International auction house Bonhams celebrated the completion of an ambitious redevelopment project at its New Bond Street (London) address in September 2013, courtesy of architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands (LDS). Last week, WAN was given a tour of the facility by Paul Sandilands, Director at LDS.
“It’s quite something to slot a building of this size, with this operational facility, here, while everything stayed functional. It’s like Doctor Who’s TARDIS,” he notes as we rest in the suspended Skybox overlooking the ground floor sales room. Below us, approximately twenty people transform the high-ceilinged volume into a backdrop befitting the high-end artworks due to be auctioned off in the coming days.
Sandilands is right. Behind the brick and Portland stone Edwardian façade of Bonhams’ New Bond Street frontage (‘the address is very important’ he affirms) lies a serene space of stunningly generous dimensions afforded by seamlessly combining three building volumes.
There is the New Bond Street building, a 1930s volume called Blenstock House with its Grade II listed Art Deco façade, and a conglomeration of other forms, added on an ad hoc basis over the years. Once you enter the auction house through one of three access points, it is nigh-on impossible to tell which area belongs to which original form.
Unusually, the project architects were heavily involved in writing the brief, aided by a close relationship with client Robert Brooks. Sandilands explains: “We worked very closely with Robert and his staff to understand how the business functioned and how the opportunity of a new building could define the future of auctioneering.
We went through long briefing sessions with the client. We picked apart how the building actually functions, how their business actually functions, and perception and reality are two different things.”
The sales rooms are stacked on top of one another and Sandilands pauses when asked how many there are. Apparently there is no set number as they can be subdivided to host multiple auctions and during the tour it quickly becomes apparent just how flexible Bonhams' New Bond Street building is.
The walls are ply wood with a layer of carpet over the top, ensuring that the deluge of holes from nails used to hang artworks for auction disappear immediately after use. On the ground floor we watch the in-house team arrange a breathtaking array of Post-War & Contemporary Art, including an Anish Kapoor and two pieces by Banksy. Many of the items on display glow as if back-lit as they bask in the carefully-crafted LED lighting, curated by the team for each auction.
With such delicate items often up for auction, it is imperative that Bonhams has the ability to accurately control the interior climate and lighting intensity. LDS has therefore fitted a discrete screen near the sales room doors to enable the team to make adjustments to climate control and lighting without interrupting auctions or ongoing activities. The architects were also responsible for the design of the glossy carbon fibre lecterns used by auctioneers throughout the venue.
Arching high above us is a sleek vaulted ceiling, its modern appearance belying a traditional fibrous plasterwork. Behind the slots are acoustic absorbers to ensure that bidders can still engage in an auction from the back of a packed room of 200-300 people.
During the tour, Sandilands praises the wider design team on multiple occasions, including the contractor Knight Harwood, engineer AKT II and acoustic consultant Sandy Brown Associates, confessing that the full list of consultants is very lengthy indeed.
The final piece of the puzzle is a café and restaurant run by Bonhams which will spill out into Haunch of Venison Yard. This element will not be completed until Crossrail has finished pumping concrete grouting into the soil around the tunnels that lie beneath the site. Elsewhere in the Bonhams New Bond Street site, a sales room sits just 5m above the Crossrail tunnel.
In this affluent area of London, LDS has completed a sleek, highly-intelligent and welcoming venue that straddles the line between commercial and civic space. At one point on our tour, Sandilands refers to Bonhams’ New Bond Street address as ‘the only free gallery in the area’, explaining that people who work in walking distance often drop by on their lunch breaks to peruse the items on display before they disappear to new homes.
What Sandilands and his team have accomplished on New Bond Street sets a new standard for auction houses in the UK. The attention to detail is exquisite and operationally the facility is near-perfect. As Sandilands explains: “To build a building of this size with a specific use takes a lot of faith from the people who commission it. This is transforming their business very quickly.”
Architect: Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands
Structural Engineer: AKT II
Mechanical and Electrical Engineers: Mott MacDonald
Contractor: Knight Harwood
Project Manager: Jackson Coles
Quantity Surveyor: Gardiner and Theobald
Lighting Director: EQ2 Light
Acoustic Consultant: Sandy Brown Associates
Party Wall Advisor: GIA
Town Planning Consultant: Jones Lang LaSalle
Heritage: KM Heritage