At a time when many are reflecting on the highs and lows of working from home, this short piece is a homage to the role of architecture in our lives.
And, in particular, one building – 58 Marylebone High Street – our Circus home for the past 16 years. A home we leave today.
58 is a rare self-contained 1964 building with a glorious view of Marylebone Church at the front, and a private garden at the back. For Circus, an oasis for extraordinary work in our gallery, and radiant space for active client debate above. How magnificent it has been; how lucky are we to have been its second resident.
For me, it has always been a love affair. I found the building through a Google search – where would I like to be? Marylebone. What type of buildings do I love? Mid Century Modern. And there it was; the late John Harris had just retired and the building created for his own architectural practice was for rent.
Six months of tea and cake with John and his wife, Jill, followed; to check I was the right sort, that I could be trusted with their beautiful building. They lived behind – and had designed the studio at the end of their garden. Captured rather glamorously in Harper’s Bazaar in 1965, “the coolest building in London” was the caption then, and still feels true today.
Once I passed muster with Mr Harris, there followed a long courtship with Howard de Walden as we worked together to restore the building, and protect the windows, stairwells, tiles and mezzanine.
From the get go, we created both a gallery and a debating space encouraging reflection, conversation and unexpected encounters between clients and artists. Through Private Views we would wave to Mr and Mrs Harris across the garden – and they would dance along.
Our last show, our 50th, was due to be At This Moment of Time, in collaboration with ceramicist Bae Sejin. But, of course, the world changed. The Private View was cancelled and the beautiful ceramics are on their way back to South Korea.
When I think back through my career, the office environment frames my memories – Imagination with its magnificent atrium, Fitch with a glorious vista of Soho Square, Bonhams with its quirky Knightsbridge gallery, or The Body Shop with a pagoda incongruously in the middle of a Littlehampton roundabout. These spaces create companies, they create cultures.
Many companies will look at the learnings of Covid-19 and cut real estate; they will be encouraged by people not wanting to return to their soulless transactional offices. But we should demand more. 58 demonstrates the true potential of a shared working space; not as a sterile physical necessity, but as an energetic protagonist in our lives.
Much work can be achieved in our homes; a direct output with perhaps higher productivity. But, the physical kinetic response to working in beautiful space is not to be underestimated for both the individual and the collective; for the guest and for the company itself.
Buildings are important – not just as symbols, but as emotional encouragement for better work, for new perspectives, for beauty and for a happier day.
It is the coolest building in London. And what joy it has given. 58 is testament to the emotive power of architecture to inspire and connect us. Let’s not forsake the concept of the office too readily. Circus, meanwhile has come to the end of its lease. A decision made long before Covid-19, and is looking forward to a new home in the Autumn.
Written by Dilys Maltby