Bird's Eye Building (now demolished)
Walton Court, formerly offices for Bird’s Eye Foods, was built in 1961-2 by architects Sir John Burnet, Tait and Partners, landscape by Philip Hicks. It was listed at Grade II, ref no: 1271706. In 2019, it was demolished and apartments are being built on the site.
Bird's Eye Foods were based in this building from 1961.
In 2014 the site was used to film the TV series 24 with Keifer Sutherland. Also in 2014 Tom Hardy was there to film the Kray brothers film Legend.
The site has been empty since Unilever moved out. Despite local opposition, planning permission was given to demolish the building for apartments. Demolition took place in 2019 with new properties scheduled for occupation in 2020.
Bird’s Eye was one of the first companies to move its offices out of London, bringing all its staff together on one site in Walton-on-Thames, close to rail and airport connections. The company invested in prestigious, bespoke headquarters, which were intended to endure for many years ahead. The crisp geometric forms and silver-blue colours reflected the image of the company's products.
The design allowed for an added fourth storey, which the company wanted. However, it was not given planning permission, and instead, in 1967-68 the building was extended by a small addition in similar style, reached via a glazed link.
The building reflected the 1960s predilection for geometric op-art forms in the design of its curtain walling which is enhanced by the reflective pool running the length of the building. It also reflects the trend at the time to incorporate works of art into the design as part of the aesthetic and as a symbol of the company. In this case, standing in the arm of the pool at the entrance to the site is a sculpture of rising birds by John McCarthy (separately listed, National Heritage List for England, Grade II, 1245780).
This integration of landscape, building and art is repeated elsewhere within the building. Of the two internal courtyards, also by Hicks, one is Japanese in feel, the other includes monolithic concrete sculptures by Alan Collins, set among formal rectangular pools and trees; it was restored in 1998 by Elizabeth Banks Associates. When first opened, there was a menagerie of small animals including flamingoes, penguins and alligators in the two courtyards, they were eventually removed to London Zoo. Water too played its part inside the building, where, at the base of the stairs there was a shallow pool fed by water stoups.
The landscape played an important part in setting the building in its suburban context. Occupying a 6 acre site which was previously allotments, the landscape was laid out by Philip Hicks with lawns and planted with trees and shrubs. The building is highly visible from the road, set back behind open lawns beyond a low parapet wall, while the pavement outside is lined with cobbles linking the theme within the site with the public area.
The company was forward thinking in other ways; and the canteen was one of the first in the country to serve only pre-packaged, quick-frozen meals, a system that required minimum staff. The company tested its own produce in rooms equipped with special lighting to make the food appear monotone in colour (and thus allow the testers to concentrate on the taste).
It was listed for the following principal reasons:
* Design interest: bespoke, crisply defined office building, overlooking internal courtyards and a reflective pool; an early example of the 1960s predilection for geometric op-art shapes, here reflecting the image of the company;
* Materials: precise and inventive detailing and finishes, notably in the curtain walling; high quality marble and timber finishes to the entrance and internal public areas;
* Integrated design: a particularly successful and extensive scheme, incorporating the reflective pool and enclosed courtyards set with sculpture and water features, in the wider setting of open lawns;
* Historic interest: an innovative company, one of the first to move its headquarters from central London to a single suburban site.
More historic information here.