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Bonhams unveil £30m vision for Bond Street headquarters

13 June 2011Written by ATG Reporter

BONHAMS have unveiled proposals for a £30m redevelopment of their Bond Street headquarters in London.

The scheme, which goes to public consultation this week and is being funded wholly by the auction firm itself, is a bid to create the world's best saleroom complex in the heart of the British capital.

The two-stage development, which, if approved, would see the gutting and refurbishment of the Grade II listed Blenstock House on Blenheim Street, followed by the demolition and replacement of the rest of the complex, should take two years to complete if Westminster planners give it the go-ahead.

Three major salerooms that can be reconfigured into seven when required, state-of-the-art facilities for all departments, a more welcoming experience for buyers and sellers and the opening up of Haunch of Venison Yard into a vibrant arts/café hub are all key elements in the plan for a ground-breaking, purpose-built leading international saleroom for the 21st century.

Natural light, fresh air and an open, easy-to-navigate design that preserves client privacy and security: that has been the brief for award-winning London architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandlilands (www.lds-uk.com), the Hammersmith-based firm whose long list of projects include the restaurant at Liberty's, Harvey Nichols in Dubai, Edinburgh and Manchester, the new-look Hungerford Bridge linking the South Bank complex to Charing Cross station, and Olympic projects for 2012.

"Every stage of the development must be better than the previous one," said Bonhams chairman Robert Brooks, who brought in his department heads to advise on the design brief.

Alex Lifschutz, the architects' senior director, is taking on the scheme personally. His team and Bonhams have been in detailed talks with Westminster Council prior to going public with their proposals, as Mr Brooks acknowledges that permission for his vision is no foregone conclusion. The public and business must have their say and the project must answer the council's requirements.

There are two particular challenges to be met if they do win approval: the project must be completed in stages so that the Bond Street sales programme can continue in as uninterrupted a manner as possible; and the demolition of the main complex, followed by the installation of the new basement slab - the early second stage of the project - must be completed by October 2012 to fit in with the Crossrail development, which runs directly under the building. Any delay on this second point could mean having to shelve the scheme until 2018.

Having said that, if all goes according to plan, the new-look Bonhams would be ready to take advantage of the hugely enhanced connections to Heathrow Airport and the City of London once the Crossrail station opened in nearby Hanover Square.

So far an application has been made for listed building consent to convert Blenstock House. Permission for this part of the project is the lesser hurdle. Once approved, it would allow sales to continue in the rest of the complex while some staff move to Bonhams' Knightsbridge base for the duration.

Meanwhile the application for the rest of the scheme is being prepared for submission by the end of June with a decision expected on permission early in the Autumn.

Completion, if the plans are approved, should come in December 2013.

Robert Brooks has been considering his ambitious scheme for several years. He told ATG that it was driven by several factors: the need to improve on the existing constraints of the complex behind the Bond Street façade - a warren of at least five separate buildings that were not entirely fit for purpose despite some refurbishment in the last few years; the desire to take auctioneering into the 21st century, with the Bonhams brand leading the way, coupled with the need to capitalise on the progress the company has made in the past few years to match market leaders Christie's and Sotheby's; the decision to make a commitment to London as Bonhams' global headquarters - "We're a British firm operating on the global stage" - and the hope of building something that will last for 100 years.

"We just had to have this," he divulged. "If we are to fulfil our plans for the future we need a new space to provide our customers with the improved quality of experience we believe they deserve."

It's certainly the saleroom he will need if he is serious about challenging Christie's and Sotheby's over top-end Contemporary art, having set up a department for the purpose in the past year or so. But he also pledged to continue focusing on the lower to mid-range value items eschewed by the big two auction houses - particularly Sotheby's - in recent years.

The plans can be inspected in the Atrium at Bonhams Bond Street on June 14 and 15 from 3pm to 7pm.

By Ivan Macquisten

Links:

Images of the new designs

PDF of how Bonhams' scheme would take shape

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