This former silent-movie theatre and venue for raves is now an engaging hotel with modern and art-deco references.
Client: Dorsett and Kosmopolitan Hotels
Architect: Flanagan Lawrence
Interior designer: Kosmopolitan
Size: 15,135 sq m
Duration: 28 months
Words by Emily Martin
Designed by theatre design specialist architect Frank Verity (1864-1937), the Shepherds Bush Pavilion had experienced both a glorious and pitiful past. Opened as a cinema in 1923, it was badly damaged during the Second World War and after an ignominious life as a bingo hall and then a venue for illegal raves remained empty for several years. Poorly repaired after being bombed and badly maintained ever since, the Grade II listed building faced possible demolition - or collapse - after falling into a sorry state.
Thankfully a sell-off to Chinese hotel company Kosmopolitan Hotels, in 2009, secured the building's future and has since been transformed into a plush four-star hotel, the Dorsett, Shepherds Bush. In the hands of architecture practice Flanagan Lawrence the building has had a complete overhaul, with the practice restoring some of the Twenties' magic.
The dramatic entrance space of the new hotel references the building's art-deco past. Photo: Anthony Weller
'Above the entrance there used to be a tea-dance room,' says Jason Flanagan, project director at Flanagan Lawrence, as we stand outside, directing my gaze upwards on the magnificent art-deco building in front of us. 'What a nice time that must have been!'
Designed and built during an age of glamour and social reform, where the old ideals were being challenged not least through fashion and dance, cinema offered an outlet for many people. As well as hosting dances, the cinema had a full musical company - its own Pavilion Symphony Orchestra - to accompany the silent films that were bring shown, as well as a hi-tech lighting system to create colour effects during screenings. 'Because of its past occupation the building needed light drawn into the centre space, where the auditorium was situated, which presented some challenges for us when converting it into a hotel,' says Flanagan.
Each guest room features a Chinese-inspired wallpaper. Photo: Nick Guttridge
Coupled with a tricky planning application much of the building had to be demolished, with the exception of the front facade, before being reconstructed. Additional insulation to the brick facades and high-performance glazing are used to not only improve the building's thermal abilities, but also bring daylight into the upper floors where the guest rooms and spa facilities are now located.
Entering the foyer space and it's clear how the building's history, and exterior design, has influenced the interior space. There is very little in the way of furnishing, with simple curved surfaces in alternating bands of black and gold being the theme providing an art-deco cinema experience. A honey-coloured limestone floor is inlaid with feature brass strips that form a series of circles at the centre of the space, which in turn are reflected in a ceiling coffer above. it is a wide and open space, with the shiny bronze reception tucked out of the way. Visitors are drawn in and then down a short staircase towards what the designers consider to be 'the main event'.
'Down here and around to the left is the main attraction,' says Flanagan eagerly as he walks. Enter the hotel bar and the space opens up into a grand, wood-panelled 'hooped' atrium. A white back-lit glass bar, with gold aluminium trim and granite top, is offset by the surrounding golden hue radiating from the backlit space. Lining the walls is soft seating in rich velvet fabrics, accompanied by low tables and framed by heavy curtains. The floor's brass inlay is a different design from that seen in the lobby, and looks to me like a filmstrip motif. 'I've not heard that one before,' he says, and suggests that I'm looking too deeply into it.
Looking up the atrium is the newly built glazed roof, bringing much-needed light into what was the auditorium space. 'When the sun sets, the glass becomes an infinity mirror,' adds Flanagan, with the golden architectural bands seemingly continuing up in into the night sky under the optical illusion. 'Lighting during the bronzy daylight was quite a challenge,' says Flanagan. 'It's like a great big lantern.'
The restaurant, along with the guest rooms and spa, was designed by the in-house Kosmopolitan Hotels design team. Photo: Anthony Weller
Other difficulties with space planning the 317-room hotel meant that 102 rooms would be without an external window. Creating a central light well allows for natural light to fill these rooms, which overlook the bar below. 'As you can imagine the acoustic quality needs to be very good and we spent some time factoring this into the design work,' says Flanagan. Ensuring a dead sound within the space is partly due to the slatted, cut-out, ash-veneered wood panels in the atrium that ensure minimal sound reverberation. The rooms too are well insulated. in-house designers at Kosmopolitan, led by Wendy Chiu, designed the guest rooms, spa and restaurant. A 'Chinese influence teamed with British style' influence the spaces, she says, and feature a light and bright colour palette. A Chinese-inspired wallpaper features in each guest room, and in the en suites the mirror features a chamfer that is reminiscent of art deco styling, as do other features in the guest spaces, referencing the British styling part of the equation.
Rich fabrics, brass studs on the deep buttoned head boards and polished stone basins marry brand and historical context. As for the Chinese influence, it adds another layer to this building's eventful story, providing it with its deserved happy ending.