How we did it: Great Central House, Westminster

A railway relic has been transformed into an office with a difference

The Office Marylebone: upholstery designed to mimic railway carriages
The Office Marylebone: upholstery designed to mimic railway carriages

Project: Creation of £1.5 million office development inside the grade II listed Great Central House that had been left empty for 30 years.

Background: The five-floor building was part of the Marylebone Station terminus for the Great Central Railway built in 1899. The building lies in the Dorset Square conservation area.

Who is behind it? The Office Group, architects Metropolitan Workshop, contractor Contrada Interiors, Westminster City Council.

Project aims: To develop attractive and unusual offices and meeting spaces from the old railway company's offices, boardroom and committee room retaining many of the original features.

Skills involved: Design, listed building expertise and heritage refurbishment knowledge.

When the developers and architects first took a look inside Great Central House at Marylebone Station in London they found features from a bygone age.

There were fireplaces, wood-panelled walls, parquet flooring, sash windows and a cast iron lift, as well as a wall of pigeonholes used by the staff of the old Great Central Railway. It was a throwback to a time when the board of the railway company would meet in a smoke-filled room.

Unfortunately, despite this wonderful sense of nostalgia, time had taken its toll. It had fallen into a poor state and was in need of significant refurbishment work. Rainwater was leaking in, rats and pigeons had made themselves at home and asbestos was present in many places.

Below, shops, bars and restaurants were thriving, but there was much work to do on the floors above. Metropolitan Workshop associate Edward Rhodes explains that it was a fascinating project to work on from the moment the door was first opened to reveal the heritage features within.

However, before work could start, there were some planning issues to overcome, such as obtaining change of use and listed building consents for some of the alterations. Building regulations approval was also required as was the go-ahead from Network Rail as developers

The Office Group took over the building on a lease. Under the consent agreements, the offices had to be free-standing in a box-like shape and were not allowed to touch the walls. Once work started in 2008, asbestos immediately became the major issue. It was found in several locations across the site and the requirement to clear it caused delays to the project.

The original cast iron lift, complete with a car contained behind an open mesh front, was found to be intact on inspection. However, it had to be replaced with a new lift because it no longer met current health and safety requirements.

The sash windows were in a poor state and required a total overhaul. To avoid the need for scaffolding, the windows were taken out using a platform arrangement and worked on from inside the building.

During the work, which took seven months, contractor Contrada Interiors had to be careful not to trip off the building's alarm system or the station would have had to be evacuated.

The final product, which was shortlisted for a British Council of Offices award this year, features some funky designs such as upholstered meeting rooms designed like railway carriages and alcoves created in some of the wide corridors for telephone conversations.

A roof space was uncovered which has been adapted into an office area and this has proved popular with tenants. The main hub of the development has been created in a first-floor reception area. Each firm that has moved in - many start-up businesses - share kitchen and toilet facilities.

The novelty value of the Great Central House development, now known as The Office Marylebone, has proved a hit with small and medium-sized companies that are looking for a working environment with a difference.

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