Welbeck Street 

Status: Speculative

Use: 187 room Hotel

A speculative look at the redevelopment of the 1960s car park off Oxford Street in response to the plans to demolish the structure and replace with a new-build hotel, as approved by Westminster Council in August 2017.
With a particular interest in all things 1960s and 1970s, including it’s architecture, JAA have always admired the pre-fab concrete facade of Welbeck Street carpark. It immediately stops you in your tracks and lifts the spirits when you dart off the horror of the main thoroughfare of Oxford Street on those occasions when you just have to venture there. Like it or not, the facade is undeniably eye-catching and, even if not the earliest example of a ‘Pop Art inspired’ facade, it is certainly a rare architectural find in 2017, being one of the few examples to survive, in London at any rate.
We first heard of plans to demolish the building in mid-August in the architectural press. After the usual in-office commentary and moaning, we thought we would investigate the option of whether or not the new proposed use – that of a hotel – could work within the existing fabric. 
Admittedly, the existing low car-park floor to ceilings and down stand beams would mean that the floors within were not fit for purpose, but then again, this is not what was interesting about the building; whilst not normally an advocate of facade retention, to retain this facade – the main part of the building with merit/ interest – and repurpose the building would require the repositioning of floor levels. We therefore set about testing whether a hotel could feasibly work behind this existing facade, seeing as the reason given for demolition of the building was that the levels could not work behind the existing openings. 
The resultant scheme found that, by forming a extra high space half way up the existing facade, and then setting-out the floors from this point both upwards and downwards, that the hotel use could be inserted behind the existing facade. The extra high 4th floor has therefore been proposed as an impressive restaurant/ bar space.
In order to make the scheme more comparable with the commercial ambitions of the approved scheme, three new floors have been added to the top of the building, set back from the existing facade so as not to undermine the grandeur of the original facade, and borrowing from it’s rhythm with regards to window apertures and materiality. 
The subdivision behind the facade has been dealt with by infilling the lower triangles, between the diamond frames, with a dark metal facetted panel. It is the infilling of this area that allows the positioning of new dividing walls as well as any new air inlet/outlet for the bedrooms. The remaining larger openings would be glazed to allow an interesting framed view out to the surrounding city.
Increasingly buildings of this era are being demolished to make way for the shiny new promise of ‘modern architecture’ in its place. 60 years ago, the opposite was the case, with many tired victorian terraces seeing the wrecking ball only to be replaced by blocks of new council flats. Such remaining terraces are cherished today, admired for a host of reasons, and in 2017 it’s hard to imagine how they were ever viewed otherwise over fifty years ago. We think a similar admiration for Welbeck Street will be found in the future, which is why it’s imperative we preserve it now, without disregarding the commercial ambitions of the site’s owner.
It is also worth considering that the existing facade perfectly suits the hotel aesthetic. There is a certain ‘quirk’ of staying in an old car park, which could have mass appeal beyond Peckham or Shoreditch; as with all things, it just needs to be marketed in the right way. An old car park? Perhaps. Or, an old carpark with interiors of Don Draper’s apartment in Mad Men, a bar from a Connery-era Bond, and a concrete facade befitting an LA-cool episode of Columbo from 1971? Old hat to some, perhaps, but the epitome of chic to others.
Photo credit: Theo Simpson