Elsworth Sykes Partnership ,1977London Central YMCA
|AKA||St. Giles Hotel|
The London Central YMCA with the St Giles Hotel is an uncompromising exercise finished in a brutalist and machine-like manner. It was completed in the early 1970s as part of a subsidised drive to provide more hotel accommodation in the city as visitor numbers increased. The building is one of only a handful of large-scale commercial developments that confidently embraced such a challenging aesthetic.
The site was previously occupied by the Edwardian YMCA building. This magnificent structure, with a giant octagonal tower and dome, was demolished to make way for the current development in 1971. London was experiencing a boom in hotel development spurred by the increasing economic importance of attracting tourism. Many schemes of the time often received favourable planning consent and developers received government subsides per room as part of legislation brought in by the Development of Tourism Act of 1969. Other schemes of the time included the Sheraton Park Tower on Knightsbridge and the Tower Thistle in St Katherine’s Dock.
The YMCA and St Giles scheme is formed of 4 parallel connected-blocks raised on a podium that fills the entirety of its site. The ground level is undistinguished and consists of a straightforward series of shops and entrances with a horizontal band of dark windows at its first level with surrounds in bevelled concrete. At Bedford Avenue there is an entrance to an underground car park. Above the podium, the 4 tower blocks housing the 670 guest rooms provide great drama through their bold structural expression and intelligent layout. The blocks vary in height from 6-storeys at the rear, 7 at Tottenham Court Road and up to 9 and 12-storeys in the centre. Each is tapered at either end in stages so that every room is provided with a view of the street looking either north or south. Its consistency is such that when viewed from the west the building appears to be windowless and the brown reinforced concrete finishes dominate. This arrangement is repeated, creating a rhythm of windows grouped around recessed spaces at podium level. Each block is held high above the podium on robust, industrial-looking piers, which project them out over the street.
The visual effect of the YMCA and St Giles complex is uncompromising. Recent attempts to soften the impact of so much exposed, hard edged concrete with such familiar devices as hanging baskets and planters has served only to make the whole appear slightly tawdry. Its brutal shape making and confident structural gesturing does not sit easily with the accepted building forms around it. It does not adhere to the traditional rules of street architecture and follows its own logic to create an assertive form based around that of its function- to provide naturally lit rooms and lots of them.