Seeing London buildings’ magnificent architecture with fresh eyes.
By Claudia Colombo
Adoptive Londoner of ten years and marketing manager for building restoration specialists Thomann-Hanry®, I’ve discovered that absence makes the heart grow fonder in our post-lockdown capital.
After a few years working in building restoration, it’s all too easy to get immersed in the technical minutiae of façade cleans, repainting and masonry repairs. As a result, one of the unexpected consequences as we start to emerge from lockdown has been a renewed sense of perspective – an ability to stand back, look up and appreciate the breathtaking beauty of London’s historical architecture.
Walking through the still relatively quiet streets of central London recently, I was struck by the diversity and overwhelming grandeur of our magnificent capital, a city rich in architectural treasures that span the centuries. At Thomann-Hanry® we’ve worked on many of London’s landmarks over the last fifteen years, cleaning frontages with our scaffold-free façade gommage® technique, repairing masonry and painstakingly redecorating metalwork and woodwork. But, as I emerged from Green Park tube station and headed through Piccadilly towards Regent Street, I found myself re-appreciating many of the buildings we’ve worked on and falling back in love with a city I’ve sorely missed during lockdown.
Green Park station itself sits within Devonshire House. Built in the 1920s, we revived its imposing Portland stone elevations in 2017. Almost directly opposite across Piccadilly, the iconic neoclassical frontage of The Ritz, its belle epoque stylings exuding an inimitably Parisian elegance – Portland stone again, this time paired with Cornish Grey Granite. Strolling up Regent Street, I passed Hamleys, a Grade II Listed facade which we cleaned in just two nights’ work, last year.
Arriving at Oxford Circus, familiar façades awaited – all buildings we’ve been privileged to restore… Spirella House, home to Tezenis, and opposite Alitalia House, now Microsoft’s flagship store. Further along Oxford Street, two more retail landmarks that have benefited from some Thomann-Hanry® TLC – TopShop and Primark. Adding to the non-disruptive advantages of working from hydraulic platforms – invaluable in such a busy retail setting – all of these iconic storefronts were cleaned overnight, effecting an almost magical transformation, out of the public gaze.
Next, heading down Charing Cross Road towards Wyndhams Theatre, which we restored in 2018. Opposite Leicester Square Underground, and another Grade II Listed structure, its impressive Modern Renaissance Portland stone elevations were cleaned in just 8 days. Minutes away in St Martins Lane, the Noël Coward Theatre is “another one of ours”. Built in 1903, its free classic style is redolent of the era and a fine exemplar of the work of prolific theatre architect WGR Sprague. Back across Leicester Square, the Prince of Wales and The Gielgud are two more architectural treasures which we worked on – and two more theatreland gems. The Grade II Listed Prince of Wales theatre was built in classic art deco style in the 1930s, whilst The Gielgud dates back to 1906. Seeing them all again stirred great pride in my adoptive home city… stepping back, looking up and drinking in the capital’s fabulous architecture and rich heritage.
It’s the same story across much of central London. Our work on other buildings, such as The Dorchester and all of the other five star hotels in Park Lane, brought us up close and personal with some truly spectacular architecture. And again across in St James’s, where we’ve turned back the clock at some 30 fine historical buildings, restoring each of them to their original splendour.
I finished my walk on the Embankment, looking back up at the neoclassical splendour of Somerset House, the latest addition to the Thomann-Hanry® portfolio of work across central London. Completed in early 2020, the project entailed window repairs and redecoration, masonry restoration and façade gommage® to some 3,200 sq. m. of Portland stone. It’s a fabulous building on an epic scale, epitomising the grandeur and majesty of London’s fine historic architecture.
Lockdown’s been a tough but necessary challenge for all of us. Emerging, blinking, into the light on the other side, just as I did at Green Park station on that bright, sunny morning in May, there’s a sense of hope – and of pride. London is a truly fabulous city, boasting far more than its fair share of magnificent buildings. Working at Thomann-Hanry®, it’s always been about more than simply running a profitable business. It’s about preserving London’s architectural legacy for today, tomorrow and for generations to come.