The Managing Director of GA Design on the Corinthia London
It may be a new entry in London's register of luxury lodging, but Corinthia Hotel has inherited a long history. What began as a high-class hotel in 1885 was later commandeered by the British government during both world wars, serving as the first headquarters of MI9 and the think tank into which 'Operation Overlord' was born. Now the building, located along the River Thames near Trafalgar Square, has been returned to its original purpose – providing the city's well-heeled visitors with a worthy roof to sleep under.
Responsible for the current Corinthia aesthetic is London-based studio GA Design, who, charged with the task of re-packaging old English grandeur for a modern crowd, rose to the challenge. GA Design Managing Director Terry McGinnity shares his vision with CENTURION.
The opening of Corinthia Hotel London is a highly prestigious project, particularly so given the hotel’s location at the historic heart of London. How did GA Design International first become involved with the project?
Corinthia Hotels is one of our established clients and we have developed a good relationship with them, having worked previously on The Nevskij Palace, St. Petersburg and the Corinthia, Budapest, and so we were delighted to be involved in this prestigious, London based project. Building good client relationships is key to the success of the project and for our continued success as an international design practice.
As the designers of the hotel, how do you even begin to approach such an ambitious project and how do you balance the requirements of the client with your own vision?
The outline vision is always that of the owners and it is up to us as the designers to interpret their vision and to advise and guide. The design needs to be tangible from the outset. The basis of such large a project is often born through the process of building ‘a story’ for the property, to establish its identity within the context of its physical situation and history. Of course, it must always reflect the target clientele and remain true to the operator’s brand message. It is the evolving dialogue between us as designers and the client which is of paramount importance for the integrity and success of the overall project.
The project developed over a number of years, how does that extended timeframe complicate the planning and is it difficult remain true to your original vision for the design over that length of time?
The client had a huge and passionate vision for the success of this hotel and gave us the freedom to develop our design as creatively as possible to find the best and most practical solution. The client’s flexible approach and commitment to the best possible outcome – that of a classic, grand hotel for London - made for an organic design process where the scope could be redefined, often more than once. The extended programme, which the client allowed, is a testament to their commitment to their dream. We were very lucky to have been involved in a project where resources and time constraints did not compromise the magnificence of the finished project.
The hotel seems to be in harmony with its surroundings, for example framing views of the city and bringing natural light in. Was this interplay between hotel and the city outside a core aim of the design?
The unique and hallowed location of the hotel played a key part, not only in the story behind its identity, but also in helping to influence the design from beyond its physical boundary. To exploit its position, and its beautiful architecture, it was essential for the hotel to truly sing about its situation from wherever a guest happens to be in the hotel at any time. We were lucky in discovering a once lost internal courtyard, which we re-established, providing an enclosed outdoor space within the confines of the building. We made the most of the unique views from all the rooms and nearly all the bathrooms - whether it is of the internal landscaped courtyard, the River Thames or even Trafalgar Square – guests enjoy unrivalled access to the bustling life beyond the hotel’s walls.
Which characteristics make Corinthia Hotel London an intrinsically English hotel other than its location?
The brief for the hotel was to create a ‘21st Century Grand Hotel’ and the concept theme followed that of Grand English Homes. I believe the hotel has a very strong sense of place, and the use of English oak for the flooring, bespoke British wool carpets and rugs, together with the contemporary colour schemes and individually designed pieces of furniture makes for a very elegant, calming British affair.
Which other features of the hotel’s design are you most satisfied with and why? Are there, for example, any features of the Corinthia Hotel London that you had never previously attempted on a project?
I think most surprising is the result of the seven duplex penthouse suites which occupy the 6th and 7th floors. We had a very strong belief in the concept of these, following that of significant historical figures who may have been neighbours in times past. The Hamilton Suite takes its name from the lover of Lord Nelson. The suite is situated so that guests lying in bed are at the same height and enjoy a direct view of Nelson on his column in Trafalgar Square. Most of these penthouses have full terraces with unrivalled views over London; you know you are in the centre of London when you are out there.
The ESPA Life Spa was another important area for us. The scope of this area changed dramatically and resulted in us excavating another level out below the basement to achieve the ambition. The result is London’s largest, most luxurious spa experience.
Hotel design is a constantly evolving field, how do you ensure the longevity of the design concept for a hotel like this, so that it will hopefully be as relevant and innovative in 10 years' time as it is today? Is that even possible?
I believe the basis of lasting design is achieved by keeping the concept at its most simple, classic and functional from the outset. Using high quality materials and fittings gives the space a look which will stand the test of time. Fashions will change but people will always want to return and relax in a hotel which provides a familiar, comforting and consistent sense of place.
Have you received any comments from guests on they relate to the spaces and designs you have created?
The primary feedback I hear is of guests experiencing a sense of home; they seem to be very comfortable in the hotel’s environment which is made even more relaxing by the excellent staff there. We are very happy to see Corinthia, London receiving such rave reviews and I, along with my co-designers, feel quite privileged to have been able to deliver such a well-received hotel to the London scene.
Visit the Corinthia Hotel, London website for more information on the hotel
View this and other design projects on the GA Design International homepage
Read Part II of our interview tomorrow, when Terry McGinnity, Managing Director, and Su Ball, Executive Director speak about GA Design International’s Overall Design Philosophy.
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