The history of London is a story of constant renewal. The city has expanded, both outwards and upwards, reinvented and reimagined itself many times over the centuries and will always continue to do so. The story of The Knightsbridge Estate is a fine example of this everlasting cycle. Occupying a fabulous three-and- a-half acre island site in Knightsbridge, elegantly sandwiched between Harvey Nichols to the east and Harrods to the west, much of The Estate has been successfully modernized over the last ten years. The most important redevelopment is currently taking place at The Estate’s northern end.
The buildings, which boast one of London’s finest runs of Dutch gabled façades, mostly date from the late 19th century. By the time the present owners, The Olayan Group, bought The Knightsbridge Estate in 2010, it was ripe for redevelopment, having declined over a period of many years into a state of genteel shabbiness.
The redevelopment is focused in the angle of Sloane Street and Brompton Road. Here a mixed-use scheme will sit behind the restored façades, thus maintaining the unique character of the area, while delivering a brand-new building that meets modern occupiers’ needs. Once completed, the new development will offer seven flagship stores, a new roof-top restaurant and ground level café, a new Grade A office building and 33 luxury apartments set around a private courtyard, exclusively for the rental market.
A notable and highly visible feature of the redevelopment scheme is the construction of a cupola atop the façade above the junction of Sloane Street and Brompton Road. The cupola, part of the original design but never built, will form a striking new landmark in this part of London. In Hooper’s Court a new façade bearing a honeysuckle design evokes the 18th century market gardener John Hooper. Likewise, the development will preserve the distinctive ox-blood glazed tiles that characterised the original design of Knightsbridge tube station. In revitalising these existing historic buildings for the 21st century, the Olayan Group has also succeeded in creating flexible spaces for modern retailers.
The redevelopment has also brought other parts of the estate back to life, most notably Hooper’s Court, offering ultra-modern office space set back from a pocket garden. Importantly, the scheme will include two new entrances to Knightsbridge station, one on Hooper’s Court with step-free access, complementing the new entrance on Brompton Road.
Skanska, the main contractor, addressed the Covid-19 challenge by reconfiguring the site and revising working practices in compliance with new social distancing rules, allowing work to continue, thus minimising furlough and avoiding redundancies.
At a time when predictions for the future of conventional bricks-and-mortar retailing are often pessimistic, this redevelopment represents a resounding vote of confidence in the future of Knightsbridge, both as a luxury goods shopping destination and as a thriving place to live and work. London has survived plague, fire and war emerging stronger on each occasion; it will survive Covid-19 and prosper again.