St. Pancras Resurrection
by Jo Baker
Sir Gilbert Scott's confection of a masterpiece, which has not made its way lightly through the years, rises none the less regally from the front of London's historic St. Pancras railway station.
When built in the late 1800s as the Midland Grand Hotel, the building was a hallmark of high Victorian sumptuousness, designed to prove that the gothic style could suit commercial architecture. Yet as a large hotel with just a handful of bathrooms on the cusp of the en-suite revolution, it was doomed to fall quickly out of fashion.
The hotel closed in the 1930s, revived only to serve as offices for British Rail. In the 1960s, fans of the hotel and train station, which was by then also underused, fought hard to keep the complex from being demolished, and also succeeded in hoisting its National Heritage listing from Grade III to a better-protected Grade I. But after being abandoned by British Rail in 1985, the hotel, then known as the St. Pancras Chambers, fell into disrepair.
The two buildings' fates changed a decade later with the selection of St. Pancras as the terminus for Eurostar, the new high-speed passenger rail service to France.
The Manhattan Loft Corporation of London was part of the winning consortium for the hotel's revival as a railway hotel, and later took over the role of developer of the entire project, with Marriott as operator and the British firm RHWL Architects leading the design. And after the obligatory green light was given by English Heritage — the government-sponsored body that manages England's historic built environment — the St. Pancras Chambers was given a new lease on life.
The objective of the whole project team was to resuscitate the gothic beauty of the seven-story building while producing a profitable, functional hotel in line with modern design and technology standards. Success has followed in most of these respects.
The 245-room St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London was thrown open in May 2011 to high acclaim, having cost the Manhattan Loft Corporation over £200 million — more than £50 million over budget. The refurbishment saga had taken eight years, pitted the demands of English Heritage against those of UK legislation on health and safety and the hospitality market, and involved dozens of different contractors and specialists.
Much of the reconfiguration needed to make the hotel work, both functionally and financially, skirted the building's historical core.
The architects and developer worked with conservation architect Richard Griffiths Architects, under the strict eye of English Heritage, to build a new 120,000-square-foot (11,000-square-meter) wing of modern, executive-style box rooms adjacent to the train shed (which underwent its own separate restoration and expansion).
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