Giant greenhouses & Iconic Buildings | Wilkinson Eyre

In a neighbourhood known for its architects, Clerkenwell practice Wilkinson Eyre stands out thanks to award-winning innovation and its global portfolio. Emma Keyte, author of a new book about the 31-year-old firm, takes you on a tour of their eye-catching designs…

Image: Guangzhou International Finance Center

Wilkinson Eyre Works is a book in which the work tells the stories. The practice’s portfolio is extensive – it includes the RIBA Stirling Prizewinning Gateshead Millennium Bridge and Magna science centre in Rotherham – and many of the buildings in this volume will be familiar to Londoners.

Wilkinson Eyre was responsible for the Basketball Arena for London 2012, a dramatic, reusable steel matrix wrapped in translucent white PVC. The London portfolio also includes the UK’s first urban cable car, the Emirates Air Line, which skips across the Thames between ExCel and the O2 arena, its slender, elegant towers soaring above the London Docklands skyline. The practice’s work at the Museum of London, simplifying the internal layout and creating the new Galleries of Modern London and Clore Learning Centre is less visible, but typical of Wilkinson Eyre’s expertise for rethinking existing – and often highly sensitive – buildings. A project that demonstrates this skill on a much larger scale is the refurbishment of Giles Gilbert Scott’s Battersea Power Station. Immortalised in album covers and films, it is the largest brick structure in Europe and one of London’s favourite landmarks.


Image: Gateshead Millennium Bridge

Wilkinson Eyre’s reinterpretation will preserve Scott’s cavernous turbine halls and soaring windows that light the interior, but rework the space to offer a wide mixture of uses: shops, apartments, offices and event spaces. The four iconic chimneys will be rebuilt and reinforced, and one of them equipped with a glass-clad platform lift to bring visitors to a new lookout point 100 metres above ground. Increasingly international in scope, Wilkinson Eyre’s first major overseas project, the Guangzhou International Finance Center in China, was won in competition in 2005. At 439 metres high, it was, on completion, the fifth tallest building in the world, and won the RIBA’s Lubetkin Prize (for the best building by a British architect outside of the European Union) in 2012. Although informed by previous work on geometry, structure and environmental design, it was Wilkinson Eyre’s first experience of designing a really tall structure. As Jay Merrick, architecture critic at The Independent, suggests in his introduction to the book, the practice thrives on such opportunities to do new things.

“It is significant that every time Wilkinson Eyre’s designers have entered a new design territory, they’ve produced something architecturally special, and highly individual,” says Merrick. “This ability is the defining characteristic of much of the practice’s work, and it sets them apart.” On the back of the Guangzhou project, the team is now designing tall buildings as far afield as Sydney and Toronto.


Image: Gardens By the Bay in Singapore

In 2013, Wilkinson Eyre won the Lubetkin Prize again, this time for the cooled conservatories at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. They have transformed the city’s waterfront and, covering more than 20,000 square metres, are among the largest climate-controlled glasshouses in the world. Unusually, they are designed to create cool conditions, showcasing the flora of those environments most likely to be affected by future climate change with minimal energy use – a huge challenge against the hot, humid local conditions. In the first two years of operation, the gardens attracted eight million visitors.

The practice – and its portfolio – continues to grow, with 182 staff now employed at its offices on Bowling Green Lane. The founders, Chris Wilkinson and Jim Eyre, and their team of directors, lead an office that is not defined by a single identity or house style, but an innovative, adaptive, evolving approach.


“Wilkinson Eyre Works” is published by Thames & Hudson.