Listed Building

The legal part of the listing is the address/name of site only. All other information in the record is not statutory.

Aviva UK Insurance Building (former General Accident Fire and Life Assurance Corporation Headquarters), including landscaped concourse and two metal sculptures to the south, granite sculpture to northwest, excluding power plants to the west, car port and car parking area to the south and former recreation centre to the east, Necessity Brae, Pitheavlis, PerthLB52450

Status: Designated

Documents

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Summary

Category
A
Date Added
28/08/2017
Local Authority
Perth And Kinross
Planning Authority
Perth And Kinross
Burgh
Perth
NGR
NO 9819 22214
Coordinates
309819, 722214

Description

The Aviva UK Insurance Building, designed and built between 1979 and 1983, is a late-Modernist insurance company headquarters in an extensive landscaped setting, built into the slope of Craigie Hill with views over the city of Perth to the north. It was built as the world headquarters for the General Accident Fire and Life Assurance Corporation. The architects were James Parr and Partners, the structural and service engineers were Ove Arup and Partners, and the contractor was Sir Robert McAlpine.

The building consists of five modular terrace levels with landscaped rooftop gardens, stepped back into the hillside. The plan form adheres to a 10 x 10 metre 'tartan grid' system. Nine enclosed garden courtyards punctuate through the levels and these are planted in the Japanese manner with evergreens, shrubs and rockwork. The building is clad in ribbed pre-cast concrete and quartz aggregate panels with matching cills and copes. The pre-cast panels are vertically ribbed suggesting the appearance of striated rock. The external walls have a high proportion of bronze tinted solar-control glazing.

There is a fall in level of 30 metres from the front to the back of the building. The superstructure is of reinforced concrete with 309 pre-cast cruciform columns suspended on piled foundations over exposed clay bedrock. The lower core houses the control room and plant rooms for the security system, heating and lighting, workshops and garages. The air-handling plant room runs the full length of the building. The external retaining walls use the 'Criblock' system which has a cellular concrete structure.

The interior, seen in 2017, consists of approximately 25,000 square metres of floor space across the five levels. The entrance hall, reception area and boardroom are singled out for special architectural treatment. The double-volume entrance hall is clad in Botticino marble including extensive planters and a geometric floor pattern that references the 10 metre square grid plan form. A marble-clad cantilevered stair accesses the gallery and upper floor level. Escalators to the rear of the hall provide access to large open-plan offices on the lower floors. The boardroom has solid rosewood doors and panelling and a modular central ceiling panel in maple. Offices have elm paneled walls and coffered ceilings. Washrooms and communal sinks have veined black marble tops and solid timber fascia. There have been later alterations to the first floor reception space, the canteen and the staff gymnasium area. Glazed partitions have been added to separate the offices from the ground floor reception space, and a row of small retail units have also been added.

Two abstract sculptures in stainless steel to either side of the main entrance porch are by the Glasgow-born sculptor and artist George Wyllie (1921-2012). To the right of the entrance porch are a series of bronze plaques commemorating insurance company employees that fell during the First and Second World Wars. These plaques were relocated here from General Accident's former headquarters building in Tay Street, Perth. A 14-and-a-half ton sculpture in silver-grey granite by Ronald Rae (b.1946) is located beside the approach drive to the northwest (NGR NO 09737, 22393). This sculpture, called 'Return of the Prodigal' portrays a parental figure protecting a child.

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: power plants to the west, car port and car parking area to the south and former recreation centre to the east.

Statement of Special Interest

Designed and built between 1979 and 1983, the Aviva UK Insurance Building (the former General Accident headquarters) at Pitheavlis on the outskirts of Perth is among the finest of Scotland's commercial office buildings of its period. It is distinguished by its construction techniques and planning, thorough attention to detail, and its high quality material specifications. The use of the modular 10 x 10 metre tartan grid with built-in flexibility evidences late-Modernist trends in later 20th century office planning. It is among the best of a small number of major headquarter office buildings in Scotland which provided working areas in flexible modules, using stepped plan forms to connect buildings with their green-field landscapes. The use of roof top gardens, merging the building further with the hillside, is a sensitive response to its wider suburban green-field setting. Artwork, both internal and external, is integral to the design ethos, adding further to the special interest of the building.

In accordance with Section 1 (4A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 the following are excluded from the listing: power plants to the west, car port and car parking area to the south and former recreation centre to the east.

Age and Rarity

This Aviva UK Insurance Building is a significant example of the low-rise, stand-alone commercial office architecture that first began appearing on the fringes of major towns and cities in Britain during the late 1960s and 1970s. These offices were built to exacting standards with all aspects of the design fully considered at the outset of the project. Height restrictions at green-field sites encouraged inventive 'ground-scraping' designs that sought to reduce and soften apparent bulk by stepping floor levels back into the surrounding landscape. Interest in the surrounding environment and an understanding of how the building was to be used and experienced resulted in a more holistic and humanistic approach to building design. The flexibility of office space was also given increased consideration to allow the buildings to adapt to technological and social change.

Major financial and insurance institutions generally led the charge in innovative, high-specification commercial office development during this period. Some of the best new office buildings of the 1970s and 1980s were high-profile commissions where a relationship between the client and the architect was already well established.

General Accident was a Scottish company (founded in 1885) that wanted to show its corporate ambition and status with a new world headquarters building in central Scotland. The massive scale of its new building, the high material specification and engineering achievement were clear expressions of an intent to create a major centre of commercial insurance in Scotland. The decision to centralise all of its operations in one building on the outskirts of Perth was partly to remove the complexity of having six separate office buildings within the town, and by the 1970s, reflected the company's international market share. The corporate ethos of the company was reflected through the provision of an on-site leisure centre for the wellbeing of the staff (not listed) and an international hostel and staff training centre (demolished, 2017). The war memorial plaques commemorating fallen employees were moved to the new headquarters from the earlier headquarters at Tay Street, Perth. The hill-side location of the company's new international headquarters was also chosen to take advantage of panoramic views over the city. This inter-visible association further reinforces the long historic links between the insurance industry and the city of Perth, adding to the building's sense of place and its corporate identity.

The English architect Frances Duffy was among the first to introduce the idea of 'office landscaping' to Britain from Europe in the late 1960s. This promoted the creation of humane work environments where the experience of the employee became central to the design process. This was later developed by Arup and Partners at Gateway House, Basingstoke (1974–5). Structuralism, as advocated by Dutch architects such as Herman Hertzberger and Aldo Van Eyck, was an important influence on late-Modernist commercial architectural thought. Personal and collective responses to changing patterns of work and social interaction were given expression within an adaptable grid iron plan form. The user experience guided the structural form of the building, which was designed and built with an ethos of collaborative working. Hertzberger's Central Beehar Insurance Office Building (1972) in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, is an important early use of the modular stepped grid plan based on Structuralist design theories.

Late-Modernist buildings designed with a user experience philosophy were part of a considered reaction to the formalism of the earlier post-war building period. The Burrell Collection museum in Glasgow by Barry Gasson Architects 1971–1983 (LB52002, listed at category A) and the former Cummins Diesel Engine Factory by Ahrends, Burton & Koralek in association with Ove Arup and Partners, 1975–1983 (LB50013, listed at category A) were also designed around Structuralist principles.

Commercial office buildings of the later 20th century are not rare in Scotland, however significant examples of exceptional quality are less common. A notable listed example is the Scottish Widows Fund and Life Assurance Society Head Office (1972–76) in Edinburgh by Sir Basil Spence, Glover and Ferguson with Ove Arup and Partners (LB 50213, listed at category A). As at Pitheavlis, this building displays a low-slung arrangement which responds to its surrounding landscape.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the multi-disciplinary engineering and architectural firm of Ove Arup and Partners worked on a series of prestigious company headquarters in Britain using their 'tartan grid' plan form as a basis for the structure. Arup championed collaborative working with like-minded architects, surveyors and contractors, where all relevant design decisions and issues arising during construction were addressed as part of a complete package. Their best work combines meticulous attention to detail with innovative flair. Jim Hampson of Arup summed up their work on the Pitheavlis building in 1984, noting that the repeating 10 x 10 metre grid gave 'human scale to the building' and that 'the design approach was based on ultimate flexibility for the long-term future, deep planning of office areas and a desire to blend in with the landscape' (Arup Journal, 1984). He also indicated that close collaboration with the architects was integral to the success of the project, with both companies' previous experience guiding the design.

The former General Accident headquarters at Pitheavlis won the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Award for Scotland in 1987 (for buildings completed between 1980 and 1984). Writing in the RIBA Journal of January 1988, the architectural writer Colin Amery describes the building as a 'massive achievement […] on an equally grand scale both inside and outside'. Reflecting specifically on the two commercial award winners that year (the other being No1 Finsbury Avenue in London, also by Arup Associates) he states that this 'higher standard of commercial architecture is long overdue and needs to be better known and more widely imitated' (RIBA, 1988). The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) selected the former General Accident headquarters as one of their 100 most representative buildings of the 20th Century in Scotstyle: 100 Years of Scottish Architecture (2016).

Architectural or Historic Interest

Interior

The open-plan office interiors of the Aviva building are designed to be highly serviced and flexible to adapt to future technological innovations and changing working patterns – a requirement that became part of the design process during the later 20th century.

The high specification of interior materials and finishes throughout the building reflect General Accident's ambitious corporate identity which was embodied in its new international headquarters. Of particular note is the unusual ribbed solid rosewood doors and panelling in the boardroom, the extensive use of Botticino marble in the entrance hall, and elm panelled walls and coffered ceilings throughout the open-plan office areas. The bespoke artworks commissioned as part of the design process are integral to the scheme, adding to the interest of the building as a holistic work of art and architecture.

Flexibility and adaptability are underlying design principles of the building, and where there has been later alteration to the interior scheme the overall character of the modern interior has not been adversely affected. Refurbishments and alterations after 1987 include the first floor reception space, canteen and a new row of small retail units to cater to the current needs of staff as well as security requirements.

Plan form

The grid plan form, arranged over five levels of terracing, is key to the design of the building. The 10 metre square grid, with terraces, courtyards and cut-outs through the five floor levels, creates visual interest and allows light into the deep plan.

The 10 metre square entrance porch directly references the grid, while the entrance hall is a double-height volume with a 30 x 10 metre floor space. Adherence to the square grid gives the building a strong sense of order and structural integrity while allowing flexibility and adaptation within the plan.

Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality

The collaborative approach to design is demonstrated in all aspects of the Aviva building's design and construction. The building was also carefully planned and engineered particularly for a challenging site with extensive bedrock groundcover. The structural complexity of integrating the modular grid plan form within a steeply sloping site and on a massive scale is well documented, including the early use of lasers for pinpoint accuracy.

At the core of the building is a smoked glass panel behind which a cavernous space where the substructure meets the hillside bedrock is revealed when the lights are tuned on. James Parr described this as 'a view of the living rock' (Building Design, 1988). It is a carefully considered response to the site which reflects the presentational aspects of the semi-subterranean building design.

The stepped terrace design reflects the Structuralist theories of architects Herman Hertzberger and Aldo Van Eyck in Holland and contemporary late-Modernist architectural thought more widely. Flexibility, functionality, sense of place and the experience of the user were primary design considerations. These concerns are expressed through the deep, open-plan office spaces, circulation between floor levels and communal spaces throughout the building. A 'top-servicing' system was specially developed by Arup for this building, using vertical poles to deliver power from ceiling to each desk to facilitate flexible use of the deep-plan office areas, anticipating the widespread implementation of personal computers in the work place. A central automated building management system ensured that all services operated at optimum levels of performance. An emphasis on achieving a minimum energy consumption and ease of use was built into the design.

The Aviva building represents a synthesis of the structural and design solutions developed by Arup and James Parr at earlier buildings, and here are on a particularly vast scale and to a particularly high material specification. The technological excellence, precision and material craftsmanship are reflected by the cost at completion of a staggering 30 million pounds (equivalent to around 100 million pounds in 2017).

The commission for the building was the result of a successful partnership between client, architect and engineer. The architectural firm of James Parr and Partners enjoyed an ongoing relationship with General Accident, having previously carried out additions and alterations to their former headquarters at Tay Street, Perth in 1963 and 1969. Parr and Partners designed other buildings in Perth for the company including a computer centre in 1963 and a prominent city centre branch office in 1977. The practice, established in Dundee in 1956, worked throughout central Scotland during the later 20th century to become one of the largest and most versatile architectural firms of the period. Alfred Malocco, Daniel A Carmichael and Iain A G Rennie were taken into partnership in 1977 during the initial design phase for the new General Accident headquarters at Pitheavlis. The lead architect on the Pitheavlis project has not been confirmed but was probably Parr himself. It is known that James Parr was responsible for co-ordinating the artwork inside and outside the building, which received a Scottish Architecture Saltire Award in 1987.

The building featured extensively in an Architects' Journal article considering art as 'an indispensable part of new architecture' (Architects' Journal, 1987).

To the exterior there are two abstract kinetic sculptures in stainless steel to either side of main entrance porch are by the notable Glasgow-born sculptor and artist George Wyllie (1921–2012). Inspired by Italian metal sculpture, Wyllie became a full-time artist in 1979 specialising in kinetic sculpture, installation and performance art. To the east of the main entrance are large bronze relief war memorial plaques commemorating staff who fought in the First and Second World Wars which have been relocated from the insurance company's building at Tay Street, Perth.

The sculpture 'Return of the Prodigal' by Ronald Rae (born1946) was commissioned for the grounds by General Accident in 1982 and was later moved a short distance to its present location to the west of the entrance drive. The parable of the prodigal son was used to reflect the company's motto "I warn and I protect". Rae is a renowned Scottish sculptor working exclusively with granite, with prominently sited public and private commissions throughout the country.

To the interior, a ceramic, salt-glaze tile mural measuring approximately 10 metres long by 2.5 metres high in the communal area behind the entrance hall was created by South African ceramic artist, Mike de Haan (born 1948). The mural portrays elements of local and global contemporary life at the time General Accident moved to their new headquarters. Numerous other moveable artworks (not part of the listing) including oil paintings, bespoke furniture and a large tapestry were commissioned for the building.

Setting

The Aviva building has been designed to emerge from its hillside setting to the south of the city as a series of stepped terraces with rooftop gardens. The 'ground-scraping' ziggurat design makes an immediate visual impression while simultaneously acknowledging the existing skyline.

The arrangement of the modular blocks within the grid plan suggest the appearance of rocky outcrops which camouflage the building further when viewed in its entirety from high ground within the city. The building has been described as a 'truly exciting design in a very visible location' which 'not only takes on the topography of the site but enhances it' (Scotstyle, p.171).

The hillside location also provides panoramic views over the city. This inter-visible association reinforces the historic links between the insurance industry and the city of Perth, adding to the building's sense of place and its corporate identity.

Regional variations

There are no known regional variations

Close Historical Associations

There are no known associations with a person or event of national importance at present (2017).

References

Bibliography

Canmore: http://canmore.org.uk/ CANMORE ID: 90411

Printed Sources

Arup Journal Vol. 19, No. 1, (April 1984) Hampstead, J. World Headquarters for General Accident Fire & Life Assurance Corporation Limited, p.8-11.

Building Technology & Management, Vol. 23, No. 5 (May 1985) Laing, W. Ensuring Teamwork on Site, p.3-6.

Architects Journal, Vol. 186, No. 43 (Oct 1987) Murray, C. Art Attack, pp.24-29.

RIBA Journal, Vol. 95 (Jan 1988) RIBA Awards 1987, pp.25-63.

Design Policy No.876 (Mar 1988) Carr, R. Building Design, pp.28-31.

Concrete Quarterly No.156 (1988) Buried in a Hill, pp.14-17.

Bailey, R. M. (1996) Scottish Architects Papers: A Source Book. Edinburgh: The Rutland Press, p.114.

Glendinning, M. MacInnes, R. and MacKechnie A. (2002) A History of Scottish Architecture from the Renaissance to the Present Day. Edinburgh University Press, pp.478-9.

Stell, G. Shaw, J. and Storier, S. (Ed) (2003) Scottish Life and Society - A Compendium of Scottish Ethnology: Scotland's Buildings. Walker, D - Business and Commercial Developments, East Lothian: Tuckwell Press, p.674.

Gifford, J. (2007) The Buildings of Scotland: Perth and Kinross. Edinburgh: Yale University Press, p.662.

McKean, C. (Ed) (2007) Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland - Scottish Architecture in the 1980s. Edinburgh: RIAS, p.8.

Historic Scotland (2009) Scotland: Building for the Future – Essays on the Architecture of the Post-War Era, pp14-15.

Harwood, E. and Powers, A. (Ed) (2012) The Journal of the Twentieth Century Society 10, The Seventies – Rediscovering a Lost Decade of British Architecture. China: World Print.

Baxter, N. and Sinclair, F. (Ed) (2016) Scotstyle – 100 Years of Scottish Architecture 1916-2015. Glasgow: Bell and Bain Ltd, p.171.

Online Sources

Dictionary of Scottish Architects: Parr and Partners, General Accident Headquarters - http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/building_full.php?id=400152 [accessed 14/03/2017]

Aviva Website: Our History - http://heritage.aviva.com/our-history/companies/a/aviva-insurance-ltd/ [accessed 14/03/2017]

Historic England (2016) Introductions to Heritage Assets - The Late 20th-Century Commercial Office - https://content.historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/iha-late-20th-century-commercial-office/heag131-commercial-offices-iha.pdf/ [accessed 14/03/2017]

Ronald Rae Website: 'Return of the Prodigal' sculpture -http://www.ronaldrae.co.uk/sculptures/return-of-the-prodigal [accessed 14/03/2017]

About Listed Buildings

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Images

Aviva UK Headquarters building looking southwest during daytime with overcast sky.
Aviva UK Headquarters building looking east during daytime with overcast sky.

Map

Map

Printed: 15/11/2018 05:58