Black and White and Red All Over
Howick Place possesses a transitional character wedged between the stripy red brick and Portland stone of Westminster Cathedral and the glass cathedrals to commerce straddling Victoria Street. Religion, consumerism and London’s 21st century temple for thespians, St James Theatre, make unlikely but compatible bedfellows in the £2 billion renaissance of Victoria. Developers Doughton Hanson and Terrace Hill’s offering is an office led mixed use scheme inches away from the headquarters of Giorgio Armani, Tom Ford and Jimmy Choo.
In another unlikely but successful catholic ménage à trois, their nine storey building references Ashley + Newman, Lutyens and Mies. The red brick recalls Ashley + Newman’s neighbouring Schomberg mansion block. The grid colouring of pale stone banding and black metal window frames resurrects Lutyens’ monochromatic chequerboard Grosvenor Estate which heralded the arrival of modernism. As for Mies, he would have approved of the grid cruciform and expanses of glazing. Traditional railings keep the scheme grounded.
“Key for us was creating a building that would sit comfortably with the high quality older architecture that borders the site,” explains project architect Jonathan Carter of Rolfe Judd, “whilst also delivering a space that is cutting edge and responds to the transformation of the wider area.” Volume and void optimise lightness and airiness through transparency of container to contents. Part of the lower ground floor offices rises to double height allowing natural light penetration. The street level windows become a clerestory. Part of the first floor offices overlooks a double height reception carving out a glass cube. A living wall climbs up the light well. The grid extends above the parapet to frame the street corner roof terrace.
“The reception is a large space with plenty of visibility from outside,” elaborates design consultant Joanna White of Joanna White, “so it was important to consider the exterior and interior together and to respond sensitively to the streetscape, architecture and materials. We picked up on the texture of the adjacent listed buildings, the earthy colour of the red brick and the darkness of the exterior frames.” Joanna completes the religiously disciplined palette. A separate entrance leads to 23 luxury residential lets on two penthouse levels. Roof terraces abound. Far blow, the capital snakes out in a labyrinth of Lilliputian living.
The architectural demands of this strategic site for an inspirational urban composition demonstrate the role of architecture as the guardian of the public realm, something too readily dissolved by the alternating demands of capitalist and bourgeois values. In a gesture of patronage beyond guardianship, artist Yinka Shonibare, famed for his Fourth Plinth Nelson, was commissioned to encapsulate the spirit of Howick Place.