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How Do You Renovate a Grade 1-Listed Heritage Building?

With great care, according to PDP London, the architects behind a four-year revamp of an 1820's London masterpiece.

Regent's Crescent (c) Tom Mesquitta

In 1820, Britain's then Prince Regent, later King George IV, wanted some accommodation to house his closest friends and family. He commissioned John Nash, the celebrated English architect known for his elegant stuccoed facades, to design such a building.

Regent's Crescent as it came to be known, became one of London's most illustrious buildings, situated on the very edge of Regent's Park in Marylebone. The development was granted Grade 1 Listing and has long been regarded as an exemplar of Regency style.

It was damaged during war time bombing and its Grade 1 status made it difficult to renovate. But in 2013 developer CIT gained permission for the project and commissioned award-winning architects PDP London, to start sketching. PDP London is known for this type of work, having renovated the Grade 1 listed Royal Hospital Chelsea, home of the Chelsea Pensioners, designed by Sir Christopher Wren.

Regent's Crescent Entrance
As London's only Grade 1 listed new build, the updated development is set to complete in Spring 2020, consisting of 67 luxury apartments and 9 Garden Villas. The two-five bedroom apartments start from £2.9 million, on sale via Knight Frank and Savills.

Billionaire sat down with Ian Law of PDP London to understand more about renovating such a historic building.  

How do you go about renovating a Grade 1 listed building?

It is important to understand the building you are working with and the special value that attracts its Grade 1 status. A full survey and photographic record is essential and most important is a thorough and comprehensive Historic Buildings report prepared by a leading conservation specialist at the outset. 

What techniques did you use to channel John Nash?

In design terms, returning the buildings to their original domestic use and re-establishing important key features lost in the post-war rebuild. All the original front doors were reinstated into active use, the chimney stacks were recreated which emphasise the original townhouse divisions, and the hierarchy between the street, portico, front doors and principal front rooms were re-established.

On the technical side, the front heritage facade has been recreated in bonded brickwork laid in lime mortar, without tell-tale modern movement joints. The applied render and moulded decorative features were formed in the traditional way using lime stucco and all the timber sash windows have been remade using slender lambs tongue glazing bars to the original profiles.  

What challenges did you encounter?

The challenges on this project have been varied and considerable and all have demanded bespoke solutions. The heritage facade is formed without movement joints in lime stucco with cornices and moulded architraves to replicate that of the original 19th Century buildings. The site is located above three London underground lines and the new building is built off resilient bearings to absorb vibration. 

A subterranean Georgian Ice House was discovered under the rear part of the site dating from 1780. In the form of a brick egg, 9 metres (30 feet) in diameter and 12.8m (40 feet) deep, parts of the scheme were redesigned to avoid and preserve it for the future.  

What elements are you most proud of?

Resolving a complex design puzzle dictated by the constraints of the crescent form and the John Nash facade, and replicating the facade with traditional materials and techniques. This was done whilst creating contemporary homes that meet the expectations of the 21st Century. 

Why is it important to preserve old architecture?

Old buildings are part of our heritage and were built with skills, techniques and materials that are increasingly difficult to replicate. There is always something to learn and draw-on from old buildings.