diamond geezer

 Sunday, September 20, 2015

Let's kick off my Open House round-up with a trip to North Greenwich...

Open House: Inter Continental The O2
For the best part of fifteen years, the Millennium Dome has had the tip of the Greenwich Peninsula pretty much to itself. Its dozen yellow spikes have been the only structures piercing the sky, bar a pointy mast and some towers further south. But recently a long-planned mega-hotel arose on the waterfront, facing Canary Wharf, and yesterday they allowed the public inside for a look. [5 photos]

I've had an eye on this beast since 2010 when planning permission went in. Plans were for "a 452-key Hotel in a building of varying heights" including "a 3,000m2 ballroom and a 427m2 health spa", which is pretty much what we've got, except they've managed to squeeze one extra bedroom in somewhere. The style is Early 21st Century Bland, the usual boxy tower sheened with glass, in sharp counterpoint to the striking architecture of the Dome behind. The developers claimed the visual impact would be "beneficial", providing "height and vertical punctuation" and "acting as a point of conclusion at the tip of the Peninsula", which is clearly fiction, but totally in line with the forest of riverside towers queueing to appear nearby. And with a few months still to go before the official opening, a proper hard hat tour was in order.

They wheeled out the big guns to meet and greet us, top members of the hotel staff with goodie bags in hand. but only once properly togged up in all the right PPE would they let us anywhere near their pride and joy, because by golly it isn't yet finished. An army of workers are on site, even on a Saturday, wandering around with tiles and tools and attempting to make the place ready. We had to weave past portakabins, over cables and round puddles to reach the entrance, which at this stage of the project is via the car park, a gloomy ground floor cavern where guests will eventually be charged over £40 a day to stash their motors. As for the main lobby, soon to be a lounge with patisserie, this is currently a noisy unclad void with bare staircase, cables hanging down and scaffolding towers a-plenty. To fully understand how a building works, there's nothing quite like having wandered through while the interior was being put together - it's impressive stuff.

Upstairs (eventually up escalators, but not yet) is the hotel's pride and joy, an enormous pillar-free ballroom. It's one of the largest single event spaces in Europe, so ideal if you have 3000 conference delegates and need somewhere to put them. They'll arrive via a "pre-function area" with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out across the Thames, walking across marble floor tiles some lackey was laying yesterday. Close by is the so-called Clipper Bar, surrounded on three sides by glass affording eye-popping views of the river, and no doubt with cocktail prices to match. Meanwhile members of the public will be welcome to join hotel guests in one of the signature restaurants, or maybe the skybar on the 18th floor, assuming they have appropriate levels of disposable income. Come Christmas you're not going to be able to move in certain parts of the media for fawning reviews of the latest luxury bolthole for the ostentatious consumer.

In a swashbuckling marketing move, the Intercontinental appears to have stolen the Greenwich Meridian. This clips the western side of the peninsula, and was marked on the ground during millennial celebrations by a paved line on the ground. That line has now been bulldozed, but still lies well beyond the hotel's footprint, as was always the intention at the planning stage. But this is the historic meridian through the observatory, which you may remember has been supplanted by a GPS meridian 100 metres to the east. So the hotel has instead chosen to embrace the new meridian because this passes straight through the building, hence they'll be making a big fuss halfway down corridors where the rooms switch from East to West, and naming their lobby the Meridian Lounge. So important is the Greenwich connection that the hotel's main slogan is "About Time", but come December I think you'll find me out in the cold walking the proper line instead.

Open House: NOW Gallery and The Gateway Pavilions
As I've blogged before, the newest buildings in Peninsula Square are two curving pavilions facing the main torrent of footfall approaching the entrance to the Dome. One exists to provide cafe space, because that's important, while the other is notionally an art gallery but really for flogging apartments. Normally the public only gets to see the ground floor, but potential customers are led upstairs for further marketing, except on Open House weekend when anyone can go. The main focus is on designer suites that'll fit out blocks of flats yet to be built, for those who'd like to reserve one well in advance. But unless you're loaded stuff that, and enjoy the view from the balcony that runs around the second floor. From up here you can observe the human swarm flocking from the bus/tube station to the O2, and the wider spread of southeast London beyond, a perspective made more intriguing yesterday by hordes of supporters flocking to hear the Dalai Lama, and scores of protesters campaigning noisily against. Meanwhile the downstairs gallery's single exhibit is a rolled-up pylon, companion piece to a much more striking artwork a few hundred yards to the west. Artist Adam Chinneck has uprooted a 35m-tall pylon and fixed it like a landed dart in the middle of pre-development wasteland. It's extraordinarily striking, designed to be seen by City Airport passengers flying in as well as those of us on the ground, and I loved having it completely to myself for a few minutes yesterday. 'A bullet from a shooting star' runs until next Sunday, and will perk up your Instagram stream no end. [5 rooftop photos] [4 pylon photos]

Open House: Ravensbourne
You know the modern mosaic-covered building opposite the entrance to the O2, the one with the giant porthole windows? That's Ravensbourne, a world class college of Design and Communication with its roots in Chislehurst, but which moved to the peninsula in 2010. I'd admired the outside but never seen inside, so grabbed the opportunity to take an hour long tour, and blimey what an inspiring space to study. Nine floors are staggered across twin atria, joined by staircases and in one case a bridge, creating a deliberately open plan environment for learning. The rash of portholes makes more sense viewed from within, with larger circles illuminating larger spaces and smaller circles lighting up smaller. One end of one level has a graphics studio, another a digital editing suite, while the top layer features a cutting-edge 3D printing laboratory. Most of the facilities are industry standard, or in some cases beyond, such as the TV studio on the ground floor where students practise broadcast skills. The college has a student employment rate of over 97%, boosted by working closely with the creative industries throughout, as was evident from wandering around. Our tour guide was the assistant dean, who's big in architectural circles, and a gregariously larger than life character. He knew the building inside out, and how its layout aided student progress, and was an impressively inspiring speaker. Indeed by the end of the tour I was completely sold - and were I a young creative soul with drive and dedication, I'd be signing up for massive student debt immediately. [10 circly photos]

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