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After Lutyens

Eric Parry Architects surprises and delights with its inventive, decorative St James’ Square building

Hewn tribute to Lutyens spelt out on enormous pieces of granite
Hewn tribute to Lutyens spelt out on enormous pieces of granite · Credit: Dirk Linder

Cut through the back streets of London’s Mayfair and you will find yourself brought up short. Not by the diamonds and designers of Bond Street, but by scattered quite unexpected, rather special buildings which make you stop and take a second look. There is something arresting about them, the depth of facade, the materiality, exuberant ceramics, something that is not just good architecture but is quite remarkable.

I have come to look at the latest in this line of Eric Parry Architects’ buildings in the area. As I stand outside, I am torn between the shady green of St James’s Square and examining the corner of Number 8 with the Duke of York Street – wanting to divine the pattern that makes the brickwork more interesting than it should be. In the age of £1113/m2 school buildings and Make’s panellised behemoth in Broadgate, how could such an interesting office building come into being?

It is not sculptor Stephen Cox’s chiselled and chipped figure emerging from the India granite that draws my attention, though that is part of the ensemble. Nor is it the projecting bay that I read as some Tudor tribute (Cox has described it as Islamic mashrabiya, Parry references Czech Cubism). The wonderfully warped bronzed frames in that bay couldn’t make it so special alone. Nor could the hefty rolling granite sills. It is all those and more. The north corner to Apple Tree Yard skips rationalisation, just as it skipped value engineering or rationality itself. The reasons are neither here nor there. Parry doesn’t even bother to dredge up some post rationalisation, they just are. 

  • Massive and somehow mystical, the Apple Tree Yard corner with Stephen Cox' relief
    Massive and somehow mystical, the Apple Tree Yard corner with Stephen Cox' relief · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • elief: Emerging Figure to EL, Stephen Cox' Indian dolorite reference to Edwin Lutyens' work on New Delhi, drawn up on this site
    elief: Emerging Figure to EL, Stephen Cox' Indian dolorite reference to Edwin Lutyens' work on New Delhi, drawn up on this site · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • Examine the apex of the corner to see the complex understanding of depth and mass
    Examine the apex of the corner to see the complex understanding of depth and mass · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • Eric Parry's sketch of Apple Tree Yard
    Eric Parry's sketch of Apple Tree Yard
  • It could be a mess but somehow it is a composition.
    It could be a mess but somehow it is a composition. · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • An essay in rhythm rising up Duke of York Street
    An essay in rhythm rising up Duke of York Street · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • Sketch of the Duke of York Street elevation with St James' Church to the left and the square to the right
    Sketch of the Duke of York Street elevation with St James' Church to the left and the square to the right
  • From the mounted statue of William III to the side of St James's Church Piccadilly
    From the mounted statue of William III to the side of St James's Church Piccadilly · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • From across St James's Square
    From across St James's Square · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • White framed windows, tilted to pick up the unexpected view
    White framed windows, tilted to pick up the unexpected view · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • Chatham House to the left, the Lutyens' designed number 7 to the right
    Chatham House to the left, the Lutyens' designed number 7 to the right · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • Stark?
    Stark? · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • A section of render banding facing onto the square.
    A section of render banding facing onto the square. · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • Even the railings are alive with layers
    Even the railings are alive with layers · Credit: Dirk Linder

Though Parry obviously loves this corner, even more than I do, it is St James’s Square he starts with. The site, previously a 1939 office, is flanked by Chatham House’s dark brick on the other side of Duke of York Street and Edwin Lutyens’ Number 7, long time home of the Royal Fine Art Commission. These have been the muses for the new black white facade that fronts onto this square. The detail makes this intriguing and inviting close to, here there is the pattern in the setting out of the (loadbearing) brick and there the depth of the facade (which slips into nothingness as the storey height shrinks).

At a distance these details fade. Abstracted at scale the result is a rather stark facade. It is sharply cut by the bands of render and the flattened white-framed windows have a plasticky, less-than the tactile quality, unlike that which marks out the rest of the building. Replacing a taller building gave some freedoms so the storeys are not aligned with the others in the square. This starts at the ground floor which Parry was convinced needed a grand floor to ceiling height as the piano nobile – itself a tradition among its Georgian neighbours of course. Here step backs minimise the bulk of the building but that still projects a little uncomfortably above the datum of its neighbours. And while the facade is broken up on Duke of York Street, facing the square its great breadth seems disproportionate. 

The reception too has an unexpected scale. Behind a counter echoing a roll-top writing desk and alongside a tall vitrine is a solid square boardroom table. It’s the establishment: you’ve arrived. And it certainly does seem a little too establishment after the imagination of outside. So let’s inspect the office floors, it can’t get any more ordinary than a Cat A ready for fit-out, surely. And suddenly, your breath is snatched away. You step out to a sheer cliff: light, marble, bright swirls – a quarry face. And we are going up it. 

  • A giant roll top writing desk as a reception
    A giant roll top writing desk as a reception · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • The square coffers of this ceiling also mark out the underside of the projecting granite bay outside
    The square coffers of this ceiling also mark out the underside of the projecting granite bay outside · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • The ceramics in the vitrine reflect the history of the site as a Wedgewood showroom
    The ceramics in the vitrine reflect the history of the site as a Wedgewood showroom · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • The windows have two layers of internal shutters of different heights so the ground floor can be very open or quite closed off.
    The windows have two layers of internal shutters of different heights so the ground floor can be very open or quite closed off. · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • This is Mayfair club land afterall. In partially private mode
    This is Mayfair club land afterall. In partially private mode · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • Full height panel shutters close off the outside world.
    Full height panel shutters close off the outside world. · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • A sudden burst of light and marble
    A sudden burst of light and marble · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • Stepping out into the light-filled quarry face. This lightwell runs the length of the office's main eastern flank.
    Stepping out into the light-filled quarry face. This lightwell runs the length of the office's main eastern flank. · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • From the private courtyard of Lutyens' Number 7, the lightwells steal a little light
    From the private courtyard of Lutyens' Number 7, the lightwells steal a little light · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • The floor of the colonnaded set back acts as a rooflight to the lower ground floor.
    The floor of the colonnaded set back acts as a rooflight to the lower ground floor. · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • Picked and polished stone gives the grey and black to contrast the rolling frames.
    Picked and polished stone gives the grey and black to contrast the rolling frames. · Credit: Dirk Linder
  • Elegant thought out loos, as you might expect.
    Elegant thought out loos, as you might expect. · Credit: Dirk Linder

The lightwell-liftshaft is a delicious surprise. It might only do that once but will be a delight at any time, and is visible through the glass lifts on the upper floors. One might argue it is born out of necessity. Alongside it the Lutyens’ house, once part of the site, has been sectioned off, the courtyard behind to be the super discreet space of a new private house. This means the inner walls of the L plan are land locked, so we have the two light wells – the upper floors of the lift shaft borrowing light through the glass lifts themselves. 

If you could peer into the interiors of this 18th and 19th century square you would see many such surprises. The grand staircase of the Lutyens’ house, the curves and columns of Chatham House and the myriad of delights of the London Library’s reading rooms and metal grilled book stacks. Hidden away at the back of the site in Apple Tree Yard Lutyens drew up New Delhi, thus the aptness of the India dolorite used by Cox on his sculpture. Here the facade gives far more to the streetscape than most dare imagine – and this is as well as offering 6085m2 of virgin office space, with windows tilted to reflect the sky in its beautiful and complex wrap. 

And how did such a thing came into being in these times? You could say the answer lies in the value of offices in St James Square. But it is also in the genius and unerring hand of Parry and his team, a remarkable inventiveness in artistic collaboration and in the unexpected detail. 


IN NUMBERS

Total contract cost Undisclosed

GIA per m2 Less than £3200

GIA 9745m2

Form of contract JCT standard design and build 

Breeam Excellent

 

Credits

Architect: Eric Parry Architects

Development manager: Green Property

Project manager: GVA Second London Wall

Structural engineer: Price and Myers

Building services engineer: Mecserve

Historic building consultant and townscape Consultant: Citydesigner

Quantity surveyor: Gleeds

Planning consultant: DP9

Acoustic consultant: Alan Saunders Associates

Archaeological consultant: MOLA

Transport/ highways consultant: TTP

Lighting consultant: DPA Lighting Design

Main subcontractors

Stone facade subcontractor Szerelmey

Glazing and curtain walling subcontractor English Architectural Glazing

Brick subcontractor Grangewood Brickwork 

Specialist rolled art glass subcontractor Sculpture Factory 

Interior fit out and WC subcontractor JJ Sweeney 

M&E subcontractor Briggs & Forrester 

Lift subcontractor Otis 

Suppliers

Impala Granite Grupimar 

Porfido Viola  Pordfido Pedrettis SPA

Cabeca Veada Limestone LSi Stone 

Flint Limestone Gareth Davies

Render St Astier Natural Hydraulic Lime Render

Curtain walling and windows Schuco International

Laminated rolled Goethe glass Pearsons Glass

Brickwork Coleford Brick and Tile, Petersen and  Ibstock

Inverted roofing Radmat

Metalwork and balustrades Premier Engineering

Office lighting Concord, Selux

Specialist lighting Mike Stoane Lighting , Madsen Black

Raised access floors Kingspan

Suspended ceiling SAS International

Plasterboard wall and ceiling British Gypsum

Doors and joinery Shadbolt International

Ironmongery D Line

Sanitaryware Duravit

Brassware Dornbracht

Furniture Coexistence

Bespoke furniture Benchmark, Brown and Carroll