Eric Parry Architects’ discreet Mayfair office draws on and restores the area’s historic fabric
“I suppose for an urbanite in London, this street is always a place to come to be knocked out by the amazing capacity of human beings to make things beautifully,” says Eric Parry. He is standing opposite the latest addition to his growing portfolio of stellar offices, 50 New Bond Street and 14 St George Street.
However, Parry is not blowing his own trumpet, far from it, but observing the intricate masonry above the F. Pinet leather goods shop that adjoins his own creation. Making things beautifully is Parry’s domain. The practice’s thoughtful designs have resulted in multiple awards, including Office Architect of the Year in 2009. The brief, set by client Scottish Widows and developed by Hanover Cube, was to renew the block by creating two offices. Beginning at New Bond Street and St George Street respectively, they stretch back 90m along Maddox Street, meeting behind a row of Regency-era terrace housing.
The ambitious project marked the third time Parry had worked with the company, the other projects being Aldermanbury Square and the award-winning 30 Finsbury Square. It’s fair to say his practice was the obvious choice.
Originally designed by Michael Rosenauer – most famous for his Time and Life building a stone’s throw away – 49-50 New Bond Street’s fairly nondescript facade hid a maze of offices behind some rather pokey windows. The space contained a cornucopia of media types, including B-list celebrity puppet master Max Clifford, but was ultimately a very claustrophobic working environment.
To create something more salubrious the practice demolished Rosenauer’s edifice and knitted the new build into the existing Pinet building, seizing on the generous floor heights of their venerable neighbour.
“It is like tooth decay,” explains Parry. “You have a completely rotten interior that you are putting back with new fabric.”
Pursing this restorative ideal, Parry constructed a moulded green ceramic facade with large curved oriel windows that acknowledged the area’s cultural history. Separated by vertical fins that snake up the building, the curved bays are illuminated by LED lights by Martin Richman that imbue the facade with a reptilian sense of movement. The result is a fascinating balance of solid and void that allows natural light to flood into the offices, but retains a strong physical presence.
“With these deeper interior spaces it is very important to get good light, but you need to create a sense of substance to work with New Bond Street,” says Parry. “Environmentally and from the streetscape a glass wall would have been crazy.” Meticulously crafted the unique panels are reminiscent of old world masonry, a sentiment enhanced by the lime-mortared joints.
The ground floor is given over to retail space, which maximises the project’s commercial return, but sandwiches the reception between the two shop floors. The single height space twists towards the corner of New Bond Street and Maddox Street to combat the difficult geometry. Above the desk a Barrisol light prevents visitors perching on the oversized leather banquette from feeling like the walls are closing in on them.
While the New Bond Street facade reflects its urban context, the Maddox Street intervention speaks a different architectural lingo.
“Given the site’s location one could be forgiven for thinking the construction equipment was airlifted in by a Chinook”
The original building was sat between a row of Regency-era terraced houses and the large Hanoverian townhouses on St George Street. With a crude 1970s render that encroached vulgarly onto the pavement, it was clear something a little more sympathetic was the order of the day.
“It was a mad bit of planning,” says Parry. “It had loos in the staircases and took no notice of the building in front in terms of section. They tried to jam and extra floor in. It was really crap.”
In response, Parry cut the building back at street level and cantilevered a modernist facade, made from glass and steel, freeing the street from its ugly oppressor. Jutting out above each window is a steel “eyebrow” to create shading and the glass block also prevents solar gain. Adorning the soffit is a beautiful flowing mosaic made from Venetian glass by artist Antoni Malinowski.
“I wanted a positive break between the buildings. There are four elevations here. The Pinet building, the Regency terrace, our intervention and the Hanoverian,” Parry says. “You have this wonderful collage working with it and drawing new things out of it.”
Once inside St George Street, the wisdom of working with the original Hanoverian floor heights becomes apparent. The generous ceiling heights of the former drawing rooms lend themselves perfectly to open planned office space. Where possible the practice restored the 18th century wood panelling while shunning the ubiquitous suspended ceiling in favour of a cast ceiling from the period.
These details help establish a sense of history in what is ultimately a speculative office development. The building’s core structure is rammed back to the parti wall allowing the space to be opened up, a lone column in the middle of the floor is the only interference. Large windows arranged around an open-air stairwell and overlooking the urban block behind the neighbouring Armani building allows the inhabitants to breathe a lungful of fresh air without being deafened by the cacophony of Mayfair.
The natural ventilation is consolidated by an intelligent Building Management System (BMS) that reacts to opening and closing windows. Bond Street and George Street meet midway behind the Regency housing so to prevent voyeurism the practice constructed a veil of larch fins around a steel gantry and the escape stair.
“Suddenly, you have this wonderful urban condition where you’ve got the housing on one side and the offices on the other and a quite tight space between the two,” explains Parry. Both offices are serviced from a single bay that peeks out onto Maddox Street.
For Parry, designing a building that gives something back to its environment, particularly in a city as dense as London, is crucial. To this end the roof is a combination of planted areas and photovoltaics. A quick inspection of the project plans and construction photographs illustrates how jaw-droppingly complicated the scheme was. Given the site’s location one would be forgiven for thinking construction equipment was airlifted in by a Chinook.
“It was pretty heroic,” says Parry. This complexity contrasts with the simple and discreet nature of the finished article. “This isn’t a project that shouts “me!” and I think it is one that is most apposite for the moment. We will be making much better use of what we’ve got. Regarding the principles of urban renewal, particularly where you have historic fabric, I think it is on the mark.”