Blacksheep Redesign the Novotel Tower Bridge in London

September 2, 2009

The Blacksheep architecture and interior design agency have completed a redesign of the ground floor area of the Tower Bridge Novotel location in London, including the reception, bar, lounge and dining areas.

Blacksheep Redesign the Novotel Tower Bridge in London

The brief, given to Blacksheep by Novotel’s Accor parent brand, was to help increase the usage of and revenue generation from the hotel’s public spaces, as well as creating a truer embodiment of the brand’s core values: ‘contemporary hotels as comfortable for business as for leisure’ – a definition unchanged since Accor’s co-founders Paul Dubrule and Gérard Pelisson first introduced the concept of a modern hotel chain in France in 1967, with a straightforward but innovative offer of great accommodation, combined with restaurants, work and recreational facilities, set within a relaxed and informal environment.

Blacksheep had previously worked with Accor in 2008, when they completed the very well-received redesign of the public spaces of the newly-purchased Eastgate Hotel in Oxford for Accor’s Mercure brand.  The agency was delighted to get the chance to work subsequently with another iconic brand within the Accor organisation. ”Novotel is a very consistent and highly-respected brand’, commented Jo Sampson, Blacksheep director and co-founder ‘and it was an interesting challenge in the new design to meet such deceptively simple brand values head-on, making every element flow successfully into the next, so that key business and leisure customers all feel perfectly at home, with all need states answered.  At the same time we had to ensure that local business users and passers-by would be attracted to the hotel’s food and beverage offer by imbuing it with standalone, destination appeal.’

Novotel London Tower Bridge is situated between Tower Bridge and Fenchurch Street stations, in an historic area of London, much of whose history survives in surrounding street and place names and in the architectural heritage of the area – from Royal Mint street, where new coins were made until 1975, to Pepys Street (bordering the hotel), named after Samuel Pepys, whose legendary diaries give such insights into London life in the 17th century.  The area has also historically absorbed people from many different cultures – from silk weaving descendants of Huguenot refugees, to Jewish refugees from Eastern European pogroms to Chinese traders in Limehouse and the strong Sylhelti Bangladeshi community just north of the area, in Brick Lane, all of whom have contributed greatly to the rich layers of social culture and craftsmanship in the immediate vicinity of the hotel.

Blacksheep created a core concept for this unique location, called ‘Liquid History’, referring to the Thames, weaving by just 100m from the hotel, and its associations with journeys, destinations, views and iconic cultural and architectural landmarks.  This would translate into both an abstracted wave pattern unifying the newly re-drawn areas of the ground floor scheme (in the form of ‘wave effect’ timber wall panels at the side and forming the back wall of the reception area) and into the idea of views through from one area to another at all times.  ‘Snapshot London’ is a second theme, with famous landmarks represented in specially-commissioned black and white photographs.  The photographs are often cropped into – just as you might glimpse each landmark between other buildings, for example.  These are used as full-height panels in the scheme – and also as doors, including a ‘secret door’ from the business breakout area into the restaurant space.

The hotel faces outwards on three sides – onto Pepys Street, Savage Gardens and Coopers Row, with a main entrance on Pepys Street and a side entrance in Coopers Row leading directly into the bar area.  Originally built in the 1980s, it had a slightly piecemeal existing interior, with public spaces which didn’t connect very well, uniform light levels and no sub-divided areas that appealed directly to user groups of single people or more intimate areas for couples or for larger user groups.

‘The new design sought to create a sense of flow between the different spaces on the ground floor and add in pockets of interest in the form of smaller, punctuating spaces, ‘ explained Blacksheep director Jo Sampson.  ‘The colour palette for the scheme was light with punches of colour, including ice blue and burnt orange, offset by dramatic black or white monochrome tile flooring.’

The new ground floor is comprised of a large, light and airy reception area, with seating areas, circulation core and internet station space.  A large bar area to the left of front reception segues seamlessly into the restaurant space, with an additional private dining area, which can also be used as a business meeting space, with informal business ‘breakout’ seating around it.  Further business facilities are on the lower ground floor.  The dining offer is made up of a total of 198 covers, spread through the restaurant, bar, private dining and breakout spaces with 127 covers in the dedicated restaurant space.

Views between the areas to link the offers were very important and Blacksheep designed a series of ‘picture frame’ portals between the spaces so that customers can see the bar from the reception and the restaurant from the bar, enabling the restaurant space in particular to be defined without being boxed in.  Passers-by using Coopers Row to get to and from the station are also targeted with clear views of booth seating and striking pendant lighting along the Coopers Row glass fascia.

Customers arrive into the reception space, with new reception ‘pod’ desking re-located to the back of the space with a solid back to frame them, creating more of a feature area than was previously the case, aligning better with the entrance doors and increasing the sense of spaciousness on entry.  To the left of the desk area, wave-effect panels in two contrasting grey veneers visually reinforce the idea of flow with lights moving on and off the wave-effects to suggest the sense of movement and running water.  To the right of reception sits a high-impact central seat (a Novotel key item and unique to each location).  The seat is sculptural and iconic and rests on a bespoke wave-design rug (designed by Blacksheep designer Sofie Brunner).  Usually the seats are very strongly coloured but in this location the seat is more of a neutral colour, with the rug providing the colour-splash.  Pendant lights are clustered over the top, enhancing this feature area (also used over other key ground floor areas, including the side façade, the servery and the entrance to the business suite.  A display area for sculptural glass curves around behind the feature seating.

The original ceiling was retained but ceiling ‘skirts’ were removed.  Flooring is in white ‘technical stone’ tiling.  High quality iMacs are available in the internet area, with contemporary white high stooling.  At the far left of the space, there are glimpses beyond to the orange ‘lightbox’ wall of the private dining / meeting room area and a large feature pendant light over the stair void, leading to the lower-ground floor area.

Whilst access to the bedrooms is from the circulation space at the right of the reception space, access to the other major ground floor facilities and the stairwell leading to the lower-ground-floor are to the left of reception.  The bar is linked to the reception area through the same colour palette: seating is in black, ice blue and burnt orange (with some seating in two tones – eg an ice blue back and orange inner back and seat pad), but contrast is provided through the use of dramatic black floor tiling to add refinement and create a more ‘moody’ relaxing space.  A new rear bar display was created with timber panelling and mirrors an existing bulkhead was illuminated with spotlights. The bar area formerly had a large and rather ugly extract vent for the air-conditioning which Blacksheep overclad and hid within some bespoke new high banquette seating.   Further ‘Iconic London’ black and white shots are used between the windows of the bar space.

The bar also needed to be able to cope with overspill from the restaurant at peak times – especially breakfast time – without customers feeling ‘pushed out’.  This is achieved by the use of the same flooring between the spaces and a cohesive pattern between the two for tables and chairs.  The ‘picture frame’ dividers above help to keep vision between the two spaces easy and there is easy access in and out of both.

The restaurant area was a long tunnel space with no natural daylight.  Large angled mirrors, slightly offset from the wall, are placed on the upper section of opposing walls to help create views, light, reflection and movement.  The restaurant features hot and cold buffet areas and a variety of seating for different user groups, including small tables and larger tables for group lunches.  Seating includes freestanding seats and banquette seating, both straight and in curved lines. Pendant lighting along the window elevation and over the servery draws passer-by attention into the space.

Just outside of the restaurant is the meeting room / private dining area, which immediately has a luxe feel, with patterned wallpaper in a dull gold and orange glass panels, which create a lightbox effect when on.  Outside of the meeting room, a mini business lounge offers quiet space – good for reading over a quiet cup of coffee or using a laptop – or else serves as a breakout space from the meeting room.

Blacksheep bespoke-designed most of the furniture within the scheme, including booth seating in the restaurant, the waiter stations and restaurant tables, as well as the servery unit and hot and cold buffet areas.

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