Wayfinding at Television Centre

Directing an icon

  • Client

  • Location

    White City, London


When the former headquarters of the BBC opened up to the public, we created an external wayfinding system to guide people around this icon as it began a new phase in its life

A family of bold signs, dressed in the building’s famous atomic dots, celebrates its distinctive architectural heritage

Atomic dots, a surprising national treasure

Legend has it that one of the architects, Arthur Hayes, pushed a series of drawing pins into the side of a foam model to represent the lights that now stick out of the facade of Studio One. Those drawing pins ended up coming to life as the iconic ‘atomic dots’. Our totems proudly display their own atomic dots, recalling an image that would’ve flashed across countless British television screens for decades.

Light plays a central role in the design. LEDs embedded in the majority of signs mean they glow at night, drawing in visitors, diners and revellers and presenting helpful directions. These are then accompanied by a replaceable axonometric drawing of the site that is always ‘heads up’.

A centre for storytelling

Once the home of British television, we wanted the rich history of Television Centre to continue to be celebrated and so we made space for it — each totem contains carefully chosen archival photographs accompanied by a succinct history that tells the story of a place so famous for storytelling.

Another urban myth is that architect Graham Dawbarn sketched a big question mark when asked to design the BBC's first purpose-built home, before soon realising that it would make the perfect shape for an efficient ‘factory for television’.

The famous circular block, known today as the Helios, was designed with 400 offices for 3,000 people, dressing rooms for 600 artists, 7 studios, wardrobe for 16,000 items, laundry, hair salon, make-up and wig-making departments, script and music libraries, band practice room, and a telephone exchange.

Television Centre broke ground in 1950 and completed in 1960. Covering 14 acres and twice the size of St Paul’s Cathedral, it was possible to see the site under construction from Alexandra Palace — where the BBC began broadcasting television in 1936.

Television Centre broadcast its first programme on 29 June 1960. The ‘First Night’ show included music from The Toppers and R&B vocal harmony group The Silhouettes, as well as the Irving Davies Dancers, and The Derricos — a high wire acrobatic act.

Her Majesty the Queen visited Television Centre on the 25th anniversary of the BBC, seen here standing beneath the colonnade at the entrance to the Helios. At its launch, BBC Director Gerald Beadle described Television Centre as “the largest, best equipped and most carefully planned factory of its kind in the world.”

Connected by an outer scenery runway, the studios’ radiating arrangement was designed to streamline production and create a completely flexible operation. Broadcasts from inside and outside Television Centre were organised by the Central Control Room on the fourth floor, to Britain and across the globe.

A young Sir David Attenborough leaning on the railings at the top of the Helios Courtyard — “My first day was in the early ’60s. There was so much live recording.. there was this fizz.”

With its vast studios and technical capabilities, Television Centre gave rise to large-scale broadcasting, whether the elaborate sets of Doctor Who, or the party atmosphere of music shows Old Grey Whistle Test, Top of the Pops and Later.. with Jools Holland. Appearances at Television Centre have charted the careers and transformation of the music industry's biggest names, such as Coldplay and Beyonce.

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