazed walls presented the rolling printing presses as a spectacle to commuting motorists. The practice was appointed in early 1990. Cundall Johnston and Partners were appointed to provide mechanical and electrical engineering for the building and the presses. Grimshaw wrote subsequently that ‘the client was very good at getting his sense of excitement across to us. He wanted the best for his team and he wanted a landmark to show off to the world.’ Grimshaw’s responded to the client’s enthusiasm, interviewing every member of staff so that they could fully understand the requirements of the company, writing an expanded detailed brief for the project, eventually leading to an academic paper on the process for the Royal Society of Arts entitled, ‘The Private Client and his Architect’ (1993). The engineers for the project were Ove Arup and Partners.

Grimshaw’s design received planning permission in April 1991 and construction began in July of the same year with the concrete frame. Work on the steel roof began in November 1991 to allow the interior to be fitted out while the pre-fabricated ‘tusks’ and façade castings were transported to the site and fixed. The building was completed in December 1992 at a cost of £15 million and opened in January 1993 (Grimshaw’s Waterloo International Terminal opened the same year). Despite the bespoke design, the building’s cost was considered comparable to many design-and-build packages given the large volume of the building in proportion to the surface area. Devised to nestle into the steeply sloping site, the design enabled production and editorial areas to be housed on a single level, with storage, accounts and ancillary facilities located on the floor below and advertising above. Rising above the whole is the 22m high bridge which provided accommodation for the board room and observation gallery, allowing views towards Plymouth Sound.

Although the ship-like profile of the building has been much remarked on, Grimshaw has claimed that the curves of the building were inspired by the contours of the site, rather than stemming from a desire to create a piece of symbolic imagery. Nevertheless the ship image became the newspaper’s logo, and the building was much admired and visited by the local public.

The building remained the home to the Western Morning News and Plymouth Herald until 2013 when it was sold by what had become the Daily Mail and General Trust to another publisher, Local World. The building has since remained vacant.

Nicholas Grimshaw was born in 1939 in Hove. He studied architecture at the Edinburgh College of Art between 1959-62, and in 1962-65 at the Architectural Association. In 1963 he won a scholarship to travel to Sweden and the following year to travel to the United States. He graduated in 1965 and established a practice with Terry Farrell, forming his own practice in 1980. In 1993 he was awarded a CBE for the Seville Pavilion and in 1994 the International Terminal at Waterloo Station won the RIBA’s Building of the Year Award and the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion award for European architecture. The Western Morning News building won a RIBA award in 1994, the British Construction Industry Awards (1993), The Royal Fine Art Commission Building of the Year Awards (1993) and the Structural Steel Design Award (1993). Grimshaw was also elected a Royal Academician and awarded honorary fellowship of the AIA in the same year. Grimshaw is considered one of the pioneers of high tech architecture, a movement much identified with Britain in the late twentieth century.

Since it was opened, publications including The Herald, Western Morning News, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail and the Cornish Guardian were among the titles printed on the premises. The building became vacant in 2013 when The Herald and the Western Morning News moved to new premises.

Reasons for Listing

The Western Morning News building, a combined newspaper office and production building of 1991-93 by Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners, is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: a powerful and striking design, making particularly good use of its dramatic and steeply sloping site to create a landmark headquarters building for the Western Morning News and inspiring their brand logo; the ship-like profile of the building, its audacious, fully-glazed curved wall with steel tusks, and the central atrium are all impressive elements of the design;
* Celebrated architect: an important work by the major British architect (Sir) Nicholas Grimshaw, one of the pioneers of high tech architecture in which Britain led the way;
* Skilful planning: a careful and highly effective integration of office and production areas to create a design which brings employees together in a shared space which works for both;
* Technological innovation: a significant and influential development of fixed-point structural glazing, allowing a greater degree of sophistication with its organic curving shape and bespoke fittings;
* Building type: a rare example of a large newspaper production facility, built to a high specification, and integrating industrial and commercial functions into one building.

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