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The historical image of London captures the visitor’s eye with the continuous succession of monumental architecture and residential buildings, squares and parks, large public buildings and intimate spaces. This interweaving is underlined by the use of materials, each with its own constructive and symbolic identity: stone as a noble element, brick as a domestic sign, stucco as an ornamental link. Styles mingle and create an ever-changing and unexpected urban landscape; the English metropolis has the charm of a theatrical setting.
The common denominator is Portland stone, a limestone quarried in the county of Dorset. Its white-grey colouring complements the warm tones of the terracotta and the luminosity of the stucco facades. Columns, classical gables and massive walls alternate with more modest brick courses, bow windows and house entrances. The result is a picturesque contamination that highlights the city’s multifaceted appearance.
The first applications date back to Roman times, but it was in the Middle Ages that London saw the recurrent use of Portland stone. For example, in Westminster Abbey (from 1045) and the Westminster Palace (from 1347), the Tower of London (from 1349) and London Bridge (from 1350). The fireproof solidity contrasted with the fragile wooden construction of council houses, as was the case with Inigo Jones’ Palladian buildings, including the Banqueting House (1619) and St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden (1631). It was the great fire of 1666 that forced the massive use of stone materials. Saint Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, designed by Christopher Wren in 1675 and completed in 1711, is the most important example, followed by Greenwich Hospital (1698). In the Baroque and Neoclassical periods Portland stone was used for major institutional, religious and cultural buildings: Buckingham Palace (1703-1825), Burlington House (from 1717), the church of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields (1722-1726), the British Museum (from 1753), Somerset House (from 1792), the National Gallery (from 1824). We find it again in the inserts of Adelphi House (now much tampered with), in the original design of the Bank of England (1788-1833) and in the General Post Office (1829).
A fascinating piece of architecture, in which the inclusion of stone in the brick façade stands out, is John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Designed as the famous architect’s home and studio, it was donated to the city and is now one of London’s most enchanting museums. Perfectly preserved, even in its interior, the house has a very elegant stone cladding in the central portion of the elevation and leaves the rough edges with courses of brown brick. It is a preciousness that we also encounter at the entrance to Hyde Park with the Marble Arch (1827-1833), where Carrara marble and Medici breccia become a tribute to Mediterranean classicism.

With the Victorian, Neo-Gothic and Edwardian styles, stone once again became the preferred material of the aristocratic class.

Here is Whitehall Court (1883), near the Thames, and the Wyndham House and Willett Building (1904-11) in Sloane Square in Chelsea. Here the grandeur of the facades was accompanied by the luxury of the marble floors and staircases. But even in the last century Portland stone reappeared as a characteristic feature: in Bloomsbury, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (1929); on Millbank, Thames House (1930). In more recent times, stone cladding has established a dialogue with glass and metal, as in the SIS Building (1989-1994), the headquarters of the Secret Service, where Agent OO7 moved, betraying the old office.

London by

London is one of the world’s centres of international flavour, trends and fashion, and where even architecture finds room for constant experimentation. In the British capital, Marmi Ghirardi, with its own brand “Ghirardi 1938 – Italian Stone Maestro (G1938)”, has completed several projects with a strong visual impact, confirming the quality and value of the Italian tradition. The elegance of the materials and the perfect execution have become an integral part of the refined London scene, both in private homes and in commercial and public buildings.
We begin our itinerary among the fashion highlights. First, the ‘Salvatore Ferragamo Boutique’ in Old Bond Street, where the interiors offer an intimate atmosphere thanks to the tonality of the precious upholstery. Then the Men’s Superbrands department on the second floor of the Harrods department store: here Marmi Ghirardi supplied and laid 34,600 pieces of authentic natural stone for the floor and wall coverings as well as 87 portals. Italian Bianco Carrara, Spanish Nero Marquina and Italian Grigio Bardiglio were used.

The classic layout and geometric shapes of the project – designed by David Collins Studio – are enhanced by the shades of the individual materials and the impeccable laying. As are the inlaid thresholds in Nero Marquina with polished brass (including the prestigious logos); the ventilation grilles, again in Nero Marquina, with openings for the flow of air, obtained by water jet cutting.

We continue our journey by dwelling on Marmi Ghirardi’s interventions in the hotel sector. We recall the “Westbury Hotel” in Bond Street, the Presidential Suite in the “Landmark Hotel“, the “Four Seasons Hotel” in Dogmersfield Park, the “Millennium Hotel Mayfair“. These are joined by the more recent ‘The Westin London City‘ and ‘Bravo Hostel‘, which we take a closer look at.

The five-star hotel ‘The Westin London City’, located on the banks of the Thames, was designed by Dexter Moren Associates and features 222 bedrooms – including 29 suites – and 9 luxury furnished apartments. Marmi Ghirardi supplied a wide selection of materials such as Silver Shadow, Fior di Bosco, Tundra Blue, Nero d’Avola, Silk Georgette, Bianco Carrara, Bianco Avorio Rock finished and a Portuguese limestone. These were used for the finishing of the hotel’s public areas, for a large part of the exterior cladding and for some areas of the interior.

The ‘Bravo Hostel’ is located on Finchley Road and has 103 lodgings with shop and café spaces on the basement and ground floor levels. The cantilevered glass terraces are interspersed with stone elements on honeycomb panels, light and consistent with the overall architectural concept of the ‘wall of curtains’. A beige limestone with a refined minimalist look was chosen for its warm tone. A special feature of the project is the use of “honeycomb” type composite panels: a honeycomb aluminium support onto which a thin thickness of stone is glued. This highly innovative solution for external cladding offers the advantage of extreme lightness even in situations of structural constraints. As usual, Marmi Ghirardi performed a rigorous verification of the design parameters also thanks to specific tests conducted at a renowned university institute.

Other interventions concern the “BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Temple” and then the innumerable private residences that we will not cite for reasons of confidentiality, but which for more than 25 years have reaffirmed Marmi Ghirardi’s intense activity in this specific field.

We conclude this brief itinerary by recalling the spectacular floor of what has been for years the ‘Brasserie Chavot‘, a floor that evokes Art Nouveau atmospheres. The sumptuous interweaving of plant whorls and the diagonal arrangement derive from Renaissance and Rococo motifs. The assembly of the mosaic tesserae reflects the craftsmanship of Marmi Ghirardi and becomes a scenic occasion. The mosaic consists of 140 elements measuring 1050 mm x 1050 mm and was obtained with marbles of different shades: Botticino, Bardiglio, Verde Alpi, Giallo Siena, Rosso Levanto and Nero Marquina. Like an aristocratic carpet, the floor becomes the iconic trademark of the venue.

A London tour that, in its essentiality, shows Marmi Ghirardi’s long presence in the English city and, above all, its contribution in terms of style, class and quality of achievements to one of the international capitals of design and architecture.

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