Next stop Ham Yard. We haven’t strayed too far from the closeness of riches, sticking firmly to the Regent Street edge of Soho. More than a mere hotel, this Woods Bagot designed piece of new townscape is stitched into the tight urban fabric. All the key town planning buzzwords are ticked: accessibility, flexibility, legibility, permeability. Stylistically too it’s a fit, displaying a kickass warehouse meets townhouse typology. Dotted around the perimeter of the courtyard are 13 boutique shops. In the hotel itself, as well as the Dive Bar there are 91 bedrooms and suites, a ground floor restaurant, orangery sunken halfway below street level and a theatre two floors down. Ah, the theatre. Our raison d’être at the Kemps’ latest development. Alex Beard (Chief Exec), Kevin O’Hare (Director of the Royal Ballet) and Kasper Holten (Director of Opera) have invited us to celebrate the opening of the Royal Opera House Live Cinema Season. “We’ve an audience to die for!” exclaims Alex. “We’ve got with us more than a smattering of Royal Ballet artists. Friends and rellies, you can catch me in the cinema! We’re going from strength to strength.”
Kicking off (although there’s probably a more genteel term for it) the season is Kenneth MacMillan’s acclaimed Manon performed by The Royal Ballet starring Marianela Nuñez and Federico Bonelli. Madness, materialism, mayhem, mistresses, mystery, misery, Monsieur GM… they’re all in the gripping three acts of Manon. Kenneth MacMillan’s masterpiece may be 40 years old, first performed in 1974, but it remains thematically bang up-to-date. His Views of the Word are not defunct. Tonight’s performance is being simultaneously broadcast across 40 countries. Federico’s family are watching it in Genoa. But first for some revolutionary devolutionary evolutionary canapés. There’s the opening reception plus two intervals then the after party to navigate our way through. Phew. Thank goodness for avocado and lime on dried cracker; grilled goats’ cheese on mini toasted brioche; prawns marinated in basil pesto; grilled asparagus with garlic mayo; mini pulled pork and beetroot burgers; and pan fried cubes of chicken fillet. Not forgetting white chocolate caramel lollipops – they’ve got kick. Survival of the fattest.
Kenneth MacMillan’s source was the 18th century French novel by Abbé Prévost. It had already been adapted for opera by Massenet and Puccini. But he drew new sympathy for the capricious Manon using his customary psychological insight and memories of his own impoverished upbringing. He described his heroine as “not so much afraid of being poor as ashamed of being poor”. It’s a heart wrenching drama accentuated by Jules Massent’s score. The great choreographer’s widow, Lady MacMillan personally introduces Manon at Ham Yard. “Kenneth loved cinema and would be delighted by this performance. I warn you – there’s no happy ending!” And the best bed flip award (presumably there’s a technical term for it) goes to Marianela Nunez.
Decisions, decisions. There may not be as many approaches to architectural criticism as there are to architectural style but there are still plenty around for sure. The formal approach championed by Huxtable. Historical by the likes of Goldberger. Experiential by Muschamp. Activist by Sorkin. So on and so forth. This essay relies on a combination of formal and historical as befits its subject. The Mumford (not & Sons) walkthrough is adopted with its emphasis on the visual. A sprinkling of the sustainable approach is added to the mix. It’s a tale of two architects two centuries apart anchored by continuing moments of beauty. Dr Roderick O’Donnell, one of London’s leading architectural historians, is on standby for sound bites.
But this essay isn’t about No.10. Although the neighbouring building may be significantly lower in scale, its dignified presence holds its own. Welcome to Trinity House, Trinity Square. Samuel Wyatt’s masterpiece, an authoritative assimilation of Greco Roman style. Over to Rory: “His younger and better known brother James is more flash. Samuel is a much more controlled architect – he’s not headline. He is best known for designing a series of sold satisfying small country houses.” Isabella Blow’s family seat Doddington is one example. Built in the 1790s, Trinity House displays the Wyatt dynasty’s love of the lateral. “Horizontal emphasis is a Wyatt trait,” confirms Rory.
The ground floor is presented as a channelled stone rusticated podium with the order raised above framing the principal floor. The central segmental arched doorway is set in a three bay reticent recess flanked on either side by single bay projections with segmental arched tripartite windows. These deferential round headed apertures act as a counterpoint to overall elevational orthogonality. Upstairs, paired unfluted Greek Ionic pilasters distinguish the outer bays. Just as François Mansart gave his name to a certain type of roof, James Wyatt popularised a window type. The Wyatt window is a tripartite arrangement resembling a Palladian window (another eponymous architectural term) with the arch omitted and the entablature carried over the wider central window. Samuel places Wyatt windows over the doorway and on the first floor of the outer bays. Matching unfluted Greek Ionic columns frame the central bay with single windows on either side. Balustraded aprons fill the space below the five windows. Above, relief panels display nautical emblems and together with a couple of busty mermen hint at the building’s use. A dentilled cornice over a plain entablature surmounts the façade.
The side elevation to the left is five bays wide but squeezes in an extra floor at entablature level, resulting in a more domestic scale and character. Wyatt continues the rustication of the ground floor. A string course is the only decoration on the upper two floors. There is no rear elevation. The building abuts others behind. To the right of Wyatt’s façade is a 1950s extension by Albert Richardson. Yikes! The era that taste forgot. Fear not. Richardson’s addition is a lesson in architectural good manners. Rory pronounces, “Richardson’s work prolongs the lines of the original but is kept subordinate by setting back the two bay link and differentiating the appearance through the very subtle use of light brick on the upper storey.” A three sided canted bay terminates the Tower Hill frontage. A full stop. Richardson repeats the ground floor rustication and introduces another Wyatt window in the middle of the canted projection. Look now: the two angled walls are slightly recessed. Look up: this seemingly minor detail magnifies to create an almost pagoda effect when the cornice is viewed from the forecourt.
“The roof usually isn’t visible in classical architecture,” explains Rory, “so Richardson correctly treats it as a separate architectural entity. He clad it in copper. Richardson enjoyed and was adept at working with metals. His Financial Times building near St Paul’s, the first post war building in England to be listed, incorporates bronze framed casements and cornices trimmed with copper.” The wrought iron weathervane of a 16th century ship jauntily perched on a copper ball provides the finial. An exclamation mark! The side elevation to the right of the frontage appears as one large canted bay with three central openings. A flying first floor wing links this elevation to the building behind. Again Richardson uses metal: an expanse of glass on either side is framed in bronze with rosettes crowning the joins.
Back to Rory: “Richardson was a very competent Georgian revival architect. He was a neo Georgian in every sense – he lit his house with candles and wore 18th century costume. Richardson wasn’t interested in Soane – he would have considered him too radical, not Georgian enough. He wanted to revive Georgian architecture and wasn’t interested in developing a big commercial practice. Unlike the boring hackneyed neo Palladian architects of today, Richardson was his own man. “
Ding-a-ling-ling. Time to go indoors. What’s the relationship of container to contents? That’s a question for the Nazis to answer. A World War II bomb landed on the, er, landing on a Saturday evening in 1940. The ensuing fire gutted the building. Although the furniture was destroyed, the paintings, silver and records were fortuitously in storage. Richardson reconstituted a slightly streamlined version of Wyatt’s interiors relying on 1919 Country Life photographs. “Most of the rooms, certainly in the original block, look like convincing 18th century interiors,” Rory reckons. Richardson excels at imbuing space with meaning. A sense of scale and proportion is achieved through carefully controlled containment, boundaries and direction. The low ceiling of the entrance hall accentuates the dramatic sequence of what lies beyond – and above. Applied decoration in the entrance hall takes the form of incised panels and niches holding lighthouses. A further clue to the building’s use. Walking past the ground floor timber panelled cloakroom, Rory observes, “So much of Richardson’s detailing is implied, reticent, recessed rather than extruded.”
A pair of Roman Doric columns with gilded capitals, sea green scagliola shafts and black bases heralds the approach to the staircase hall. This tripartite opening is an unglazed variation of the Wyatt window and is a recurring motif throughout the building. Just as the stairway is one of the great architectural problems, so Wyatt’s is one of the great solutions. On axis of the entrance door the staircase is both complexly configured and perfectly, restfully modulated. The upper two treads of the first flight bow inwards as if in anticipation of the bowed flights to come. Such rhythm of compression and vertical expansion of space stretching heavenward to a clerestory and trompe l’oeil ceiling. The stone treads cantilevering out from the great semicircular apse. The fine wrought iron balustrade with anthemion panels. Sometimes they do it right. Wyatt and Richardson making waves. A tongue shaped secondary staircase slips in behind the main event. Entablatures of Ionic columns facing the landing carry mini galleries with balustrades and pairs of caryatids. Rory spots a sea change in design direction. “The introduction of the Ionic order gives a different flavour to this floor. It suggests thinking, something more intellectual.”
Off the landing is the Court Room. It’s the same size as the three bay entrance hall below but has a high ceiling above a deep cove. A trompe l’oeil sky by Glyn Jones adds to the feeling of latitude. “Jones was a very ambitious figurative painter of the mid 20th century,” notes Rory. This room has the character of a country house saloon. A gilt framed mirror stands over the while marble with ormolu detail fireplace. Six full length majestic regal portraits grace the walls: George III and Queen Charlotte by Gainsborough Dupont; William IV and Queen Adelaide by Wills Beechey; Edward VII by Frank Holl and George V by John Collier. A hemicycle shaped wine table sits on the Killybegs woollen carpet. Tall double mahogany doors with ormolu escutcheons open into the Luncheon Room. Oyster sea shell pink wallpaper awaits.
The first floor of Richardson’s wing contains three main interconnecting rooms. The intimate Reading Room, the large Library and an annex called the Pepys Room which is lit by the metal framed windows. At first the Library’s function is not apparent as the books are concealed behind doors in the panelling. The two ends are treated as ellipses with the south end accommodated in the projecting canted bay. Stained glass dating from the 16th century is placed in the sashes. “I think one would know this is a 20th century room. It’s very pretty with beautiful detailing based in the vernacular,” observes Rory. “In using the term ‘vernacular’ I am of course referring to domestic Georgian architecture. ‘High street Georgian’ to coin a phrase.” He’s on a roll. “There are extensive drawings in his seminal publication Regional Architecture of the West of England. For example, Richardson meticulously studies traditional shop fronts. The inventiveness and attention to detail – look again at the Library panelling, the Pepys Room fenestration – are clearly derived from his studies.”
Complements, compliments. Time to reflect on the architecture once more. This is a building by two designers or engineers or engineer designers working at the height of their powers, a complete work of substance. Future proofing, to use the latest dire planning jargon, was probably not top of Wyatt’s agenda. But his architecture remains aesthetically pleasing to the modern eye and with Richardson’s help has adapted well to contemporary requirements. That’s what’s called… eek more planningease… sustainable development. Stop. In a final Huxtablesque moment, the scale of the building, the subtlety and seriousness of the architectural style and material, of sculpted stone and smooth brick; the visible and tangible continuity of London’s Georgian tradition; the accent and nuance – colour, size, style, massing, space, light, dark, solids, voids, highs and lows – all are just right.
Unless you’re experiencing a news blackout or enjoying an extended break on Vamizi Island, you’ll no doubt be aware of a rather large reimagining of real estate between Battersea and Vauxhall. Largest in the UK, no less. It’s here that Ballymore Group has launched its stars-and-stripes flagship scheme. Embassy Gardens is bang next door to the US Embassy, heading that way in 2017.
The marketing imagery is mind blowing. This – almost – abandoned stretch of the Thames until now mostly known for dodgy nightclubs will soon be populated by swathes of apartments, a hotel, Linear Park and best of all a brasserie from the guys who brought us Bunga Bunga (sing for your supper). Rebranded Nine Elms on the South Bank, it’s masterplanned by Sir Terry Farrell. He calls it “London’s third city”.
Embassy Gardens is one of the biggest pieces in this regeneration jigsaw. Key player Ballymore will deliver nearly 2,000 homes including “luxury suites” to borrow the sales speak. Founder, Chairman and CEO Sean Mulryan says, “For nearly 30 years, Ballymore has been responsible for some of the best known and most ground breaking developments in London… with Embassy Gardens we have continued to set new standards. We believe that a marketing suite should truly reflect the vision of the neighbourhood. The marketing suite at Embassy Gardens is not only architecturally striking from the exterior but its interior captures the distinctive design and aesthetic of our apartments.”
Branding and marketing are more than pictures and conversations. Punters want to experience upfront what it’ll be like to live in a new scheme. Gone with the wind are the days when show flats resembled a Changing Rooms episode stuck in a first phase surrounded by diggers. Well, in London anyway. Embassy Gardens’ marketing suite – or should that be show building? – is a destination in itself. Big names add credit(s) to its kudos. Architecture by Arup Associates. Interiors by Woods Bagot. Gardens by Camlins. Review by Lavender’s Blue.
Three sides of an enigmatic opaque glass box hover over the clear glazed walls of the ground floor exhibition space. Translucency and transparency; concealment and legibility. Its august angularity acts as a striking riposte to the zigzagging ziggurats down the river. The box contains two floors of show apartments. Their floorplates are set back from the building envelope to accommodate balconies which project like open drawers into a void over the main entrance. This allows for sectional brochure photographs which otherwise would be entirely impossible to capture.
Woods Bagot has taken branding to a whole new level. Let’s hear from John Nordon, Design Intelligence Leader: “We set out to create beautiful spaces that any architect would be proud of. But it was equally important that the project was a commercial success to our client. To achieve this, we integrated the design process with brand marketing and sales. We want people to be sold on the Embassy Gardens brand first and foremost. The brand values will provide reassurance regardless of the budget and needs of the buyer. This strategy is the norm in the world of consumer goods companies but is new to residential redevelopment.”
He believes with the advent of the wireless era, domestic design technology infrastructure is redundant. Instead Woods Bagot has created space for hardware such as laptops and tablets to blend effortlessly into the interiors. “The aesthetic is inspired by, but does not mimic, classic 1950s American design,” says Jonathan Clarke, Woods Bagot’s Head of Interiors in Europe. “Attention to details such as walnut veneers and ceramic door and drawer handles reinforces the sense of solidity and good taste.” Palm Springs springs to mind. Anyone for Malibu? We do get around a lot but were seriously impressed by these show apartments. Great use of ceramic tiles too: vertically oriented running bond pattern in the bathroom and a wallful in the living area.
Not only can the inside of the apartments be experienced before Embassy Gardens is even up to plinth height; so can the view. The third floor of the marketing suite opens from a Philip Johnsonesque pavilion onto a roof terrace. Flowing by, the Thames makes its way from Chelsea Bridge to Vauxhall Bridge. So current. The terrace was the setting for the picnic themed launch of the Linear Park. Ginger beer, baskets of sandwiches and boiled sweets at the ready. Enid Blyton eat your heart out.
Camlins’ meadow garden wraps around the marketing suite, giving a foretaste of what’s to come. Linear Park will incorporate “open green commons as well as enclosed garden squares and majestic tree lined streets” confirms Huw Morgan, Director of Camlins. The contrast with the building is palpable. Control and informality; a great architect and the Great Architect. A marketing suite by default is a meanwhile use. This one should be kept and not just for Christmas. From all at Lavender’s Blue have a good one. And from Camilla.