New Lamps from Old

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    It used to be said that if you stood at the base of the statue of Eros you stood at the centre of British Empire. It was also believed that if you stood there long enough you would meet someone you knew. These days it sometime feels as if everyone from the old Empire wants to test this saying as the crowds of tourists flock to London. Piccadilly Circus punctuates one end of Regent Street – the other ends in another Circus, Oxford Circus.

    The guys responsible for this area are no clowns though, and the Crown Estate has embarked on a £1 billion remodelling of a street that has moved from the genteel decay of my first visits in 1960 into the throbbing heart of another Empire – a retail empire. Piccadilly Circus is the area onto which faces the Quadrant group of deco buildings that has at its heart the former Regent Palace hotel, now known as Quadrant 3, together with the Café Royal, Charles Fortes first major property buy and now part of a major restoration programme of slightly mind boggling ambition.The team of architects – Atkins, Dixon Jones and Donald Insall, have been backed by Crown Estates in challenging circumstances, undertaking an extremely sensitive demolitions programme with the the retention of key external facades . The grade 2 listed interiors of the original Regent Palace Hotel have been kept but now sit a floor lower than originally.

    The original Regent Palace Hotel was built by the Lyons Corner House business as a cheap hotel in the centre of the city, and its main bedroom block was considered no longer fit for purpose. Only the facades of the buildings fronting the street remain, their beautifully understated cream Edwardian stonework cleaned and gleaming as no building in London did in the days of smog and coal fires. Behind the facade has taken place what one hotelier inelegantly referred to elsewhere as a ‘gut job’ and a new gleaming office block has risen in the central part of the site, much of it already let to organisations such as Al Gore’s Generation Investment Management

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    Daniel Fountain / 17.02.2012

    Editor, Hotel Designs


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