Travel Guide: London

by | 13. Sep 2013


By Martin Søberg

Former capital of an empire, nowadays still swinging, whether you’re up for big business or dig fashionable conversions of dingy industrial sites. London isn’t Rome, but playful provocations and a flair for unconventional contrasts warrant that trips to this sparkling metropolis are anything but dull.

This guide takes you on a tour to some of the most significant projects in contemporary London architecture, with a wink at some of the city’s classics and an exquisite selection of hotel and restaurant tips.


Open Air Theatre
Architect: Haworth Tompkins
Year: 2000 and 2012
Location: Inner Circle, Regent’s Park, NW1

London1a_OAT_ Philip_Vile_11.jpg

Open Air Theatre, photo: Philip Vile

London1b_OAT_ Philip_Vile_12.jpg
Open Air Theatre, photo: Philip Vile

Step out of the smoggy London streets and into Regent’s Park’s Inner Circle to find Haworth Tompkins’ delicate wooden buildings for the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – Britain’s only permanent open air theatre. The bucolic love affair between the theatre and its’ architects, Haworth Tompkins, arose already in 1999 with a major conversion of the existing premises. Recent additions include a new box office, entrance, changing room block, and administration offices, embraced by a simple timber facade of natural and stained larch, creating a subtle backdrop to the park’s many trees and bushes.

Visit Haworth Tompkins’ website here.

Visit Open Air Theatre’s website here.

V&A Museum of Childhood
Architect: Caruso St John Architects
Year: 2002-2007
Location: Cambridge Heath Road, E2


V&A Museum of Childhood, photo: Wikimedia Commons

This museum truly is a collage: The original structure was part of the temporary Exhibitions Halls of the Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington, but later moved and turned into the Bethnal Green Museum which opened in 1872. Architect James Wild added its ornamental red brick facades, typical of the Victorian period. The most recent renovation of what is now a Museum of Childhood also included the addition of a slender new entrance clad in delightfully contrasting red quartzite and brown porphyries.

Visit Caruso St John Architects’ website here.

Visit V&A Museum of Childhood’s website here.

Idea Store Whitechapel
Architect: Adjaye Associates
Year: 2005
Location: 321 Whitechapel Rd, E1


Idea Store Whitechapel, photo: Wikimedia Commons

David Adjaye’s architecture displays a particular kind of sensitivity towards material effect and contrasts between light and dark. His Idea Store Whitechapel is no exception. The design of this robust contemporary version of a library is building community by supporting the flows and interactions of its visitors and by opening for views towards the adjacent street market through a façade of brightly colored glass panels.

Visit Adjaye Associates’ website here.

Visit Idea Store’s website here.

30 St. Mary Axe – ‘The Gherkin’
Architect: Foster and Partners
Year: 2003
Location: 30 St. Mary Axe, EC3


30 St. Mary Axe – ‘The Gherkin’, photo: Wikimedia Commons

An instant icon, Foster and Partners’ ‘The Gherkin’ has landed in the City of London as a declaration of 21st Century optimism. Its design supports natural air circulation and features several other devices targeted at minimizing energy consumption. While its shape comes about as somewhat idiosyncratic, it nevertheless allows for associations not only to the realm of plants, but as well to the heroic techno-fetishist architecture of the 1960s.

Visit Foster and Partners website here.

Lloyd’s 1986 Building
Architect: Richard Rogers Partnership
Year: 1978-1986
Location: Line Street, EC3


Lloyd’s 1986 Building, photo: Wikimedia Commons

Richard Rogers added a new dimension to scary, yet utterly fascinating architecture with his high-tech design for Lloyd’s of London. This massive structure with its intricate exterior of steel-clad tubes, pipes, and lifts seem to literally reflect the slickness of the 1980s, yet with certain hints at cold war dystopian paranoia. This surely isn’t business with a friendly face.

Visit Rogers, Stirk, Harbour and Partners website here.

Tate Modern
Architect: Herzog & de Meuron
Year: 2000
Location: Bankside, SE1


Soane’s Museum. Library looking East, photo: Courtesy of the Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum

Few architects’ homes are as well preserved as this, but the design of John Soane’s house is also somehow out of the ordinary. Today a museum, Soane’s home actually consists of three townhouses joined together to house his vast collection of artworks, architectural fragments, and plaster castings. The interiors stand as a lesson in Georgian design vocabulary and spatial sensitivities, influenced by the Classical Antique, yet expressed through Soane’s highly personal and intense architectural voice.

Visit Soane Museum’s website here.

Park Crescent
Architect: John Nash
Year: 1812-1822
Location: Park Crescent, NW1


Park Crescent, photo: Wikimedia Commons

Part of John Nash’s great plan for ‘Metropolitan Improvements’, these terraces form a typical London scenery in light cream and black with a few delightful ornaments such as the paired Ionic columns. This is the dream of the Palladian country villa turned into urban edifices. The geometric grandeur of the layout makes for metropolitan drama before entering the lushness of Regent’s Park.

Snowdon Aviary, London Zoo
Architect: Anthony Armstrong-Jones (Lord Snowdon), Cedric Price and Frank Newby
Year: 1961-1965
Location: Regent’s Park, Prince Albert Road, NW1


Snowdon Aviary, London Zoo, photo: Wikimedia Commons

ZSL London is full of noteworthy architecture. One of these structures is the Aviary, large enough to house several trees. The triangulated geometric steel structure is clad in aluminum mesh and designed to appear as light and invisible as possible.

Visit the ZSL London Zoo’s website here.

Economist Building
Architect: Alison and Peter Smithson
Year: 1962-1964
Location: St. James Park, SW1


Economist Building, photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Smithson’s architecture makes reference to pre-Modernist building typologies with picturesque quirkiness and material delicacy. This ensemble of office towers allows for a small, publically accessible space between the buildings. The façade is clad in greyish Portland stone panels, which help balance the architecture between the hearty and the sophisticated.

National Theatre
Architect: Denys Lasdun and Partners
Year: 1962-1977
Location: South Bank, Upper Ground, SE1


National Theatre, photo: Wikimedia Commons

Brutalist Drama on the South Bank. In-situ concrete emphasizes bodily awareness as if this massive structure was an ancient geological phenomenon. The theatre may have problems in terms of connecting to its surroundings, yet its spatial diversity and rich formal contrasts truly makes this a chef-d’oeuvre of British 20th Century architecture.

Visit National Theatre’s website here.


Tower Wharf Restaurant, Perkin Reveller
Architect: Tony Fretton Architects
Year: 2012
Location: The Wharf at The Tower of London, EC3

London13_1_TFA_Tower Wharf_PC_0024.jpg

Tower Wharf Restaurant, photo: Peter Cook

Dine with a view to the UNESCO heritage site of The Tower of London. The subdued colors of this restaurant, designed by Tony Fretton Architects, certainly don’t outshine the famous neighbor, yet the quality of architectural detailing indeed makes it worth a visit itself.

Visit Tony Fretton Architects’ website here.

Visit Perkin Reveller’s website here.

The Tramshed
Location: 32 Rivington Street, EC2

London14_Tramshed 3.jpg

The Tramshed, photo: Damien Hirst 2012

Built in 1905 as an electricity generating facility for the Tramway System, this listed build by architect Vincent Harris has recently been converted into a rustic restaurant. Eye candy is provided by two Damien Hirst artworks.

Visit The Tramshed’s website here.

Sketch Restaurant
Artist: Martin Creed
Architect: Haworth Tompkins
Year: 2012
Location: 9 Conduit Street, W1

London15_picture 02.jpg

Sketch Restaurant, photo: Haworth Tompkins

Matching colors? Certainly not! Sketch Restaurant is British pattern and color clashing at its very best. With a genuine sense of pop folklore, artist Martin Creed has created this casual heaven with a bit of help from Haworth Tompkins Architects.

Visit Martin Creed’s website here.

Visit Haworth Tompkin’s website here.

Visit Sketch Restaurant’s website here.

Architectural Association Dining Room
Location: 36 Bedford Square, WC1


Bedford Square, photo: Wikimedia Commons

Admire Bedford Square’s 18th Century townhouses and sneak down to the basement of the Architectural Association School of Architecture for a meal with tomorrow’s starchitects. Afterwards, leap into the AA Bookshop and browse through its vast selection of architecture books and magazines.

Visit Architectural Association School of Architecture’s website here.

W Hotel – Leicester Square
Architects: Jestico + Whiles (building), Concrete Architectural Associates (interior)
Year: 2011
Location: 10 Wardour Street, Leicester Square, W1

London17_W-London-Leicester Square-Welcome.jpg

W Hotel – Leicester Square, photo: W London – Leicester Square

Fancy a bit of glam and glitter? W Hotel – Leicester Square is anything but understated, matching the constant urban rush and excitement of London’s Leicester Square, the heart of metropolitan entertainment.

Visit W Hotel – Leicester Square’s website here.

St Pancras Renaissance Hotel
Architect: George Gilbert Scott
Year: 1865-1873, restored and reopened as a hotel in 2011
Location: Euston Road, NW1


St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, photo: St Pancras Renaissance Hotel

Victorian high-society comfort welcomes you at St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, part of the giant St Pancras Station. The Gothic Revival building was designed by George Gilbert Scott in 1865 and is made of red brick adorned with heavy stone ornaments. Towers and pinnacles do their best to make it resemble a curious medieval castle.

Visit St Pancras Renaissance Hotel’s website here.