Northamptonshire County Hall, Northampton

The location of the site, a small hill, was unusually suitable as the location for an object to be seen from a distance, a special shape that was a monument to the symbolic function of a county hall. It would be visible from a significant area of the county, traffic on the M1 and passengers on the main north-south railway line. The proposition was to place a glass pyramid of offices on top of the hill set alongside a spiral mound of cars. The two objects are placed by eye in relation to the landscape rather than aligned with any site boundary. The pyramid contains references to the local authority hierarchy and has the council chamber symbolically placed at the apex. The ceremonial route between the entrance and the council chamber is an inclined lift looking out across the country.  At the time, the open plan office was an emerging type.

Generally these were horizontal buildings of two or three floors.  The Northampton building was an opportunity to take a critical look at the quality of life in open-plan offices.  The deep square floor plates were cut into by light shafts inspired by the drawings of the holes bored into Egyptian pyramids.  These light shafts produce surprising areas of daylight and planting within the depth of the building.  The sun comes down a shaft on a particular day of the year.  One of the shafts was arranged to produce sunlight on the chief accountant’s desk on the 4th April. The structure was a rectilinear frame for the depth of the building, with a series of hangars to deal with the sloping edge condition.  A lake, used as a heat sink for the air conditioning, wraps around the base of part of the pyramid and the entrance, giving double reflections as one approaches the building.

Like many grand competitions of its time, the project was never built. The local council changed from Conservative to Labour, the oil crisis produced the ‘three day week’ and, understandably, money for building schools came before county halls.