Trafalgar One: a Penthouse with a Unique Viewpoint

The only residential address in Trafalgar Square, Trafalgar One occupies the former Canadian Pacific Railway Building, built in 1884. After extensive renovation for developers BMB, the office block has been reimagined as four lateral apartments and an award-winning 4,000 sq ft penthouse. Designed by architects Moreno Masey with interiors by Honky, the property also includes custom technology by Tillman Domotics, with features such as automatic settings for blinds, and lighting scenes for day or night. Architect Rodrigo Moreno Masey explained more about the penthouse project.

This is a very unusual location – what was your brief for the project?

The developer had a very clear handle on what the look and feel would be. What they were looking for was a sense of quality of materials, and a simple, modern elegance. It isn’t particularly fussy or over-ostentatious, it’s much more subtle than that – how the palette of materials comes together and the detail of those junctions, for example, or the use of softness in fabrics and carpets rather than it all being incredibly hard. It requires precision control in how the materials come together.

You inherited the planning permission for the development – did this present any unwanted restrictions on what you wanted to achieve?

There were some heavy conditions on acoustics, so that residents could have peaceful enjoyment of their home even during parties in Trafalgar Square. We hard to work exceptionally hard with the design of the windows to make sure that they looked really simple and under-engineered, so that when you close them it’s like being in a different world, and when you open them it suddenly feels like you’re right in the middle of Trafalgar Square. The big sloping sheets of glass on the back elevation were vertical in the original scheme, which created these funny pockets in the facade. We worked with a glazing engineer to get the glazing on at an angle, so that that when you open those huge angled pieces of glass you’re suddenly right outside. I thought it was something worth fighting for, so we went back to planning and reapplied for consent to do that.

The clock-face in the shower is a great feature – was it hard to achieve?

On the original plans, the clocktower was just a cupboard, which I thought was a desperate shame, especially as the original 1884 clock mechanism was still in there. We decided it was too precious to replace with a battery-powered clock, so the whole mechanism was restored by a clockmaker and re-engineered so that some of the machinery could be relocated on the terrace, with the drive shaft fed through a hole to the original mechanism, so all that you see are the turning hands. The whole clock face is opaque, apart from the diamond under the 12, which is clear, so you can peer out onto the square.  It’s great fun, and it’s also a bit of history, being one of the only remaining parts of the original building.

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Shower-users can look down on Trafalgar Square through a little diamond of clear glass on the original clock-face

Can you explain more about the design of the staircase?

We moved the position of the staircase to be more central, and cut an enormous square piece of glass over it, so as you enter the apartment from the lift, as you’re being drawn left to Trafalgar Square and right towards The Mall, you’re also in this column of light, with the staircase spiralling up through it. It instantly tells you that there is more fun to be had – that you haven’t seen everything. We worked hard to make sure that while the staircase sits in the space fairly comfortably and compactly, it also funnels you up; you get this accentuated perspective as you look down.

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The sculptural top-lit staircase is intended as an enticing wayfinder, drawing people up to the top floor

What was Honky’s role on the interiors, and how did you work together?

Once the initial plan was finalised, they devised the initial look and feel – for example, choosing the taps and tiles in the bathroom, and decided on the joinery. We took that information and turned that into construction information. Then, once we had built the whole thing out, they came back and did the dressing – all the soft furnishings and whatever else. I think that’s the best way to work, because it means you get a single coherent result. We worked very well together, because they weren’t pushing an overly fussy finish; it was very much about simple, quality detailing. We worked with Honky to develop a whole series of clever but relatively low-tech ways of making the joinery flexible – doors that flip over, panels that pop up and slide across – which, for example could hide the television but reveal sculpture and artwork and provide places to physically put things. Making sure those junctions come together neatly and make it look seamless, is the difficult bit, but it’s also the bit we really enjoy.

The penthouse was shortlisted for an SBID award  for its custom technology. What was special about it?

The apartment has been wired with intelligent building services to allow centralised control to heating and cooling; the lighting and blinds can also be changed at the press of a button, with different ‘scenes’ for night and day. Moreno Masey worked closely with Tillman Domotics to integrate this, alongside a comprehensive AV installation to enhance the owners’ interface with the building.

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