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ReardonSmith takes on delivery of Chipperfield’s US Embassy plans

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ReardonSmith Architects has been appointed to deliver David Chipperfield Architects’ proposals to convert Eero Saarinen’s former US Embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square into a hotel

The practice, which has been consulting as a hotel specialist on the scheme for three years, has now taken on the role of executive architect on the £1 billion Qatari Diar-backed job, which started on site last month.

ReardonSmith associate director Sidharth Bhatia said: ‘As with our many previous listed building projects, we are very conscious of acting as custodians of the property while delivering a world-class hotel that will meet all the operational demands placed on it and which will serve the test of time.’

ReardonSmith will lead the project through to completion in 2023, when the building will be occupied by international luxury hotel and resort company Rosewood. Once finished, the hotel will boast 137 bedrooms, five restaurants, six shops, a spa and a ballroom with space for 1,000 guests.

David Chipperfield landed the lead design role in 2015 to revamp Eero Saarinen’s Grade II-listed landmark built between 1957 and 1960. Chipperfield was selected ahead of a number of big names including Foster + Partners and KPF. The invited contest was run by Malcolm Reading Consultants for Qatari Diar.

Before the designs were unanimously approved in November 2016, the proposals came in for criticism from The Twentieth Century Society over the double-height, sixth-floor extension which, the society claimed, would ‘cause significant and substantial harm to the character of the building’.

The Twentieth Century Society also hit out at the planned demolition of the ‘majority of the internal spaces’, particularly the removal of the original staircases, saying it would again result in ‘substantial harm to the listed building’. 

Collage us embassy

Chipperfield, however, insisted the practice’s proposals previously would ’protect and respect the significant architectural and structural characteristics of Eero Saarinen’s design, with a focus on restoring and enhancing this unique building to secure its long-term future at the heart of Mayfair.’

The building was vacated in 2017, with US diplomatic staff moving into the new embassy at Nine Elms designed by Philadelphia-based Kieran Timberlake.

The Grosvenor Square building was listed in 2009 by Historic England (then English Heritage) mainly for its ‘strongly-articulated design and dynamic façades, well-detailed stonework and consistency of detail’.

The heritage watchdog said: ‘Of particular note is the innovative application of the exposed concrete diagrid – an intelligent combination of structural expression and decorative motifs which provides cohesion to the whole and which illustrates Saarinen’s principles of marrying form to structure, interior to exterior – and his close involvement in detail and execution.’

English Heritage described Saarinen as ‘an outstanding figure in 20th-century architecture’ and said the building was an early example of a ‘Modernist yet contextual’ approach to design’ in a sensitive urban location.

Saarinen was assisted by Yorke, Rosenberg and Mardall as UK executive architect, with FJ Samuely as structural engineer.

Its historic interest stemmed from the strong USA association with Grosvenor Square, which was the nerve centre for the country’s armed forces in the UK during the Second World War. In 1968, the embassy became the focus for anti-USA sentiment during protests against the Vietnam War.

Qatari Diar bought the building in 2009 (see AJ 03.11.09). 

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  • Exploit the imagination and name of first-class architect to get planning. Dump said expensive architect post-planning for fear they may interfere with the value engineering. Appoint cheaper, more malleable outfit who’s fee will be twice covered aquiesing to cuts. What a miserable business.

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