The commissioners of this project for a building on the edge of the River Thames near Hampton Court, a world famous historic building, were admirers of Quinlan Terry’s much admired response to a similar challenge at his Richmond Riverside, built in 1984-7. He had given his buildings here on the banks of the Thames at Richmond, Surrey, an architectural character to harmonise with that of the riverside of Georgian London at Richmond and at nearby Twickenham and Kew. Terry’s buildings are invitingly open to the river through terraces and lawns, yet they also form a group which has a powerfully urban character, surrounded by lively public streets yet sheltering magical enclosures and squares: just the combination which visitors from abroad enjoy exploring in Italian cities.

More recently, Quinlan and Francis Terry had made extensive additions in 2002 at Colonial Williamsburg, USA, in front of William and Mary College, attributed to Christopher Wren. When in 2008 they were given a commission for a hotel opposite Hampton Court, another famous historic building partly by Wren, they designed their new work in several different parts, as they had at Williamsburg, to blend sympathetically into its setting. Both give the appearance of having grown over time, recalling traditional towns where buildings of different periods rub shoulders happily with each other. They conform to a common vernacular, generally English Georgian, yet have details in different styles.

Their design for the hotel on the Thames next to Hampton Court Station similarly has three components: the main part is a classical design in traditional London stock brick with Penrhyn slate roofs, hardwood sash windows, and cast iron drain pipes with rain-water heads of lead; its entrance lodges relate in style and material to the adjacent Hampton Court Station in Victorian Tudor Gothic; and its lower side wing, in a more vernacular manner, is weather-boarded and has bay windows.

This subtly thought-out project was nonetheless subject to hostile comment in the press, some completely ill-informed from those who had not seen the full design, and some the result of a belief that an historic building such as Hampton Court is so sacred that no new buildings can ever be allowed near it, and that in this case the site should therefore be simply ‘landscaped’. However, the urban development proposed by Quinlan and Francis Terry was finally granted planning consent.

The hotel is on a site which is approached by thousands of visitors from either the modest Hampton Court Railway Station by Sir William Tite of 1849 on its south side, or from the fine Hampton Court Bridge to its north by Sir Edwin Lutyens of 1930-3. With its three elliptical spans, this Bridge is a model of how to build in an historic setting with its arches of fairfaced concrete and the rest in red brick and Portland stone which relate to Hampton Court, especially the substantial ranges by Wren.

The plan of the hotel by Quinlan and Francis Terry takes the form of a long rectangle which is a response to its site along the edge of the river Thames. Its architectural style and form are similarly related to its setting, taking account of the fact that a successful hotel on such an important site cannot be a small building, yet at the same time must be modest enough not to dominate or compete with the extensive grandeur of Hampton Court on the other side of the river.

At the same time it is obvious that the west entrance front needs to command attention from potential users. as must the east entrance front which can be seen from Hampton Court, so should be worth looking at. It was thus decided that these two west and east fronts should be virtually identical, with pedimented façades and a cheerful display of round-headed windows, Venetian on the first floor and Diocletian on the floor above. This echoes Georgian town buildings, for example the now demolished St George’s Hospital, Hyde Park Corner (1733-6), by Isaac Ware. This neo-Palladian work had Venetian and Diocletian windows arranged exactly as at the Terrys’ hotel which also relates to nearby buildings in Hampton Green on the other side of the Bridge, notably the early-nineteenth century Mitre Hotel. This is next to a series of houses dating from the William and Mary period.

The west entrance front of the hotel is approached through an inviting little court flanked by two Tudor Gothic lodges. These recall on a small scale the larger Railway Station immediately adjacent on the south which has Jacobean-style shaped gables. The lodges are in red brick to match the Station and to form a contrast with the yellow stock brick of the hotel itself which has details including the angle quoins in Portland stone. The hotel is entered through a one-storeyed portico of four free-standing Tuscan columns forming a three-bay glazed arcade in the centre of the west front. Set back from this formal façade is a lower, two-storeyed wing on its south side, incorporating shops. This has a weather-boarded front of painted timber, a type familiar from water-front buildings on the Thames such as public houses, boat-houses, and mills.

The long north front of the hotel along the river is skilfully designed so that its bulk is broken down by resembling a row of five Georgian terraced houses. These are linked by a cast-iron colonnade flanking a terrace which is open from the restaurant and overlooks the new riverside square. The plan, which is arranged around two broad corridors or galleries at right angles to each other, is designed so that most of the rooms face south, commanding fine views across the river to Hampton Court, with the services facing north where access to the underground car park is also found.

Taken from The Practice Of Classical Architecture by Professor David Watkin, Published by Rizolli

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