Architecture People

City of London Guildhall Breakfast London + Tall Buildings

Towers of London

The collection of buildings that make up Guildhall could hardly be more eclectic. The Festival of Britain inspired Members’ Club by Sir Richard Gilbert Scott. The (rare) pseudo gothic Art Gallery also by Sir Richard. The medieval Great Hall with George Dance the Younger’s (rarer) Moghul gothic entrance. Sir Christopher Wren’s baroque St Lawrence Jury Church. The Private Dining Room of the Members’ Club has great views of these low rise buildings against a backdrop of skyscrapers.

Guildhall is his office and – it transpires – his midweek home. Chris Hayward, Chairman of the Planning and Transportation Committee of the City of London as of 2016 is clearly a busy man. There are more cranes piercing the horizon of the City now than in the 1980s. When the Elizabeth Line opens there’ll be more people, more pressure, more planning applications. “There’s nowhere like this in the world,” he believes. “The City is a major financial centre with medieval streets. It’s the powerhouse of Britain, the heart of economic growth, whatever they say in elections. Do you want to live in Frankfurt? I don’t!”

Chris refers to an extension of the ‘Eastern Cluster’ as the only part of the City suitable for more tall buildings, in order to preserve heritage elsewhere. “We could fill in the gap between the Walkie Talkie and the Cheesegrater. The skyline works. In the Square Mile we can only go up, not out. I’m a strong advocate of clustering.” He acknowledges others’ mistakes of the recent past. “I want the new generation of tall buildings to be more outward looking, more approachable. For example, the ground floor of the Leadenhall Building is very permeable. They should also have world class public spaces in between. I don’t want the City to be the new Manhattan: too many skyscrapers in Manhattan interact poorly at ground level.”

Contrary to most media missives, London’s skyline isn’t changing in a haphazard way. The City has developed a complex viewing model and is undertaking world class wind modelling work. The future isn’t only about offices scraping the sky. “There’s a forgotten area of the City along the riverfront near the Tower of London,” he explains. “It’s pretty awful but I have a vision of an amazing mixed use scheme of tallish – not ultra tall – buildings. It would need a change of planning policy to allow for residential use. I’ve asked my officers to look at it. Hot off the press! That’s your scoop!” Chris is also keen to see retail planning applications coming forward as well. Rumour has it that Selfridges and Harvey Nics would jump at the chance of opening in the City.

Town Houses

Morpheus + The Chelsea Townhouses London


Morpheus. In Greek mythology he is the god of dreams. In modern day London he is the deliverer of über high end homes. The fulfiller of dreams. The face of Morpheus is dashing developer Andrew Murray. More anon. A forgotten site in a memorable mews is the latest location. The Chelsea Townhouses, just three of them, are each a mesomorph in mortar and marble composite.

Viewed along mutually perpendicular radii, the concertinas of the finned (to the front) and buttressed (to the back) elevations unfold in anamorphic monochrome. The triumphant triumvirate of light surface, shadowy void and dark glazing is as precisely incised as an Erhard Schön woodcut puzzle. Strips of vertical garden clinging to the rear buttresses provide light green relief.

This art of delaying access to deeper meaning is both metaphorical and physical. The Chelsea Townhouses are four up, two down. Their true verticality remains unrevealed by the delineated modernity of the façade. Two concealed levels lie below street level. Beyond the entrance doors, an airy expanse of lateral living comes as a visual and experiential surprise.

Garages are an integral part of the building envelope. “These houses are real ‘lock ups’,” explains Andrew. “You can drive straight into the garage, step into the lift, walk out of the lobby and you’re home. They’re incredibly secure.” When you’re not at home, Morpheus’ Residential Management Team cleans, carries out security checks, sets up floral arrangements in the first floor reception suite, and a Harvey Nics hamper in the double height kitchen will await you on your return.

This quintessentially upper crust concierge service is included in the purchase price (a snip at £10 million) for the first year. When you are at home, a sommelier will attend to parties while food rises up to the dining room on a mirrored servery, “London’s largest dumb waiter!” Andrew’s words.

Morpheus selected guest designers 1508 London to decorate the 900 square metres interior of the middle house. “We commissioned English designers and craftsmen for much of the furniture,” relates Andrew. “Herringbone and checked tailoring, Fromental wallpaper and Jura blue grey limestone present typical British understatement. Patinato Veneziano polished plaster and brass trimming add a touch of international glamour. Nothing is off the shelf. Everything is handmade.”

A cantilevered staircase resting on open risers with a glazed banister floats effortlessly upwards like a lightweight glacial artery. Andrew refers to it as the “natural flow”. He reckons the first floor winter garden has the best of both worlds, revelling in both display and privacy. This could be a metaphor for the house as a whole. The upper levels are filled with natural light and are used for entertaining: display. The ambiance changes on the lower levels to a duskier clubby feel: privacy. An acoustically panelled cinema and snug family room provide the ultimate underworld sanctuary.

In later Greek mythological writings, Morpheus morphs into the god of sleep. And so to bed. One of four bedrooms, the master suite occupies the whole of the top floor. To the front is the bathroom. A strip of windows facing onto a landscaped roof lights the swathing of bookended Italian marble. To the back, a roof terrace is accessed off the silk carpeted bedroom.

Over the last two decades in business, Andrew has witnessed the metamorphosis of London into the most desirable address in this world. “Demand is through the roof,” he observes. “The capital has one helluva lot of attractions, from culture – where else are museums free? – to a convenient time zone, generous tax structure, political stability, security of legal ownership and education.” Plus heavenly houses fit for the gods like The Chelsea Townhouses.