London’s architectural greats and design giants

Tina Gaudoin is the acting editor of Elle Deco and a Design Museum judge for the 2014 Designs of the Year exhibition. Here are her favourite angles on London’s cityscape

One of the best things about London in design terms is its unpredictability. In amongst the big city landscape of concrete and glass, dominated by Renzo Piano’s Shard skyscraper on the South Bank, tiny Georgian houses can still be found struggling bravely to keep up appearances. Conversely, among rows of perfect Edwardian or Victorian homes one can suddenly come across an insert of Seventies housing or a modernist home – a brave and rather British expression of contemporary individualism amongst the bland perfection of period houses. Great design, of course, is not all about architecture; but as any Greek scholar will tell you, it’s a good place to start. Here are some of my favourites…

1. The Cabman’s Shelter, Russell Square

The Cabman’s Shelter Fund was established in 1875 to provide refuge for drivers of hansom cabs (and later black taxi cabs). Thirteen of these green shelters (now Grade II listed) still survive, and are used by cabbies to grab something to eat and drink during their breaks. Poke your head into the ‘hatch’ at the Russell Square shelter (as I often do) to ask whether anyone has finished their ‘cuppa’ and is ready to take you.

2. Marni, Knightsbridge

For anyone in the fashion business (like me) this flagship store, designed by the architects Sybarite in 2003, is a favourite (they also designed Marni Tokyo, Marni Selfridges and Marni Soho New York). As proof that great design really does stand the test of time, the groovy Austin Powers-style interior – all white resin floor, red carpet ‘pools’ and stainless steel – manages to walk the tightrope between alluring and austere without looking dated. If you didn’t know your Marni from your Armani, you might well think you were walking into a modern-day clothing museum.

3. The Conran Shop, Marylebone

Nothing and everything is remarkable about this former stable block at the top end of Marylebone High Street. I have long admired the shop’s wares and its open, airy design; but my opinion of it has been elevated by chairman Jasper Conran’s redesign. He has ‘re-curated’ the store, giving it as a cool bazaar-like feel at the ground level (great for gifts) before moving upwards to the ‘über-design’ of the top floor (think Navone, Eames et al). The newly installed café at the rear of the store, partnered with Caravan and St John’s Bakers, is a great place to meet friends for coffee or take a brief ‘shop stop’.

4. The British Library

When the British Library (above), designed by architect Sir Colin St John Wilson, opened at its current location on the Euston Road in 1997 I used to drive past it every day and utter Prince Charles-like cries of ‘monstrous!’ and ‘hideous!’, so affronted was I by the red brick behemoth. But as the years passed I found myself using the library, bothering people in the Indian records office, eating sandwiches and apple crumble in its café and, most recently, taking a very privileged look at some early Chinese manuscripts, and works from the caves of Dunhuang (the library houses the oldest known dated printed book in the world, the Diamond Sutra, AD 868). To work in the library, with its reverential air of cathedral-like calm, or even to sit in its breezy piazza alongside sculptures by Eduardo Paolozzi and Antony Gormley, is to know and love the largest public building constructed in the UK in the 20th century.

Photo © Pawel Libera/Corbis

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