London’s Ham Yard is the site of Firmdale Hotels’ first new-build project, a pocket of calm in the high-density tangle of Soho’s Streets. Global architecture and design firm Woods Bagot was responsible for turning this space – once a derelict car park – into a mixed-use ‘urban village’ for the area, no mean feat on such a constrained site. Here the practice’s Jonathan Leah explains how he and his team created this new public square and its sensitively designed buildings.
What is your firm’s design philosophy?
Our approach to design is based on a unique model of delivery which we term ‘CIA’. This model provides an end-to-end solution that integrates the three elements of Consulting, Interiors and Architecture, allowing our projects to be designed from the ‘inside out’ and ensuing that they are finely tuned to client requirements and the market.
Describe the concept behind the Ham Yard Hotel?
The design approach to Ham Yard Hotel seeks to encapsulate the distinctive architectural landscape of Soho by delivering a building which is complementary to the scale, massing and materials of the area, while providing a contemporary addition to one of London’s key leisure and tourist districts. The project re-builds the site’s former pedestrian linkages, helping to restore the network of short narrow streets which are essential to Soho’s vibrant 24/7 vibrant economy. It is also close to the Crown Estate redevelopment of Quadrant 3 building and David Chipperfield’s refurbished Café Royal, all of which are contributing to the rejuvenation of this south-west corner of Soho. Ham Yard Hotel helps specifically to repair the urban fabric of its site while engaging the wider neighbourhood within which it is located.
Who was responsible for the restoration of Ham Yard?
Ham Yard was previously a deserted ¾-acre site with complex land ownership issues. Woods Bagot created the external spaces – a tree-lined public thoroughfare incorporating a courtyard area – connecting Great Windmill and Denman Streets. Firmdale Hotels provided a vision for a manifestation of its brand in Soho which also brings a distinct ‘urban village’ feel to the area.
What were the challenges?
Delivering a substantial mixed-use building on a relatively constrained site in Soho.
What is the unmissable feature of the hotel?
Unquestionably, Ham Yard itself, the new public space which the project has created and the specially-commissioned bronze sculpture by Turner Prize-winning sculptor Tony Cragg which dominates the courtyard area.
What makes a project successful?
Ultimately, a client who is happy and satisfied with the final product.
What is your personal style?
I don’t like to think of myself as having one particular style or approach to design; however, it’s definitely ‘modern’ – not ‘modernist’.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Design is an iterative process – the instant moment of genius which solves a problem rarely occurs. I think that inspiration mostly grows out of a contextual approach to a project, through dialogue with the client to understand the project’s aspirations and from an in-depth interpretation – and sometimes re-interpretation – of the brief. Ultimately, it all boils down to a lot of hard work over time and successful collaboration with members of the project team.
Which room to book?
All the bedrooms are individually designed. However, if you are looking for something particularly special, I would suggest trying the Terrace Suite, although I haven’t stayed there myself.