Google shells out $1 billion for Renzo Piano’s Central Saint Giles complex in London

When the Color Scheme Fits

Google shells out $1 billion for Renzo Piano’s Central Saint Giles complex in London

Aerial view of the Renzo Piano-designed Central Saint Giles in London. (Timo Tijhof/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0)

Central Saint Giles, a prismatic mixed-use London development designed by Renzo Piano as the Italian-born Pritzker Prize laureate’s first United Kingdom project, has been sold to Google in a $1 billion (£871 million) deal that will see the Silicon Valley-headquartered tech behemoth transition from renter to owner, cementing its presence in the British capital city.

Debuting in London’s West End in May 2010 at a cost of roughly $613 million (£450 million), Central Saint Giles is comprised of two towers—a 15-story residential high-rise and a larger, horseshoe-shaped office block rising 11 stories—that flank a public art-showcasing piazza ringed by ground-level retail and restaurants. The terrace-studded complex’s impossible-to-miss calling card is its riotously-hued facade, which is clad in 134,000 glazed tiles in vibrant shades of red, orange, yellow, and lime green. (Swap out the orange for blue and you’d have the colors of Google’s wordmark logo.)

view of lime and red-colored building facades
(Peter Alfred Hess/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Prominently situated just a block off the eastern end of Oxford Street, Central Saint Giles elicited groans and laudation in (mostly) equal measure when it opened while also attracting a slew of tech and media companies including NBC Universal and Google to its roughly 408,000 square feet of office space. In his (mostly positive) assessment, The Observer’s Rowan Moore likened Piano’s bold creation to the “script of a B-movie … in which giant mutant chewy sweets have, following a radioactive accident, invaded the world” and referred to it as a “Marmite building … which passers-by either hate or love.”

Just two years after Piano made a color-drenched splash in West London with Central Saint Giles, his second (and considerably more famous) U.K. project was completed in 2012 along the River Thames: The Shard, a Southwark skyscraper that, at 72 stories, ranks as the tallest building in the U.K.

Prior to Google, the Central Saint Giles complex was owned by Legal & General Group and Mitsubishi Estate.

In a January 14 blog post, Ronan Harris, vice president and managing director of Google UK and Ireland, laid out the company’s plans to bolster its presence in Great Britain with the acquisition of Central Saint Giles being representative of its “continued confidence in the office as a place for in-person collaboration and connection” despite the massive swing towards remote work brought on by the pandemic.

rendering of a modern office space
Rendering of a wellness-promoting Quiet Zone at Google’s revamped offices within the Central Saint Giles development. (BDG Architects/Courtesy Google)

Revealing that Google now plans to embark on a “multi-million-pound refurbishment” of its offices at Central Saint Giles to “ensure that they are best equipped to meet the needs of our future workplace,” Harris hinted at how the company plans to embrace a flexible hybrid workplace model:

“We believe that the future of work is flexibility. Whilst the majority of our UK employees want to be on-site some of the time, they also want the flexibility of working from home a couple of days a week. Some of our people will want to be fully remote. Our future UK workplace has room for all of those possibilities.

[At Central Saint Giles] We’ll be introducing new types of collaboration spaces for in-person teamwork, as well as creating more overall space to improve wellbeing. We’ll introduce team pods, which are flexible new space types that can be reconfigured in multiple ways, supporting focused work, collaboration or both, based on team needs. The new refurbishment will also feature outdoor covered working spaces to enable work in the fresh air.”

Google currently employs roughly 6,400 people at its U.K. offices across London, including its main hub at 6 Pancras Square, and in Manchester; with the purchase of Central Saint Giles, the company can expand its workforce capacity to roughly 10,000 employees.

rendering of people interacting at a social office space
A social area dubbed The Landing will serve as the main arrival space for work areas on each floor of the redesigned offices. (BDG Architects/Courtesy Google)

It’s also worth noting that Central Saint Giles will not act as the company’s new U.K. headquarters once it fully takes over the development. That honor will eventually be held by a forthcoming “landscraper” in Kings Cross that will serve as Google’s statement-making across-the-pond anchor. Designed by Heatherwick Studio and the Bjarke Ingels Group, the 1 million-square-foot complex is slated to open circa 2024 and is Google’s first purpose-built building outside of the United States. When completed, that 11-story building alone is expected to accommodate up to 7,000 employees.