diamond geezer

 Wednesday, April 24, 2019

On 28th March 1968 Westminster council granted permission for the erection of a ten storey building on the sites of 30-40 Marylebone Lane, 14-15 Henrietta Place and 74-77 Welbeck Street for use as storage in the basement, shops on the ground floor and a public car park on the upper floors and roof. The client was Debenhams, whose Oxford Street department store stands immediately opposite. The end result was astonishing.

The Welbeck Street multi-storey car park was built between 1968 and 1970, designed by Michael Blampied and Partners. Inside are 359 parking spaces operated by NCP. Outside is a striking, sculptural facade comprised of interlocking precast panels supported on a system of precast frames and columns. It's the tessellating diamonds which make it sing, a giant Pop Art canvas tucked away along a Marylebone sidestreet. For a few more weeks there's nowhere quite like it.

In 2014 the site was valued at £30m. In 2015 English Heritage declined to list the building, unable or unwilling to cite it as a special-enough example of architectural interest. The value of the site shot up to £75m, encouraging owners LaSalle Investment Management to put it up for sale. It was bought by Shiva Hotels, "a dynamic, privately-owned company on a steep growth path with enviable connections and unique capabilities in site acquisition, development and hotel management", and they got busy with plans for transformation. It'll all have to be knocked down, they decided, even the latticed facade, because multi-storey car parks don't provide the headroom today's hotel guests expect.

On 1st December 2017 Westminster council granted permission for "the demolition of the existing building and redevelopment to provide a new building comprising basement, lower ground floor, ground floor and first to ninth floor levels. Use of the building as an hotel with supporting facilities (Class C1) with publicly accessible restaurant/bar (Class A3/A4) and cafe (Class A3) at part ground floor level, publicly accessible spa and guest business facilities at lower ground floor level, roof terrace with swimming pool, roof level plant and associated works."

Because the building would be more than 30 metres high they had to seek permission for the redevelopment under Category 1C of the Mayor of London Order 2008, but Sadiq chose not to intrude, other than to impose a few trifling conditions which were quickly met. The hotel's 205 bedrooms will help meet targets in the London Plan requiring 40000 additional hotel bedrooms by 2031, plus nobody really minds if you get rid of a car park inside the Congestion Zone these days, indeed it's generally seen as a plus.

Shiva tweaked their plans, proposing to excavate two additional basement storeys, and Westminster council deliberated again in February 2019. Of the car park they said "The contribution of the existing building to the character and appearance of this part of the city is considered to be neutral." And of the new hotel, pictured above, they said "The design is considered a high quality building which will contribute positively to, and preserve and enhance, the character and appearance of the area". Imagine being the kind of planning weasel who writes this kind of thing, let alone believes it.

The restaurant on the ground floor promptly closed and the SophistiCats lapdancing club relocated to King's Cross. This month the demolition crew moved in. They're very busy inside at the moment, and thus far all that's happened outside is the erection of some scaffolding across the lower reaches. This forest of metal poles wrecks the exterior symmetry somewhat, for photographic purposes, but nowhere near as much as the building'll be wrecked over the coming months. Nip out of Bond Street station's northern entrance soon if you want to take a look.

This corner of Marylebone is very much in flux at present, with an office block undergoing rebuilding on one side of the car park and a luxury mansion block development on the other. To walk alongside is to dodge trucks, cranes and scores of builders popping out for a caramel vape. Cross Wigmore Street to enter Marylebone Village proper, where commercial cleansing has already replaced irregular blocks with modern infill, cosy boutiques and dining opportunities for the smart set.

An expensive hotel for London's richest visitors will fit in perfectly as the neighbourhood ratchets inexorably out of reach. What hope did a concrete car park ever have?

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