Goodbye to Media Centre after 11 years

Outside view of Media Centre The Media Centre was officially opened in May 2004 by Jonathan Ross

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Eleven years is not that long in the life of a building. When some BBC programmes have lasted dozens of years, it feels like barely a ripple in time.

And yet after only just over a decade as part of the BBC's property portfolio, the Media Centre - all 39,000 square metres of it - will close its doors to staff on July 10. Its closure is part of an £87m deal struck with new developers.

The light and airy building, with wooden staircases running through its heart, was designed by architects Allies and Morrison and opened to great fanfare by Jonathan Ross on May 12 2004.

It was hailed as part of a plan to regenerate the west London site and make it feel more of a community. The name Media Village was given to what had simply been known as White City. Building commenced in September 2001. At its peak, 2,500 people from 45 different nationalities worked on the construction of the buildings. They excavated 60,000 cubic metres of earth, laid 300 miles of electrical cable and installed 14,000 light fittings.

Poems and art

Artwork was central to the design, with an ambition to inspire creativity. Japanese artist Yuko Shiraishi was commissioned to create the bright mural in the reception and to follow through with a similar colour scheme inside the office space, best viewed if you stood inside the atrium and looked up.

Yuko Shiraishi's mural in Media Centre reception Yuko Shiraishi's mural in Media Centre reception

Poet laureate Andrew Motion and graphic designer John Morgan collaborated on a poem inlaid onto the 'pedestrian street' outside the Media Centre. It was part of a project called 'the voices of White City' and you can still see the words if you stop for a moment to look at them, but they are hard to read close up.

But despite all the lofty ambitions, many people based in central London were initially reluctant to move to their new home in W12. The location was a bit of a hard sell for those used to the buzz of W1 - and all that convenience on your doorstep.

Andrew Fullerton, a planning manager for Workplace, writes about this in a blog for About the BBC: 'Many arrived disgruntled at having to leave their W1 postcode for what many perceived to be the cultural desert of White City'.

Staircases, Media Centre

But, he adds, 'most were quickly won over by the quality of the working environment and the ever improving accessibility and local amenities', which eventually included the much-touted Westfield.

Television star

In television, the building had a starring role in Armando Iannucci's The Thick of It. The production team had started filming in a Guinness brewery in west London, which had provided the programme-makers with a one-stop shop for their needs - but it was to be demolished and the team only had a small budget to find an alternative.

After quite a bit of scouting around, producer Adam Tandy suggested a place close to home for filming - and that was the Media Centre.

Office in Media Centre

Production designer Simon Rogers remembers how they took up half a floor for the ministry offices, filming for a week surrounded by BBC staff, although filming of the 'more sweary scenes' had to be left until the end of the day.

In a blog written in 2009, he adds: 'The Media Centre provided us with a lot more scale and production value and really helped suggest that our ministry was a tiny cog in a huge political machine.'

End of era
Evidence of plumbing problems The reverse plumbing incident and the silver bins that were later removed from every desk

Those who worked there will probably remember being able to sit outside the fifth floor café in the summer, with a view of a gritty, urban London spreading out before you.

There were the fluorescent accents - orange chairs, primary colour schemes in the kitchen hubs and splashed on walls. If you've been here long enough and once worked in west London, you might remember the dismay when the decision was taken to remove everyone's personal bin.

Not long after the building opened, there was a 'reverse plumbing incident' that spilled into the corridors. People were scooping up water with recycling bins and grabbing hundreds of paper towels to lay on the floor.

There was also the day in July that the Olympic torch came through W12, with Bruce Forsyth holding it aloft as he ran past the Media Centre. It seemed a fitting place for the torch to come through, given that the west London site had once been the home of the Olympics in 1908.

Olympic torch goes through Media Centre, July 26 2012 Olympic torch goes through White City, July 26 2012

Recently, Strictly Come Dancing staged a dance-off in the building to raise money for Children in Need. A group of people - and a few excited children - danced to Taylor Swift's Shake It Off while colleagues watched from balconies above. It was probably one of the last times the building felt so crowded.

It's a shell now, empty of personality and mostly deserted. Neglected office furniture looks forlorn, carpet has been ripped up to expose hard concrete. It's hard to imagine the place it once was - buzzing with noise, crammed full of desks and brimming with possibility.

While it's the end for the BBC occupation of the Media Centre, the building will have a new life, undergo a complete refurbishment and be brought onto the market in 2016 for new tenants to occupy. And the BBC will remain as tenants of the Broadcast Centre, Energy Centre and Lighthouse. The plans for the Media Village - to be renamed White City Place - will make it the 'place to be', say developers Stanhope.

Not everyone sees it as a new beginning, however. 'It's the end of an era,' someone said recently, peering at some neglected chairs huddled in a corner. The era didn't last long.

We asked staff to share their memories of the building to mark its closure. Here is what they said:

Emma Pentecost, team assistant/PA, Children in Need, Garden House

Children in Need was based on the ground floor, very close to the Think Tank. One morning I was completely snowed under and just really wanted to get my head down and get on, but was being distracted by some loud, strange noises coming from the Think Tank - think of sticks being whacked together and various kinds of grunting noises.

This went on and on and I just couldn't concentrate, so I cracked and marched over there, with the intention of being assertive and asking them to keep the noise down. I changed my mind when I saw it was David Tennant. He was obviously being taught some kind of fighting skills, so I thought better of it and left them to it.

Anne Jones, PA, rights business development, Broadcast Centre

View from fifth floor Media Centre, July 10 2015 View from fifth floor Media Centre, July 10 2015

I moved to the MC from W1 in 2004 as one of the early teams moving in. There was still gaffer tape around the windows, the building was so new. My overriding memory of that time was the overzealous air conditioning which meant the building was Arctic cold. Ten years went by and I returned to work there in a totally different guise and the first thing that struck me was how temperate the building had become.

I have many happy memories of eating lunch outside on the 5th floor in the summers of 2004 and 2005, where you felt like you were on top of the world with the view around you. My favourite things about MC and BC are the pale wood staircases and the simple white lighting - it gives the buildings the most amazing light, airy feel.

Having now moved from the Media Centre back to the Broadcast Centre once again, it's nice to at least be in a similar building here.

Neil Walker, senior distribution manager, Broadcast Centre

I have very good memories of huddling around a modestly sized display with Policy, Strategy and Distribution colleagues watching our first World Cup presentation in glorious HD in 2006 on our newly born trial BBC HD channel. Can't remember much about England's performance that year though …

Linda Tate, PA to head of TV content, BBC Television, NBH

Lone orange sofa, December 2007 Lone orange sofa, Media Centre, December 2007

I was in the Media Centre in 2005, on attachment from White City to BH. The people I worked with in BH were the first to move from 'lovely' W1 to 'horrible' W12 as they then thought. I was delighted to go 'back' to west London from the very much needing-to-be-refurbished Broadcasting House.

Ironically, I am now in NBH and enjoying the refurbishment! It's a shame Media Centre only lasted 10 years.

Beverley Bainbridge, PA to director of BBC Production, NBH

I was the project coordinator for the W12 Programme so I moved the teams into MC from WC1 [White City building] so I know every nook and cranny in that building. It was also my job to refit the hubs in MC with the nice bits of furniture left over from WC1. I painstakingly matched every bit of furniture for every hub strategically and no one even noticed! Ha, ha.

Cara McMahon, business coordinator, Distribution & Business Development, Broadcast Centre

I did get in the lift one day and when it stopped for me to get out at my floor, it announced that we were are the 113th floor!

Amal Abid, team assistant, Media Action Asia team

I worked in the Media Centre for a few years on two occasions. I remember the stunning winter sunsets over the (not so stunning) White City estate, that you would see from the 5th floor balcony.

White City sunset, November 2014 Sunset over White City, as taken by Amal Abid, November 2014

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