Great White Hope: White City in London


November 27, 2015 | BY Tara Loader Wilkinson

White City, the West London ward behind the Westfield shopping centre, was once a glamorous international destination. Explore how the £8 billion makeover that is returning it to its glory days

hundred years ago, White City was the place to be. The UK hosted its first Olympic Games here in 1908 in a futuristic stadium. The buzz led to a series of must-see exhibitions in sparkling white marble pavilions that gave the area its name. In the post-war era, White City fell into an industrial miasma until the 1960s, when it became the home of the BBC’s revolutionary TV studios. 

The question mark-shaped BBC Television Centre was the largest in the world, rivalling Hollywood in its heyday. Known as “a factory for TV,” it produced a slew of hit shows such as Monty Python, Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, Blue Peter and Fawlty Towers

In 2011, cost-cutting measures forced the BBC to put its iconic headquarters on the block. In many ways, it couldn’t have come at a better time. A joint venture between UK developer Stanhope and Japan’s Mitsui Fudosan snapped up the 5.6-hectare site for £200 million, with plans to transform it into luxury flats and offices while retaining many of the original features. “We are bringing to life these iconic and much-loved buildings to create a great place to live, work and visit,” says Peter Allen, a director at Stanhope.

The £1 billion revamp will transform the centre into 950 luxury apartments, 500,000 square feet of office space and a 47-room a new Soho House boutique hotel. Due for completion in 2018, prices of the flats start at £650,000 for a one-bedroom up to £6 million for a penthouse. Residents will have access to an underground gym and swimming pool (located under Television Centre’s famous Helios statue by sculptor TB Huxley-Jones) as well as a 24-hour concierge. Some of the TV studios will be left untouched and available for use by independent production companies. “All this means Television Centre will be alive day and night,” says Allen. 

In paying homage to the original building, the development will highlight the heritage-listed features, such as the atomic dot wall at the entrance. The outer crescent will wrap around the Helios statue at the centre, set against a backdrop of peaceful courtyard gardens. The apartments themselves will have exposed ceiling beams and panoramic views over Hammersmith Park—all the vision of award-winning British architects AHMM. 

“The overall design is very respectful of the original—if you squint and look from the front, it will be much the same,” says Paul Monaghan, one of the four directors of AHMM. “The design sits really comfortably with the heritage elements, and listed elements are being restored to their former glory; for example, the Helios statue and fountain are at the centre of the development.” 

Television Centre is at the forefront of an overall £8 billion makeover of White City. Imperial College London is about to complete a new four-million-square-foot campus extension. Westfield, the mega-shopping centre across the road, is being extended by 750,000 square feet, getting more office space and a huge John Lewis department store. Developer Berkeley St James has planning permission to turn a 1.7-hectare brownfield site—currently occupied by a Marks and Spencer warehouse—into 1,465 new luxury apartments, due for completion over the next 15 years. A lush 1.6-hectare public park will be planted beside the railway line, with pedestrian access through the railway arches. 

The area is already earning a name as a fashionable haunt. Just on the other side of Television Centre in Notting Dale, designer Stella McCartney has her head office and studio, while photographer Mario Testino’s workshop is based on nearby Freston Road. Fashion group Monsoon has also moved to the area. Its headquarters is now located in a sleek £32 million eco-office called the Yellow Building, also the work of AHMM. It has a full-height, seven-storey atrium where millionaire founder Peter Simon showcases his art collection in a space that doubles as a catwalk for fashion events. 

“The location has the feel of early King’s Cross—a bit raw, but colourful and cool,” estate agent David Rosen, of Pilcher Hershman, remarked to Homes & Property. “You might see the likes of Kate Moss visiting Testino’s studio.”

When the celebrity and arty types decide to swarm an area, it’s never long before property values soar. Savills compares the likely uplift in White City to other London regeneration projects such as Nine Elms, King’s Cross and Stratford, where values have jumped as much as 54 per cent (excluding general house-price inflation). 

James Puddle, an associate partner at Strutt & Parker, agrees. “White City buyers have a genuine opportunity to take advantage of what we would classify as the ‘regeneration uplift effect.’ Prices in the area will only go up as a result of the extensive work, coupled with the fact that the area already benefits from strong infrastructure, has two tube stations, a brand new university campus and is within a stone’s throw of the most successful shopping centre in Europe.”