In 2001 RPBW was invited by Stanhope, the developers, to propose a masterplan for the Central St Giles site in Central London overlooked by Centrepoint, the striking landmark building by Richard Seifert dominating the district since 1966. Foster and Partners had also previously been invited to provide initial thoughts, but RPBW won the job because Stanhope wanted to do something different with the site, and Piano was thought to be the best architect to achieve this. Behind Centrepoint towards Covent Garden lurked an anonymous grey Ministry of Defence building, incongruous in this now creative part of central London. The hermetic, and congested 0.7 ha site intersecting Covent Garden, Bloomsbury and Soho needed a scheme to unlock and connect it. Pension fund managers Legal & General, the site’s owners (now together with Mitsubishi Estate Company) and developers Stanhope, wanted a mixed use development. Tongues have been wagging. Some feel it is over-scaled for its context, others find in the façade of the ten-floor building a too great similarity with the texture and vivid colours of LEGO bricks. Sceptics worry that other developers will use a related formula to get planning permission for “copy-cat” central London schemes. Central St Giles’ vibrancy was never going to please everyone, but amidst this bout of Anglo-Saxon architectural angst, it has won the full support of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. CABE’s Chief Executive, Paul Finch, describes it as “one of London’s great commercial buildings”, one that “sets the standards by which office architecture should be judged.” An incongruous mix of Mr Freedom’s Pop Art furniture shop, a pub favoured by Goths and a church and garden has populated the street past and present. The nearby building site of the Crossrail station and Denmark Street’s musical instrument shops spell cultural flux and expression. Local community organizations and English Heritage were consulted, and the team struggled to deal with some awkward physical conditions, with public housing on adjacent streets physically marooned up until now at the edge of a closed site. Piano’s arrangement of 40,000 sqm (430,000 sq ft) of office space apartments (56 retail and 53 affordable) around a public courtyard has five public routes cutting through it. This makes the space memorable yet physically connected to surrounding streets. He also raises the blocks 7 metres (23 ft) above ground level, giving permeability to an extensively glazed multicultural mix of upmarket restaurant brands and retailers and to the public routes between them. All face onto the street, and internally a public courtyard with two trees, sculpture and furniture chosen by Piano. Colour is lacking in London buildings, as anyone riding the London Eye will observe. You cannot discuss Piano’s colours without referring to the composition of his “zingy”, “vibrant” “cheeky” and “very London” façades of glazed ceramic tiles (14 street, 8 inner). They do not match up, being set at slightly different angles in order to be parallel to the district’s medieval street pattern. Crenellated mullions (which Piano is also using in the Shard of Glass at London Bridge) in the window structure keep the structure light, break up the massing and bring light into office spaces via low iron glazing so panoramic views can be fully enjoyed. The hand of the architect is omnipresent in practical and elegant bespoke detailing throughout, on floor grilles, on hand–finished polished plaster walls, pendant light fittings, spotlights, glazed fin panels, slender columns and orange digital floor numbers in the elevator. The office doors are the only feature that appears a little straightlaced. Considered right down to the last detail: this is far from the norm of spec office buildings in London, which may be serviceable but do not use bespoke design enough (even Piano’s solutions for the ceilings are neat). The west facing, beautifully landscaped 1,850 sqm (20,000 sq ft) roof terrace on the eighth floor and south-facing winter garden adds exclusivity. The ideal tenant for the top floors of Piano’s offices would be an advertising agency or other creative firm that can take full advantage of the ambience offered by the individualistic architecture, views out and location. Piano’s scheme remakes a formerly confused area, infusing it with a strong architectural identity that has authenticity and connects districts. The building ticks all the sustainability boxes with its double skin façade, sedum roof, 60% reuse of rainwater, biomass boiler generating 80% of heat, and 90% recyclable materials. Huge, bold Gothic cathedrals felt civically enriching when they were unveiled in centuries past, and Central St Giles’ open character and invigorating presence adds to, rather than subtracts from, the city’s porous and plural cultural life.