Richard Seifert & Partners ,1973Sheraton Park Tower
|Borough||City of Westminster|
|AKA||Grand Metroplitan Hotel|
The Sheraton Park Tower is one of the last of several landmark post-war developments in Knightsbridge. Its rotunda was initially welcomed as an innovative solution to a relatively small island site, which created much space around its edge, but any flair it demonstrates is badly let down by its dismal relationship to street level and the poor standard to which the building has been successively adapted and refitted. It is a sadly dispiriting piece from London’s most prolific post-war architect.
The site of the Park Tower was once home to Woolland’s department store (once famous for 1960s avant-garde fashion store The 21 shop ) and, to its rear, residential buildings lining the north side of Lowndes Square. In 1966, plans by Capital and Counties Property were put forward with Seifert & Partners for redevelopment of the entire site. They proposed a tall tower approaching the scale of the recently completed Park Lane Hilton. This design was rejected by planning officers concerned by the visual impact of such a tower in a relatively low-lying area of central London. Planning guidance drawn up by the London County Council and the Royal Fine Arts Commission also made recommendations that post-war development close to Hyde Park be limited to approximately 100 ft (nearby Bowater House was forced into redesign due to this consideration). In 1968 the present 180 ft drum-like design was adopted and construction began in 1970. London was experiencing a boom in hotel development spurred by the increasing economic importance of attracting tourism. Many schemes of the time were later to receive favorable planning consent and government subsides per room as part of legislation brought in by the Development of Tourism Act of 1969.
The hotel was opened in 1973 as the ‘Skyline Park Tower Hotel.’ Curiously, however, Pevsner states that it was previously the ‘Grand Metropolitan Hotel’. This name would appear to pre-date the completion and may be part of the original proposals before an operating company was found. The Hotel opened as part of the Canadian owned ‘Skyline’ chain.
The building consists of a 15-storey rotunda housing 300 bedrooms, on a two-storey podium containing bars, a lobby and reception areas. The tower is formed of a reinforced-concrete service core, around which rooms are massed on a frame supported by pilotis at podium level. The most distinctive feature of the Park Tower is the façade treatment of the rotunda. Likened by Charles Jencks to corn-on-the-cob , each of the twenty rooms per floor, is articulated by a projecting bay window and clad in ochre mosaic. This gives the building an extremely tactile surface, while the rhythm of the windows goes some way to alleviating the bulk and emphasizing the vertical. This cellular façade treatment was a particularly Seifert architectural device and many of his buildings share this motif. At Centre Point the façade is made up of repeating structural components in order to create an external honeycomb. Completed in 1966, Space House, itself a rotunda and therefore a precursor in form to the Park Tower, did the same, while the NLA Tower in Croydon, is chequered by alternating recessed and projecting units.
Despite the healthy pedigree of Seifert’s back catalogue, the Sheraton Park hotel is a disappointment. Contemporary critics saw it as 'gasometric' and 'keep-like', with a top storey 'like the stopper on a scent bottle.’ The tower may achieve some distinction, but a heavy and uneventful podium undermines any positive qualities. Where both Centre Point and Space House meet the ground the structural drama is exposed and emphasized with articulated supports. At the Park Tower the pilotis are hidden at third floor and sunk internally into a conference/dining space obscured further by dark smoked glass. At street level the pedestrian is unaware of any structural techniques and is presented with a low-lying, windowless box of pre-cast concrete panels alleviated by service ramps at either side of the main entrance to Lowndes Square. Further cirticism was aimed at its themed interior decoration, including a Tudor-style restaurant by Canadian Allan Edwards.
The Sheraton Park Tower has in recent years re-launched itself as a luxury destination. By all accounts the building is highly successful and commands favorable rates in this much sought after part of town. However, various refits by current owners Starwood, and commercial additions have done nothing to bring any original redeeming architectural quality to the fore. The Park Tower’s interiors continue to lean towards a fussy contemporary kitsch, highly popular in this area of London, while at Knightsbridge (technically the rear of the hotel) the addition of two cheap looking structures in the 1990s, housing a restaurant and casino, fail to establish any coherent street frontage. Together they are reminiscent of some emerging Balearic resort strip and, despite the ‘luxury’ tag frequently lauded in its marketing, little effort has been made to disguise either the myriad of vulgar air conditioning units at podium level (occasionally shielded from view by B&Q style garden trellis) or the mobile phone masts and aerials at its roofline.
Seifert’s rotunda hotel building could be saved from accusations of lacking spirit, if only its ‘shapeless’ podium, and the mess around it, was given some robust treatment and rebuilt to accommodate the miserable premises that appear to have organically attached themselves to its base.