Closure of the White City building

Facilities Coordinator, BBC Workplace

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As well as the closure and refurbishment of Television Centre this month, there's another BBC building which is closing its doors this week: White City. BBC Workplace’s Facilities Coordinator, Rachid Errtibi shares his memories of the building that opened 23 years ago.

BBC White City Building

I have seen many changes within the BBC over the 16 years I’ve worked here, and in the White City building itself, where change and challenges have often come thick and fast. 

It’s funny thing but most staff disliked the White City building for one reason or another. To be fair to it though, the building did have a unique character, and was flexible enough to accommodate any new departments at short notice - achieved simply and quickly by putting up a few glass partition panels and rearranging furniture, at minimum cost.

White City was the home of over 50 edit suites and Panorama, Watchdog, and Top Gear, the Digital Switchover team, BBC Academy, 21cc, Children in Need, and some parts of our Vision, Operations and human resources department. The building was also the home of new technology where Prince Philip and Prince Charles were invited to watch the first digital channel on the first flat screen TVs.

It was a hospitable building too. It held the largest BBC restaurant which could accommodate up to 400 diners, it  also hosted the Technology Fair, the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay and BBC Academy’s Fast Train Events among others.

Bang Goes The Theory presenter climbs White City with Vacuum gloves

Two challenges that my team faced at White City will stay in my memory: the first was when the Bang Goes The Theory team approached us because they wanted presenter Jem Stansfield to climb the building wearing vacuum gloves (made from a vacuum cleaner): crazy!

We didn’t say 'no': first we took advice from the engineers, who assured us that the structure of White City building was solid enough for such a stunt. Next, we spoke to the permit office and shared the details of how it would be done. Finally a full risk assessment was undertaken – they covered all the safety issues, so we said ‘ok’. You can see a video of the climb here.

Peel P50

Another unusual task was given to us by Top Gear who wanted to film a sequence with Jeremy Clarkson driving the world’s smallest car – a Peel P50 – into work, literally… right inside the White City building.

We wanted to make it work, but there were a few issues. First, it wouldn’t fit through the barriers at reception – so we just lifted it over. Next, the car produced a lot of smoke from the exhaust pipe (this would have set off the fire alarms), so instead for all the inside shots the car was pushed or pulled along subtly so it wouldn’t be noticeable on camera. The result was a very funny bit of telly and a nice tour of White City, you can see the Top Gear clip here.

With the birth of the new state of the art buildings in Media village, Media Centre and Broadcast Centre, the older White City building started to show its age. It was a huge ask to rise to the newcomers challenges. Spending on fabrics and infrastructure to help her regain some of the building's youth was not possible. Not surprisingly then, every carpet tile tells a story. In some dark corners of the building you can read its age and history by the many different carpets laid on top of each other. I took this photo (below) a few metres away from the old Director General's office. In it you can see (from left to right) the original carpet, next to leftovers from Media Centre, next to more off-cuts from another part of White City, beside some old TVC carpet. Nothing went to waste. 

White City carpets

As the conference, events and then facilities coordinator, I have been lucky to work closely with some amazing creative people who go miles to assist and make things happen. In particular, I would like to mention the champion: our man Leo. The unseen and unheard, Leo was the first one out there in minus zero temperatures when the snow fell, gritting our path ways for staff trudging into work. He was also the last one out recycling our waste - a man of all seasons and all weathers (pictured below).

 

Recycling at BBC

When White City closes, I’ll be moving to another BBC building – Centre House where BBC R&D (Research and Development) are based - it’s much smaller than White City and like White City it isn’t much in the looks department. But, I’m told the restaurant serves great food. What’s more it’s a stone’s throw from White City building. So if I ever feel nostalgic (and its not too cold) I can also stroll down the road for a trip down memory lane.

 

Rachid Errtibi is Facilities Coordinator, BBC Workplace.

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