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How Hollandgreen Place was made


Words by Jake Russell

The history of Holland Park helps to explain one of the neighbourhood’s most desirable recent developments

A Private Garden

Holland Park was once the largest private garden in London. Belonging to the estate of Holland House, it was even bigger than the grounds of Buckingham Palace.

The house was originally called Cope Castle, a Jacobean mansion constructed in 1604. It was built by a diplomat, MP, and royal courtier named Sir Walter Cope. However, after his death the house passed into the possession of the Earl of Holland, providing its modern name.

In the mid-eighteenth century, the estate was purchased by the Fox family, who were influential Whig politicians. When Charles James Fox lived there in the second half of the century, the house became a centre of literary and political life. Visitors including the poet Lord Byron, the politicians Lord Melbourne and Benjamin Disraeli, and the novelists Charles Dickens and Walter Scott.

The Rebuilding

During this period, much of the estate was developed into the spacious streets of Holland Park, but the large gardens remained in private possession. However, on 27 September 1940, Holland House was struck by 22 incendiary bombs during the Blitz, and except for the east wing and the library, the property was destroyed.

In 1952, the 6th Earl of Ilchester sold the ruins of the house to the London Council, along with its 52-acre garden. This created the public park we know today, while the restored property eventually became the home for Opera Holland Park. The following decade, the 7th Earl sold the land to the to the south of the park to the London council, providing space for the new Commonwealth Institute.

The Commonwealth Institute – originally known as the Imperial Institute – was founded in the nineteenth century to showcase the industrial and commercial products of the British Empire’s member nations. Originally housed in a gothic building in South Kensington, in 1957 that building was demolished to make way for Imperial College, part of London University.

Commonwealth Institute

In 1962 it was renamed the Commonwealth Institute, to inform the people of Britain ‘how the rest of the Commonwealth lives.’ And it was given a new home: a modernist exhibition hall on the southern side of Holland Park, with a hyperbolic paraboloid roof made from 25 tonnes of copper, donated by what was then Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia.

Many observers compared the roof to a tent or a metal marquee. The result – according to English Heritage – was the second most important modernist building in London, after the Royal Festival Hall.

The new institute hosted a range of cultural and educational events. However, the complex design ensured the building was costly to maintain, and the receding importance of the Commonwealth meant that, by the end of the century, funding for the Institute came to an end and the collection was dispersed.

The Design Museum

For a decade the hall was empty, until it was chosen as the new home for the Design Museum. However, the move required considerable redevelopment of the site, with a new interior by the minimalist architect John Pawson. To fund this scheme, the administration wing of the institute was replaced by a group of apartment blocks called Hollandgreen Place.

The buildings were positioned in parallel with the exhibition hall, creating strong cubic shapes ranging from seven to nine storeys. Their straight sides and grid-like structure contrasted with the dramatic curves of the hall’s roof, while the spaces between the buildings made sure the presence of the park was always felt.

This design was by Rem Koolhaas, whose firm OMA is one of the leading architecture practices in the world, responsible for spectacular buildings like the CCTV headquarters in Beijing. Meanwhile, the executive architects were Allies and Morrison, who were behind the redevelopment of the Royal Festival Hall and the masterplan for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

No.50 Hollandgreen Place

The interior of No.50 Hollandgreen Place was laid out by the celebrated designer Anthony Collett. As he explained to Russell Simpson: ‘We wanted to incorporate as much of the view into the interior as possible. The park, the surrounding properties, and the former Commonwealth Institute with that iconic roof. So it was important to turn the interior of the building outwards, meaning as many rooms as possible enjoyed the views.

‘We also made sure the main rooms could open into one another, while things like utility rooms occupied the ‘hinterland’ of the plan. This gave us flow and continuity in the layout: a sense of openness and containment at the same time.’

As a result, the flat feels completely connected to its surroundings. Therefore, this unique property is at home in a unique place.


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