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Art Deco with a modern twist: Make’s refurb of Harrods’ escalator hall

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Make Architects explains the material selections and design approach to its refurbishment of the London megastore’s famed circulation space, which dates from 1939

The concept for this refurbishment takes inspiration from the Harrods archives. Make worked closely with Kensington & Chelsea Council and conservation specialist Hilary Bell to ensure the scheme preserved the heritage architecture and celebrated the original Art Deco escalator hall.  

The principal materials of metal and glass are drawn from the original palette, with each material behaving in a consistent, coherent manner in response to its own characteristics and that of the historic design. New modern interpretations concentrate on the themes of permanence, longevity and elegance. Internally, layers of post-1930s refurbishments have been stripped away to reveal original features. Specialists were appointed to carefully restore original metalwork, glasswork and lighting, and reinstate elements lost or damaged during the Second World War.

Planning and listed building consent was granted in October 2015, with works starting on site in late January. The project team had just 40 weeks to deliver the scheme before the 2016 Christmas retail period. It was paramount that the programme ran to this strict schedule and that the rest of the store remain operational. 

Navigation and wayfinding were key drivers in the hall’s spatial replanning, and this required early structural alteration works. Thirty tonnes of steelwork was brought to site, and 28 piles were dug 28m deep to strengthen foundations. The architectural finishes then took shape. Immense planning and coordination were necessary for the momentous task of installing 16 brand new nickel bronze-clad escalators. They were delivered in sequence through the entrance doors, lifted through the air and into position. The ‘floating’ escalator above the ground floor is supported by hidden columns, creating a triple-height space. 

Lightwells on the upper landings take inspiration from the 1930s detailing. For the first time, customers can see all the way to the pinnacle of the hall, where a new glass dome with its interlacing pattern and polished finishes brings in natural light and crowns the new grand entrance hall. 

Historic 1939 view towards main entrance

Historic 1939 view towards main entrance

The escalator hall in 1939

Project data 

Start on site 23 Jan 2016
Completion 30 Oct 2016
Gross internal floor area 1,244m2
Volume 6,200m3 
Height seven storeys
Construction cost £20 million
Architect Make Architects
Client Harrods
Structural engineer WSP 
Vertical transportation engineer WSP 
M&E engineer E&M Tecnica 
Lighting designer Nulty Lighting 
Project management and cost consultant Ainsleys & Partners 
Principal designer (CDMC) Turner & Townsend 
Fire consultant Rawfire 
Main contractor Jaysam Contractors 
Escalator ThyssenKrupp 
Escalator cladding Jaysam Contractors/Crosstec 
Rooflight Glass UK 
Stone Domus Facades
Heritage lighting Dernier & Hamlyn
Plasterwork Ornate Plaster
CAD software used MicroStation/Rhino

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Architect’s view

In 1898, Harrods opened its doors to England’s first escalator. JL Harvey’s escalator hall debuted in 1939 as the shop’s largest entrance hall, and these escalators connected the retail levels between the ground and fifth floors. They were replaced in 1983, with a new escalator added in 1996, descending to the lower ground floor. 

Make proposed a new escalator arrangement: to simply swap the ‘up’ and ‘down’ escalators on plan addressing the sense of enclosure. This has fundamentally changed the connection to the lower ground floor and created visibility from the approach towards the entrance. 

All 16 escalators were replaced with wider, more energy-efficient models. New technology also allows them to have an internal width of 1m, 25 per cent wider than their 1980s predecessors, while being housed within the same total width.

The original escalators were clad in aluminium, a material that was used extensively in the hall in the 1930s. Make took inspiration from their sinuous forms and edge detailing. Rather than being purely functional, the escalators are expressed as sculptural forms in the space accented by the curving, fluting and feathering of a bespoke cladding design.  

A thoughtful assembly of a series of components forms a kit of parts, and Make worked closely with the fabrication team to bring the design aspirations to fruition. Aluminium pressed and cast panels are given a liquid metal finish in a nickel bronze colour. The mirror-polished outer decking contrasts and complements the nickel bronze casing and enhances the sweeping form of each escalator run. 

Ground floor plan

Ground floor plan

Ground floor plan

Section A-A

Section A-A

Section A-A

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