A gold cabinet of curiosities reflects historical and contemporary stories in London’s wealthy Mayfair
Part of The Crown Estate and Oxford Properties’ £400 million development of St James’ Market in Mayfair, London, Studio Weave’s Je Ahn calls his small pavilion building, part of the quiet retail street running through the heart of it, a filling in of a ‘missing tooth’. But it’s a gold one – and not just because of its prime position in the centre of the city. The site had previously been simply an unexplained corner plinth at the back of the 1970s St Alban’s House office building, but in the client’s new proposal became the heart of a small residential street running parallel to Haymarket and within arrowshot of Eros at Piccadilly Circus.
In a similar vein to its previous work, Studio Weave was keen to pick up on the psycho-geography of the site and here looked to the concept of the safety deposit box, tucked away in buildings that would have served this thriving mercantile area. ‘But they weren’t just used for things of high value – it was also about items of sentimental value,’ explains Ahn, saying that they might have held family mementos or letters, anything susceptible to light fingers or fire. This concept of storing and displaying items of value underwrote the concept for Studio Weave’s highly crafted market pavilion; a 7.5m by 4.5m gold-lined interior to its granite black casket, a Wunderkammer, cossetting the visitor but tantalisingly open to the street
Timber veneered glass vitrines form the centrepiece of this public display, the marquetry of stitch patterns delicately inlaid into it below, where the gubbins is. Above the shelves it’s like a 1930s wireless set with a fine filigree cut out of the timber and speakers set in behind in readiness for some son et lumière. Currently Stephen Fry’s dulcet tones issue out of it, recounting the saucy ‘Ballad of the Handsome Butcher of St James’ market’, while inside the vitrines, plywood models recount the tale visually, the automated ones steering prudently clear of the ballad’s more racy verses. Similarly discreet, behind the vitrines’ lightly patinated copper backs are small heating units. When the hinged glass doors close on their seals they’ll maintain the internal temperature at 18°C, ensuring that whatever the weather, condensation on the display glass will never be an issue.
Stephen Fry’s dulcet tones recount the saucy ‘Ballad of the Handsome Butcher of St James’ market’
Bathing the box in golden light is the ceiling, a deeply coffered affair above your head. With debossings of wheat sheaves slathered in gold leaf, it picks up on local associations with the grain (Haymarket runs to Trafalgar Square nearby) and its historical links to the sale of bread, beer and whisky; traditional staples, the ‘common gold’ as Ahn terms it. Reflecting the coffers in parallax, the terrazzo floor below is laid in faceted pale red green and brown; rich materials reifying the daily market experience.
Hidden by the large, granite-encased bulkhead, protecting the precious contents, a heavy, scalloped golden shutter is drawn down over proceedings at night, creating a nocturnal light box to the street, lit in its golden glow. The construction overseen by specialist fabricator Millimetre, Studio Weave’s cabinet of curiosities evokes fictional references that lend some credence to the new development; a literal gilding of this commercial lily.
Client The Crown Estate
Architect Studio Weave
Cultural consultancy Studio Weave
Project management Ferraby Taylor
Structural engineering Price & Myers
M&E engineering Mecserve
Lighting designer Studio 29
Main contractor Millimetre
Ceiling maker Sands and Randall
Landscape architect (design of public square) Paul Deroose