Plans by David Chipperfield Architects to convert the former US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, into a hotel have been given the go-ahead.
Last night (15 November) councillors in Westminster unanimously voted to approve the plans, judging that any harm caused by the proposals to the Grade II-listed building designed by Eero Saarinen in 1957 was outweighed by public benefits.
The scheme is backed by the building’s owners Qatari Diar - owned by the Qatar Investment Authority - and will see two new floors added to the building to create a 137 bedroom hotel, plus restaurant and events spaces, increasing the floorspace from 24,000m² to 45,000m².
A report by officers at the council said: ‘The applicant has stated that for a hotel scheme to be viable additional floor space is required, hence the need to extend the building.
‘The proposed extensions have been carefully designed to respect the retained facades, drawing inspiration from Saarinen’s ideas, and are of high design quality.’
Planned alterations include retention and repair of the front and side facades, plus part demolition of the rear façade to extend the second to fifth floors. Two new floors will be added on top of the existing structure.
The council’s planning committee rejected arguments by the 20th Century Society that harm caused by the design of the proposed new sixth floor would be substantial.
Instead councillors sided with heritage watchdog Historic England (HE) which said the harm would be less than substantial.
The government’s heritage watchdog said it was satisfied that ‘the areas of highest architectural significance with the exception of the stair lobbies to the north and south [would be] preserved and access to them enhanced’.
The council granted permission on condition that the developers remove security fences, gates and bollards installed in 2006.
The building in Mayfair was constructed between 1957 and 1960 and was the first modern embassy to be built in London.
It was the focus of violent anti-Vietnam war protests in 1968 during which 200 people were arrested.
The embassy will be vacated by 2017 when US diplomatic staff move to a new building drawn up by Philadelphia-based Kieran Timberlake within the Nine Elms regeneration project.
David Chipperfield Architects, in collaboration wit AKTII, was chosen for the prize job to convert he landmark into a hotel last year ahead of a number of big names including Foster + Partners and KPF. The invited contest was run by Malcolm Reading Consultants.
Sheikh Jassim Al Thani, chief executive and chairman of Qatari Diar UK
’A hotel of this calibre perfectly aligns with the vision and ambitions for the neighbourhood and will help to ensure Mayfair retains its pre-eminent reputation as an outstanding place to live, visit and work.”
’Qatari Diar takes its responsibility to the local community extremely seriously and we will continue to engage with all stakeholders and interested parties moving forward. We plan to begin work on site once the US Embassy moves to its new home at Nine Elms.’