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Shared space, 14sqm bedrooms: Sheppard Robson’s hotel for millennials

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Will hotels of the future be like Tower Hill’s CitizenM, with small bedrooms and shared social space? wonders Laura Mark


The Dutch hotel group CitizenM is moving at a fast pace with its emerging brand of hipster hotels. Since its first hotel opened in Amsterdam in 2008 it has launched a further nine – in Rotterdam, New York, Paris and Glasgow, and at various locations across London.

The concept, architectural and interior design for all the brand’s hotels was thought up by Amsterdam-based design firm Concrete, and is centred around CitizenM’s desire to create a luxury brand for an affordable price by stripping out all unnecessary details and creating a modular system that can be built quickly and cheaply. For each hotel the practice’s design usually differs little internally, but a local architect is always brought in to deal with planning and construction and to offer any specific regional changes.

The group’s latest hotel at the Tower of London, designed with Sheppard Robson, is its biggest yet with 370 rooms spread across eight floors. It’s also the first that the hotel chain has completed in such a historic conservation area – it’s a stone’s throw away from the Tower of London and Edwin Lutyens’ Tower Hill war memorial while it also backs up immediately against the City’s Roman wall. As a result the group’s trademark grid-like façade and picture frame window elements, created by stacking the prefabricated bedroom modules, had to be pared back, meaning they don’t define its exterior character.

Drawing on the local surroundings and the adjacent Trinity Square, the building’s façade has been clad in Portland Stone, while vertical dark grey-coloured glass-reinforced concrete (GRC) fins further break up the modules.

The carefully considered hierarchy reduces the overall mass of the building

George Poppe


‘The compositional form of the building,’ says Sheppard Robson associate George Poppe, ‘has a coherent relationship with the adjacent Georgian terraces, in that it is formed of four horizontal parts: a distinct base that grounds the building; a larger middle and smaller upper section; and a recessed top. This carefully considered hierarchy reduces the overall mass of the building and helps to integrate it within its surroundings.’

And as if this historic location did not offer enough challenges, the architect was also constructing an eight-storey scheme where there had previously been a six-storey building above one of London’s busiest tube stations, which could not be closed at any point during the build.

Despite there already being planning permission for a Sidell Gibson-designed office scheme on the site, which had been scrapped due to the recession, it was not an easy planning process. The site sits on the edge of the city in an area surrounded by offices and with just a handful of hotels. But local hotels, worried about the competition, objected to the scheme and it took more than two years for it to get the green light. CitizenM stuck with it though.

‘The crash has meant we are able to afford sites that were previously out of reach,’ says hotel manager Matt Bell. ‘But it doesn’t mean the process will ever be easy. Our hotels have normally been on scraps of land by airports or where nobody wants to build, but here we have come to an area where there is already tourism.’

The crash has meant we are able to afford sites that were previously out of reach

Matt Bell

Inside, the hotel is much like CitizenM’s other offerings. Its trademark 14m2 rooms – all rooms are the same; they offer no options – are stacked above each other and arranged around a central courtyard. These prefabricated pods – which CitizenM dubs ‘industrial flexible demountable’ – are built in the group’s own factory, ready to go and featuring minimal furniture. The super-kingsize bed is butted up against the wall-to-wall window; beneath it is a large drawer to store luggage, and apart from that just a small desk and chair. Bathrooms are placed behind a curved glazed screen in the walls. A TV controlled from the in-room iPad, which also adjusts lighting, temperature, curtains and blinds, is mounted above the bed. It makes it tricky to watch television from anywhere but the bed. But if all you are after is a place to crash after traipsing the streets of London or a day of business meetings, then it works. If you are looking for a room in which to socialise and relax then this probably isn’t what you’re after.

When you have such a small bedroom, the hotel starts being about the shared social spaces. This is what CitizenM wants. Forcing you out of your room makes the hotel appear busy and vibrant; it appears more like a place to hang out.

The Ace Hotel in Shoreditch does this well with its lobby space often taken over by locals on laptops rather than hotel guests. At CitizenM, the ground floor is entirely given over to social space, in what Concrete’s original concept dubbed the ‘living room’. It becomes the heart of the hotel, broken up with hanging chain-link curtains, bookshelves and Vitra furniture creating smaller spaces for working, eating, chatting and reading.

When I was there the space had a buzzing atmosphere but how many of those using the space were non-hotel residents I’m unsure; the addition here of a small coffee bar will probably help entice them.

Apart from New York, this hotel is also the only one of CitizenM’s boltholes to have a rooftop bar. Housed in a setback glass box on the top of the building, the cloudM double-height space offers 360° views of London’s skyline while also housing the hotel’s rentable meeting rooms. It includes many of the hotel’s design features, which repeat from the ground floor.

This is a hotel for the millennials, those who work in shared spaces and will sit in bed watching movies and box sets. It’s trying hard to be cool, and in some places this comes across as kitsch, with its bold, bright colours, pictures of the Queen, statues of bulldogs and toy soldiers.

Is this really what we want from hotels? I’m not sure. But it is bringing vibrancy to an otherwise relatively traditional area of London.

Ground floor plan

CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete

CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete

Typical floor plan

CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete

CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete

Eighth floor plan

CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete

CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete

Exploded axonometric

CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete

CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete


CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete

CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete

CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete

CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete

A material palette of Portland stone (Jordan’s Whitbed and Jordan’s Basebed), GRC, anodised aluminium, double glazing, and curtain walling is used for the hotel’s elevations. Horizontal and vertical hand-set Portland stone piers, supported on stainless-steel frameworks, establish the primary façade grid on the east, south and west elevations, and slender anodised aluminium extrusions provide horizontal division at each floor level while maintaining the vertical emphasis. An irregular distribution of dark grey GRC fins, formed in a U-profile with an anodised aluminium back plate, is accommodated between the stone and aluminium components, and is supported on stainless-steel bracketry. This provides a counterpoint to the warm hue of the Portland stone, and enhances the quality of the natural material while concurrently softening the regimental grid of the bedroom modules. GRC is also used horizontally within the recess created between the horizontal stone bands. This lightweight product achieved significant weight savings over precast concrete alternatives and simplified the installation process.

The cladding is connected directly to the bedroom modules via galvanised-steel fixing brackets which are welded to the hot-rolled steel members within the module frames prior to delivery to site. These provide flanged connections to which the secondary stainless-steel frameworks are connected.

The aluminium framed windows are factory-fitted to the bedrooms and feature a backpainted and insulated panel where the bed meets the glass. Horizontal and vertical anodised aluminium cover plates are installed between the windows once the modules are installed.

George Poppe, associate, Sheppard Robson

CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete

CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete

Source: Agnese Sanvito

Client’s view

The new CitizenM hotel at Tower Hill was our second CitizenM in London. Opposite the Tower and on top of one of London’s busiest tube stations, Tower Hill, we constructed a new hotel that would respond to its unique location in terms of its views, architecture and design.

CitizenM Tower of London is now our flagship CitizenM hotel, offering 370 rooms, with interiors designed by Dutch design firm Concrete. The ground floor is a large lobby, divided into connected living, eating and working areas, a common feature at all our hotels. This hotel is different though in offering a vast double-height space on the seventh floor, with floor-to-ceiling windows, our cloudM bar, societyM creative meeting spaces, and a wraparound balcony.

We briefed the architectural team to design the building so that it would relate closely to the historic surroundings. The building has a clearly defined base, middle-section and top, and the subway exit of Tower Hill Station has been fully integrated into the architectural design. The ground floor façade is open and transparent, bringing CitizenM’s dynamic life on to the street.

A trademark CitizenM feature, a red glazed entrance box, marks the hotel’s entrance. A canopy wraps around three sides of the building, emphasising its multiple frontages, while artist Julian Opie was commissioned to create a bespoke piece of art covering the south and east façade. On top of the traditionally built ground floor, the prefabricated room modules are stacked to create the guestroom floors. The typical CitizenM windows, which reflect the individual rooms, are still recognisable but framed together to create larger proportions to align with the adjacent buildings.

Robin Chadha, chief marketing officer, CitizenM

CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete

CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete

Project data

Completion June 2016
Gross internal floor area 11,844m2
Form of contract or procurement route Design and Build
Construction cost Confidential
Architect Sheppard Robson and Concrete
Client CitizenM Hotels
Structural engineer Ramboll
MEP consultant Battle McCarthy and Balfour Beatty Engineers Services
Quantity surveyor NBM
Interior designer Concrete
Project manager Turner & Townsend
CDM co-ordinator EC Harris
Approved building inspector MLM Building Control
Main contractor Balfour Beatty
CAD software used Bentley MicroStation

CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete

CitizenM by Sheppard Robson with Concrete


Bedroom modules Polcom

Ironmongery Yannedis

Sanitaryware Duravit

Shopfitting Roord

Curtain walling Architectural Aluminium

Structural steel Hillcrest

Concrete Moortown

Portland stone Albion Stone and Stone Systems

Precast cladding Techrete

Structural steel Hillcrest

Lifts Kone, Lodige

Roofing Bauder

Sprinkler system Marioff

Linear drains Wade

Floor tiles Kronos Ceramiche

Acoustic ceiling Ecophon

Wall tiles Royal Mosa

Carpet Desso

Screeds Flowcrete

Drylining, ceilings British Gypsum

Insulation Kingspan and Bauder

External access systems Eurosafe Solutions

Sliding partitions London Wall Design

External paving Kilsaren

External bamboo decking Mosso

Rubber flooring Nora

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