= The Crawford Arts Review: Preserving London's fine retail heritage

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Preserving London's fine retail heritage

Some of the most celebrated architects have been and still are responsible for London's retail buildings. Some of these buildings are relatively modest in scale. Most of Oxford Street, for instance, consists of the typical mixture of large department stores and relatively small boutique stores that suits London (and shoppers) so well.

Many of these buildings are not officially 'listed'; they come into the category of what Westminster City Council planning department in its wisdom call buildings of merit. 

I am taking a look here at one section of one street: the south-west section of Great Marlborough Street that leads to Liberty and Regent Street. No-one would think of altering Liberty, that marvel of Tudor revival, but what about the smaller buildings further along the street?

Here is one - a delightful step gabled building that used to house the London College of Music. Schott's wonderful music shop still operates next door. 

As I understand the development of this section of street, and borrowing from the Survey of London, the area in the 20th century became predominantly garment industry, notably millinery. Some of these buildings - I can think of at least two or three - now stand empty and face that often rather sad fate known as 'redevelopment'. 

Europa House at 54 Great Marlborough Street is one notable example (see pic); the building at 55-57 is another. These buildings have been empty for some years but recently the ground floor of No. 54 has been covered with hoardings. At first I felt relieved about this. At last, I thought, this beautiful little art deco building is going to be refurbished. Another fine example of the street's (and the area's) retail heritage is going to be preserved. The art deco lettering and style of the hoardings misled me I'm afraid. Now I'm not sure what  exactly is going on.

"These buildings too . . . are part of what people come to London to see."

Dusty and neglected these buildings may be, but there is much elegantly functional design value at risk here.The latest Westminster City Council planning department meeting notes I can find refer to "redevelopment behind retained street façades at 54 and 55-57". E-architect on the other hand suggests that "the new building (sic), at 54-57 Great Marlborough Street, will feature a new façade". E-architect goes on to say, referring to the Europa House building (see pic above), "the gentle curve of which has been designed to reflect the curve of the existing building at 54 Great Marlborough Street and the rhythm of the original streetscape". The curve referred to is of course the restrained curve of the typical art deco reworking of classical proportions. 

These buildings form part of London's light industrial and retail history, and of the family histories tied up with those industries. IThese buildings too, I would suggest, are part of what people come to London to see.

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