EMPIRE HOUSE, KNIGHTSBRIDGE

Empire House started life as a German motor car showroom just before WW2: the upper floors were converted to flats in 1924. It stands on a prominent corner site in a Conservation Area, and faces the Brompton Oratory and the V&A Museum. Its stone clad corner tower is a landmark feature of the area.

We were asked to exploit the opportunity presented by the vacancy of two adjoining top floor flats below the tower and to investigate the possibility of creating a new penthouse flat.

Extensive negotiations with the local authority shaped the final scheme.  From the street the only visible alteration to the building is to the fourth floor mansard slope.  This was raised around the whole building to enclose and conceal the roof space and provide private roof gardens for the new flats and a large communal space for other residents.

The two adjoining fourth floor flats were gutted back to the steel frame and then punched through up to the corner tower above. The space was re-planned as a generous four bedroom flat with a huge living room at the prow, looking out over the V&A and the Oratory.

New mezzanine floors were inserted into the domed tower: its ornamental ‘blind’ windows were opened up to give spectacular 360o views and a circular library was built within the dome itself. The fourth floor and tower were linked by a dramatic steel and timber circular staircase which also provides access to a large private roof terrace, enclosed behind the raised mansard.

A completely new roof extension was effectively hidden from public view behind an existing stone clad and purely decorative ‘pavilion’ rising above the general level of the north façade.    The visible front section of the ‘pavilion’ was retained and incorporated into the living room of the new flat and the rest was demolished.

Behind the façade of the ‘pavilion’, the plan form was generated by structural constraints:  load bearing walls on the other three sides were raised and pair of massive steels were slung between the cross walls to support the continuous rooflight which is the dominant feature of the flat.  Small terraces either side of the ‘pavilion’ have been opened up to the new structure to bring in light and give a sense of openness.