• Hilton prepares for major makeover

The Park Lane Hilton, one of London’s landmark 1960s towers, is to undergo a substantial makeover as the Hilton brand and the property’s owners refresh it for today’s market.
A scheme approved by Westminster planners will see the top seven floors of the tower converted to create luxury apartments, while a new podium block will add more hotel bedrooms. The tower will be reclad, while the block’s car park will be done away with, and a new ballroom is to be created in an enlarged basement.
The move to create private apartments in a landmark city hotel echoes what has become common practice in New York. There, the Waldorf Astoria – also operated by Hilton – is the latest property where hotel rooms are being replaced by luxury apartments, as developers exploit the desire for city centre apartments with stunning views.
When it opened in 1963, the Lewis Solomon, Kaye and Partners designed Hilton was the tallest building in London at 31 storeys. Though undoubtedly a landmark, Historic England declined to list the block in 2013, and issued a certificate of immunity. However, the property sits within the Mayfair conservation area.
The redesign by Hopkins Architects will add up to 3.2 metres to the floorplates of the tower, by extending outwards; but, planners noted, this will not be at the “wings” of the tower, so its overall impact on the skyline will be unchanged. Officers noted the proposed replacement glazed cladding in aluminium framing “will give the tower a fresh, modern appearance, an improvement on the existing cladding, which is not of particular architectural interest”.
The podium block on the site will be substantially demolished. Its replacement beneath the tower will be smaller, while a new block to the eastern end of the site will be larger, and expressed as a separate structure, with an internal garden for hotel guests added between the two.
The makeover will be a highly complex construction operation, with the top floors of the tower being rebuilt, along with its foundations and core.
The changes will actually see a reduction in the overall number of bedrooms in the hotel. Currently 453, the new count will be in the range 350-448 rooms, with the exact number being decided once works get under way, depending on market conditions. The current smallest rooms in the hotel will, anyway, be lost in the makeover as Hilton says that demand from its guests is for larger rooms overall. There will also be 29 serviced apartments created, reflecting the growth of that market to support longer staying guests.
The applicants also made much of the improved conference and banqueting facilities. The hotel can currently accommodate 1,250 for a reception or banquet, compared with the 2,000 capacity of the nearby Grosvenor House. The redevelopment will increase capacity to 2,135, or just over half that number for a conference; faciliites which the applicants argue will be of great value to London as a whole as it will enable the capital to host events that currently have to be hosted elsewhere.
Overall, the redevelopment will increase the property’s gross internal area from its current 36,764 sq metres to 45,834 sq metres. The increase triggers an affordable housing contribution which, with there being no space for suitable residential on site, amounts instead to a fee of £20,444,000. The applicants requested that they pay the amount in three equal instalments, with the last when the works are completed.
“The proposal does involve the loss of approximately half of the tower’s hotel floorspace being converted to residential use,” noted the officer’s report. “Whilst this might normally be resisted, it is considered to be acceptable in this case on the basis that there is still an overall increase in hotel accommodation.” Also positive, as far as Westminster planners, was the fact that the improved meeting facilities meet the borough’s S1 policy, promoting “Westminster’s World City functions”.
While the scheme will reduce sunlight to some nearby apartments, Westminster planners felt such reductions were a price that should be paid, noting: “Whilst these losses, and the losses to the other properties, are unfortunate, it is considered that they are not so bad as to justify a refusal, especially when assessed against the overall improvements that the scheme proposes.”

LPA Perspective: While a London landmark, the Park Lane Hilton has never attracted the architectural attention of those intent on listing. And so its owners, London & Regional, and the separate owners of the Hilton brand, have an opportunity to carry out a major update to the property. Evidently tastes change. Small bedrooms are out, serviced apartments are in – and the owners have cannily exploited demand for high end apartments, to help provide some cash to fund the redevelopment.
Hotels often finesse refurbishments and extensions so that business can pretty much carry on as usual, albeit with room capacity slightly reduced. Not so at the Park Lane Hilton – this is a major project that will necessitate substantial closure for some considerable period. Neighbouring hoteliers will doubtless be rubbing their hands, just as Hilton will be hoping they can bounce guests to some of their other central London hotels.
Developers in New York realised some time ago that they could make a better return by converting hotel rooms to apartments for sale. Some of the city’s hotels have been completely converted, others have seen their top floors switched to residential, either with or without the option of hotel-like services supplied from below to the residents. Will this be a one-off for London, or a trend that could catch on?

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