Cindy Walters admires the richly varied response to context in Eric Parry Architects’ 7 & 8 St James’s Square
Eric Parry calls himself an ‘urban repair man’. As well as the recently completed office building at 7 and 8 St James’s Square, his practice has completed a number of significant projects within the tight confines of the Cities of London and Westminster: 30 Finsbury Square, 60 Threadneedle Street, 23 Savile Row, 50 New Bond Street, One Eagle Place and 5 Aldermanbury Square.
In this series of convivial urban office buildings, elevations are crafted and sculpted with a care akin to that usually invested in civic or cultural buildings.
Each building has achieved better and better environmental credentials, or what Parry refers to as “the other stuff”. The deft and well-considered addition to St James’s Square is further evidence of the refined sensibility that informs the work of the practice.
The site is located between Apple Tree Yard to the north and St James’s Square to the south, with the longest frontage on Duke of York Street to the west. Christopher Wren’s St James’s Church, Piccadilly, can be seen at one end of Duke of York Street, and the open greenery of the square at the other. The Survey of London shows that the site was previously occupied by deep plots that facilitated very dense urban development.
St James’s Square itself was laid out by Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of St Albans, and was always intended to be a good address: by the mid-nineteenth century it contained a bank, an insurance society, two government offices, the London Library and three clubs.
There is a generosity of spirit in Parry’s acknowledgment of the work done by other architects working nearby: the projecting granite window is a corbelled reference to the work Edwin Lutyens did on the masterplan for New Delhi while based at 7 St James’s Square”
In 2005 Eric Parry Architects (EPA) won a design competition to develop the site, including reconfiguration of the listed 7 St James’s Square – rebuilt by Edwin Lutyens in 1911 and formerly home to the Royal Fine Art Commission – and the demolition of its neighbour, a rather pedestrian building whose replacement is smaller and less bulky. The first fund sold up at the height of the last speculative cycle and the site was passed from one owner and architect to another until, at the end of 2009, Kish Twelve, managed by Green Property, acquired the site and returned to Parry’s office for a revised scheme, which has been delivered under a two-stage Design & Build contract with the architect novated to the contractor.
The revised project comprises a single residence at 7 St James’s Square and a nine-storey office building at number 8, with three distinct elements to the new Duke of York Street elevation, which was formerly characterised by service entrances. A dark brick building occupies the lower corner facing the square, an intermediate building with a loggia forms the middle part of the new elevation to Duke of York Street, and a third building turns the corner from Duke of York Street into Apple Tree Yard.
A common theme is the robust materiality and the relationship between the new building and the back edge of the pavement.
Much love and care has gone into the building corner at Duke of York Street and Apple Tree Yard, where a projecting granite bay overhangs the street. A granite sculpture built into the wall, by Parry’s fellow Royal Academician Stephen Cox, was inspired by Michelangelo’s pronouncement that “a figure lies within the stone waiting to be discovered”.
Parry and Cox have carried on a conversation about the relationship between art and buildings – and the use of granite in particular – for many years. The Impala Black granite that Cox has used for his corner piece is similar to the stone selected by Parry for the building’s tectonic base; some of the granite is riven, some is honed, some is polished, and the colour ranges poetically from light grey to shiny black.
There is a generosity of spirit in Parry’s acknowledgment of the work done by other architects working nearby: the projecting granite window is a corbelled reference to the work Edwin Lutyens did on the masterplan for New Delhi while based at 7 St James’s Square, and its rippling glass echoes that found in Wren’s church, framed at the end of Duke of York Street.
The next large block in the composition forms the longest frontage on Duke of York Street. The ground-floor windows increase in height towards St James’s Square as the ‘Renaissance’ base to the building responds to the significant fall in the ground from north to south. Above is a loggia and a stucco-rendered elevation with punched windows. Triple-glazed curtain walling to the top two floors leans back by two degrees to reflect the sky.
The lower corner of the site is occupied by a dark brick building that references its neo-Georgian neighbours and other houses on St James’s Square. Where the other two replacement buildings have a grey granite base and pale limestone details to the upper floors, the entrance building is the reverse, with white horizontal bands breaking up the dark brick.
The corbelled stone soffit that appears on the projecting window bay on Apple Tree Yard is echoed by the ceiling of the reception area. Beautiful porcelain ceramics by the London-based potter Carina Ciscato are displayed in bronze-framed display cabinets, and bespoke light fittings, designed by Parry, illuminate the white corbelled ceilings.
The new office building’s plan is arranged so that a longitudinal core aligns the party wall to 7 St James’s Square, preventing overlooking of its new enclosed courtyard. The resulting narrow floor plates are easily lit from one side. The plan is effortless and confident, reflecting Parry’s significant experience of balancing the requirements of developers, agents and occupants.
This project underlines the importance of Parry’s work within architectural discourse. Having held long-term lectureships at Harvard and Cambridge, and the presidency of the AA, he has always moved effortlessly between practice and academia. His work in London reflects his fascination with the history and qualities of the European city, developed over the course of numerous conversations with his friend and mentor, the late Dalibor Vesely, about what it means to situate architecture in its cultural and urban context.
Architects dislike the idea that clients feel they need to have ‘made one earlier’, but in the hands of the right architects, repeat commissions for the same building type can allow each building to be better than the last. Through the delivery of so many diverse London office buildings, Eric Parry has continually added to his urban repair toolkit. His buildings have an ongoing dialogue with the city and are built to last.
Eric Parry Architects
Price & Myers
Schueco glazing, curtain walling
English Architectural Glazing