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Julian Cross, London Studio Principal & Design Lead for Europe, explains how the carefully considered design of hospitality projects can unlock significant value in one of London’s most cosmopolitan boroughs.
Ham Yard Hotel, London in the midst of Soho and Piccadilly.
As with many major European cities, London is filled with layers of complex heritage and history. Occupying a large area of central London is Westminster, home to the United Kingdom’s Houses of Parliament, much of the British government, the buzzing West End, Buckingham Palace, several high-profile shopping streets and so much more.
And while this is one of the most well-known districts in London for many of its more affluent and tourist-driven aspects, Westminster is also a very mixed-use borough, from commercial life to residential life, from very high-income to low-income in terms of demographic. Westminster also has a series of distinct villages, with areas such as Covent Garden, Knightsbridge, Victoria all coming with their own unique sense of community and neighborhood.
Woods Bagot has delivered three hotel projects in this borough over the last decade, with much of the success of these projects attributed to an understanding of the area’s specific challenges. This has then given us a deep comprehension of the evolving needs of Westminster. Equally, with any hotel project we’ve delivered, we have been able to nuance the brand to the location – we’re not just inserting something that doesn’t quite fit, we’re taking the time to understand the brand and merge it with an understanding of the place.
First, and completed in 2014, is the Ham Yard Hotel for client, Firmdale. This project focused on creating value by connecting disparate urban sites and driving public space through an otherwise disconnected route between Piccadilly and Soho. This plan kept the neighborhood’s historical standing as a source for the service-industry and a traditionally bohemian population in mind, by integrating a site-specific mix of hotel, residences, and commercial spaces. The public realm unified these elements and was also treated and carefully repaired the grain, allowing a free flow of pedestrians through public green areas that anchor the development to its new address.
In Leicester Square, just a stone’s throw away from The Ham Yard, The Londoner Hotel – opened in 2021 – is all about the world’s deepest habitable basement and unlocking value by going underground. Restricted by significant heritage views and a very tight urban site, Woods Bagot worked closely with the client, The Edwardian Group, and engineering firm, Arup, to achieve all amenity and staff spaces (plus two Odeon cinema screens) comfortably down through six levels beneath the hotel. The design also takes into careful consideration the rich history and context of the local area, respecting its position at the intersection of four neighborhoods that have their own distinct aesthetics and scale. Lastly, as part of original planning requirements, The Londoner needed to incorporate artwork. Rather than this being an add-on, the team worked very closely with artist Ian Monroe to design and deliver a breathtaking blue façade – that brought together both elements of classic English artwork and a strong brand identity – made up of over 15,000 bespoke terracotta tiles.
Finally, The Hotel AMANO Covent Garden opened its doors in early 2022. Set on the iconic Drury Lane, this project saw the redevelopment of a tired 1980s office building that hadn’t been adding much to the heritage environment. The aim was to reposition the building, giving it a new lease of life as a hotel, and achieving public activation at both rooftop and ground level. By creating a public face at ground floor, through the hotel lobby and restaurant, we have established a more composed object in the city, we were able to provide a new and exciting user experience for locals and visitors alike. Today there’s an active ground level and a rooftop with unparcelled views, including the landmark Drury Lane Theatre, both of which contribute to the vital West End night-time economy.
While each project has its own unique challenges and complexities, ultimately the main goal has remained the same: how do we build world-class visitor experiences while adding real value to the local area and community at the same time?
And what do these three unique hotels share? Exceptional locations generating very different and entirely unique responses, set in some of the most renowned parts of Central London. And yet working with older assets is, as made evident, not without its difficulties. The real design challenge has led us to partner with our clients to advise them on how best to navigate the constraints they face as they attempt find the best solutions in the complex, heritage-rich neighbourhoods of Westminster. This leads to the creation of contemporary hospitality assets that are respectful of their heritage surroundings within one of the most historic boroughs in central London.
As a global practice we’re able to assess each specific opportunity through a local lens with an international viewpoint – we pride ourselves on knowing what different scales and types of hotels require for commercial success, through their subtle and nuanced revitalisation of place.
Julian Cross is a Principal at our London Studio and Regional Design Leader for Europe. He has more than 20 years of architecture and design experience from across the UK, Europe and the Middle East.
Prior to joining Woods Bagot, Julian was a Principal at Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates where he worked on a number of high-profile, London-based, mixed-use schemes, including the Earls Court masterplan and residential and retail developments in Covent Garden, including Kings Court and the Wellington Hotel. Julian has experience dealing with exceptionally large projects in both size and scale, from 10 million-square-foot masterplans in London to luxury residential developments in Dubai.
Bringing with him a wealth of architecture and design knowledge, Julian has lectured at the London South Bank University, UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture, and the University of Greenwich, and is a RIBA Part 3 Mentor at the University of Westminster’s Faculty of Architecture.
To contact Julian Cross, get in touch.
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