Tower 42

Tower 42
Tower 42

Tower 42 is the second-tallest building in the City of London
Former names National Westminster Tower; International Financial Centre
General information
Type Commercial
Location 25 Old Broad Street, London
Coordinates 51°30′55″N 0°05′02″W / 51.51528°N 0.08389°W / 51.51528; -0.08389Coordinates: 51°30′55″N 0°05′02″W / 51.51528°N 0.08389°W / 51.51528; -0.08389
Construction started 1971
Completed 1980
Roof 183 metres (600 ft)
Technical details
Floor count 47
Elevator count 21
Design and construction
Main contractor John Mowlem & Co Ltd
Architect R Siefert & Partners
Structural engineer Pell Frischmann

Tower 42 is the second tallest skyscraper in the City of London and the fifth tallest in London overall.[1] The original name was the National Westminster Tower, having been built to house the National Westminster Bank's International Division. Seen from above, the tower closely resembles the NatWest logo (three chevrons in a hexagonal arrangement). [2]

The building today is multi-tenanted and comprises Grade A office space and restaurant facilities.[3]

The tower, designed by Richard Seifert and engineered by Pell Frischmann, is located at 25 Old Broad Street. It was built by John Mowlem & Co[4] between 1971 and 1980, first occupied in 1980, and formally opened on 11 June 1981 by HM Queen Elizabeth II. [5]

The construction cost was £72 million (approximately £230 million today).[6]. It is 183 metres (600 ft) high, which made it the tallest building in the UK until the topping out of One Canada Square in the Docklands in 1990. It held the status of tallest building in the City of London for 30 years, until it was surpassed by the Heron Tower in December 2009.



Design and Development

The National Westminster Tower's status as the first skyscraper in the City was a coup for NatWest, but was extremely controversial at the time, as it was a major departure from the previous restrictions on tall buildings in London. The original concept dates back to the early 1960s, predating the formation of the National Westminster Bank. The site was then the headquarters of the National Provincial Bank, with offices in Old Broad Street backing onto its flagship branch at 15 Bishopsgate.

Early designs envisaged a tower of 137 m (450 ft); this developed into a design with a 197 m (647 ft) tower as its centrepiece, proposed in 1964 by architect Colonel Richard Seifert. The plan attracted opposition, partly because of the unprecedented height of the design and partly because of the proposed demolition of the 19th century bank building at 15 Bishopsgate, which dated from 1865 and was designed by architect John Gibson. Seifert, who had developed a reputation for overcoming planning objections, organised an exhibition in which he presented two alternative visions: his preferred design, and a second design featuring a 500 ft tower with an unattractive squat second tower alongside. Visitors were invited to vote and overwhelmingly chose the single tower design.[7] The final design preserved the Gibson banking hall and the tower's height was reduced to 183 m (600 ft).

The building under construction in 1972


Demolition of the site commenced in 1970 and the tower was completed in 1980. The building is constructed around a huge concrete core from which the floors are cantilevered, giving it great strength but significantly limiting the amount of office space available.

In total, there are 47 levels above ground, of which 42 are cantilevered. The lowest cantilevered floor is designated Level 1, but is in fact the fourth level above ground. The cantilevered floors are designed as three segments, or leaves, which approximately correspond to the three chevrons of the NatWest logo when viewed in plan. The two lowest cantilevered levels (1 and 2) are formed of a single "leaf"; and the next two (3 and 4) are formed of two leaves. This pattern is repeated at the top, so that only levels 5 to 38 extend around the whole of the building.

The limitations of the design were immediately apparent - even though the building opened six years before the Big Bang, when there was a lesser requirement for large trading floors, the bank decided not to locate its foreign exchange and money market trading operation ("World Money Centre") into the tower. This unit remained in its existing location at 53 Threadneedle Street. Other international banking units, such as International Westminster Bank's London Branch and the Nostro Reconciliations Department remained at their locations (at 41 Threadneedle Street and Park House, Finsbury Square, respectively) due to insufficient space in the tower.

Innovative features in the design included double-decked elevators, which provide an express service between the ground/mezzanine levels and the sky lobbies at levels 23 and 24. Both the concept of double decked elevators and sky lobbies were new to the UK at the time. Other innovative features included an internal automated "mail train" used for mail deliveries and document distribution; an automated external window washing system; and computer controlled air conditioning. The tower also had its own telephone exchange installed in one of the basement levels – this area was fitted with panoramic photographs of the London skyline, creating the illusion of being above ground.[8]

Fire suppression design features included pressurised stairwells, smoke venting and fire retardant floor barriers. However, at the time of design, fire sprinkler systems were not mandatory in the UK and so were not installed.[9] It was this omission, coupled with an onsite fire at the tower during the 1996 refurbishment, that prompted the Greater London Council to amend its fire regulations and require sprinkler installations at all buildings.[10]

The cantilever is constructed to take advantage of the air rights granted to it and the neighbouring site whilst respecting the banking hall on that adjacent site, as only one building was allowed to be developed. For a time it was the tallest cantilever in the world.


NatWest occupation

National Westminster Tower entrance forecourt in 1981.
The National Westminster Tower's viewing gallery at Level 42, as seen in 1981. This area is now in use as a commercial champagne bar

Upon completion, the tower was occupied by a large part of NatWest's International Division. The upper floors were occupied by the division's executive management, marketing, and regional offices, moving from various locations in the City of London; The lower floors were occupied by NatWest's Overseas Branch, moving from its previous location at 52/53 Threadneedle Street.

The full floor configuration was as follows:

Floors Configuration Occupants
[unnamed] Core only Plant floor
[unnamed Core only Plant floor
42 Core and cantilever (1 leaf) Viewing Gallery
41 Core and cantilever (1 leaf) Corporate hospitality suite
39 - 40 Core and cantilever (2 leaves) Corporate hospitality rooms and kitchens
37 - 38 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Executive Management
36 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Planning & Projects; Subsidiaries & Affiliates; Administration
35 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Advances; Marketing & Co-ordination
34 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) United Kingdom Region
33 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Corporate Financial Services; staff restaurant
32 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Corporate Financial Services
31 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Plant floor
29 - 30 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Corporate Financial Services
28 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Asia & Australasia Region
27 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Latin America Region; staff restaurant
26 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Africa & Middle East Region; Eastern Europe & Scandinavia Region
25 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Northern Europe Region; Southern Europe Region
24 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Treasurer's Department; Correspondent Bank Relationships
23 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Financial Control Department
22 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Plant floor
21 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) North America Representative Office
20 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Personnel Department
19 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Overseas Branch - Management
14 - 18 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Overseas Branch - International Trade & Banking Services
13 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Plant floor
12 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Mail & Translations
9 - 11 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Overseas Branch - Accounting
8 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Overseas Branch - Payments Abroad
5 - 7 Core and cantilever (3 leaves) Overseas Branch - Inland Payments
4 Core and cantilever (2 leaves) Staff restaurant
3 Core and cantilever (2 leaves) Maintenance, services
1 - 2 Core and cantilever (1 leaf) Maintenance, telephony, services
Podium Core and entrance structure Building control centre
Mezzanine Core and entrance structure Upper entrance lobby & lifts
Ground Core and entrance structure Lower entrance lobby & lifts

The adjacent annexe building at 27 Old Broad Street was occupied by NatWest's Overseas Branch cashiers and foreign notes and coin dealing operation.

1993 bombing and refurbishment

In 1993, NatWest had planned a major premises relocation that would have seen the International Banking Division move from the tower and be replaced with its Domestic Banking Division, enabling the bank to terminate its lease of the Drapers Gardens tower. These plans had to be abandoned after the tower was damaged in the April 1993 Bishopsgate bombing, a Provisional Irish Republican Army truck bombing in the Bishopsgate area of the City of London. The bomb killed one person and extensively damaged the tower and many other buildings in the vicinity, causing over £1 billion worth of damage.[11] The tower suffered severe damage and had to be entirely reclad and internally refurbished. (Demolition was considered, but would have been too difficult and expensive.)[12] The external re-clad was carried out by Alternative Access Logistics with the use of a multi-deck space frame system to access three floors at once with the ability to move up and down the whole building.[13] On 17 January 1996, during the repairs and possibly from the welding being undertaken, a fire started at the top of the building.[14] 500 workmen were evacuated and smoke was clearly seen coming out of the top of the building.[14] A helicopter using thermal imaging equipment pinpointed the source of the fire, which was on the 45th floor in a glass fibre cooling tower..[14] After refurbishment, NatWest decided not to re-occupy and renamed the building the International Financial Centre, then sold it.

Current occupation

View of Tower 42 from Bishopsgate's junction with Leadenhall Street

The new owners, UK property company Greycoat, renamed it Tower 42, in reference to its 42 cantilevered floors. It is now a general-purpose office building occupied by a variety of companies,[15] including:

  • Boston Technologies, Inc.[16]
  • CEBS Secretariat[17]
  • City Osteopath Clinics[18]
  • Corporate Communications (Europe)[19]
  • Coriolis
  • Cuatrecasas, Gonçalves, Pereira (Lawyers)
  • Daewoo Securities (Europe)
  • Davis & Co, Solicitors
  • EUKOR Car Carriers Inc
  • Front Capital Systems
  • GPQS
  • Haarmann Hemmelrath & Partner, Solicitors
  • So Deli
  • Majedie Investments
  • Meditor Capital Management
  • Momenta Consulting
  • Natexis Banques Populaires
  • Netpremacy Ltd[20]
  • Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, Legal Services
  • Pictet Asset Management (UK)
  • Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
  • Piraeus Bank[21]
  • Private Dining 24
  • Project Brokers[22]
  • R G A (UK)
  • Rhodes Twenty Four (restaurant)
  • Samsung
  • System Access (Europe)
  • Tower 42 Property & Estate Management
  • Telemetry[23]
  • Vertigo 42
  • ViewSonic

In April 2010 the current owners, Hermes Real Estate and BlackRock's UK property fund, were seeking buyers for the tower at an expected price of £300 million. This would potentially be the largest single commercial property sale in the City of London in 2010.[24] In July 2010 it was reported that Chinese Estates Group had entered exclusive discussions to buy Tower 42.[25]

Ranking among London high rise buildings

Tower 42 was the tallest building in London and the United Kingdom for 10 years. At its completion in 1980, it claimed this title from the 175 m (574 ft) BT Tower, a transmission tower located at 60 Cleveland Street in Fitzrovia, London.

Tower 42 is now the second tallest tower in the City of London, having been overtaken in 2009 by the 230m Heron Tower and the fifth tallest in London overall.[26] The 288m Bishopsgate Tower and the 225m Leadenhall Building are both under construction nearby.

Preceded by
BT Tower
Tallest Building in the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
One Canada Square
Preceded by
BT Tower
Tallest Building in London
Succeeded by
One Canada Square
Preceded by
Tallest Building in the City of London
Succeeded by
Heron Tower

Previous buildings on the site

Tower 42 viewed from directly below
  • Gresham House, built in 1563 by Sir Thomas Gresham. Gresham was a businessman who helped set up the Royal Exchange. Upon the death of his wife in 1596, Gresham House became the 'Institute for Physic, Civil Law, Music, Astronomy, Geometry and Rhetoric', as directed by Gresham's will (Sir Thomas died 17 years earlier). Students at Gresham College, described as the Third University of England by Chief Justice Coke in 1612, included Robert Hooke, Sir Christopher Wren and the composer John Bull. The building survived the Great Fire, and saw use as a garrison, a Guildhall and Royal exchange. The College moved to Gresham Street. Gresham house was demolished in 1768 and a new Gresham house was built in its place.
  • Crosby Hall, built in 1466 and named after local politician Sir John Crosby. One of its famous visitors was King Richard III, and another was William Shakespeare. The Bard set a scene of Richard III where the Duke of Gloucester plotted his route to the crown in Crosby Hall.
  • Crosby Place, which was built in 1596, the year that Richard III was written.
  • Palmerston House was a building that survived from the 19th century, through both world wars. It was named after the Third Viscount Palmerston. It stood at 51-55 Broad Street. It was occupied for some time by the Cunard Steam Shipping Company.


East-facing view from Vertigo 42
  • Tower 42 contains two restaurants: one is situated on the 24th floor and is operated by chef Gary Rhodes; the other is a champagne and seafood bar located on the 42nd floor.
  • The tower is shown in the sequences leading up to the destruction of the Earth in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy leading to unfounded speculation that the name links to the Answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Google Maps: satellite image
  3. ^
  4. ^ Inspiraré
  5. ^,2307323&dq=national-westminster-tower&hl=en Glasgow Herald, June 12, 1981, p1
  6. ^ UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Lawrence H. Officer (2010) "What Were the UK Earnings and Prices Then?" MeasuringWorth.
  7. ^ "Richard Seifert". The Daily Telegraph (London). 29 October 2001. 
  8. ^ ”Building innovation reaches the sky”, New Scientist, 18 January 1979
  9. ^ ”Building innovation reaches the sky”, New Scientist, 18 January 1979
  10. ^ ”Tower 42 and Section 20 London Building Act”, Gary Fells, Scott White and Hookins Press Release, 29 June 2010
  11. ^ De Baróid, Ciarán (2000). Ballymurphy and the Irish War. Pluto Press. pp. 325. ISBN 0-7453-1509-7. 
  12. ^ Terminal Architecture, page 59, Martin Pawley, 1998, Reaktion Books (ISBN 1861890184)
  13. ^ "The Natwest Tower, London - Multi-deck space frame system". Alternative Access Logistics Ltd.. Retrieved 16 April 2010. 
  14. ^ a b c "500 workmen escape NatWest Tower blaze", The Independent, 18 January 1996. Retrieved 19 September 2010
  15. ^ "Shops on Old Broad Street, EC2N". London Online. Retrieved 16 April 2010. 
  16. ^ Boston Technologies website
  17. ^ "CEBS Secretariat Offices London - Handbook for visitors" (PDF). Committee of European Banking Supervisors. p. 2. Retrieved 16 April 2010. 
  18. ^ City Osteopath Clinics
  19. ^ "Corporate Communications - Contact". Corporate Communications (Europe) Limited. Retrieved 16A April 2010. 
  20. ^ Netpremacy Ltd
  21. ^ Piraeus Bank website
  22. ^ Project Brokers website
  23. ^ Telemetry website
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^

External links

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