In November 1959 Basil Spence & Partners were appointed by the War Office to build a new barracks alongside Hyde Park in London. The allocated site, a long, narrow strip of land, lies between South Carriage Drive and Knightsbridge Road in central London. This ground had in fact been occupied by army barracks since 1795. The original buildings were replaced by a new complex in 1880, which, by the 1950s, was itself considered to be outdated, and in need of replacement.
The new buildings were to serve as home to ‘The Life Guards’ and ‘The Blues and Royals’ regiments and, in designing the barracks scheme, Spence took on the challenge of accommodating both regiments’ needs on a single site. To do this he created eight blocks, positioned in a way which allowed the horses to be kept as far away from the soldiers’ accommodation as possible. The first block, containing the stables, is located at the widest part of the site, to the east, followed by the Other Ranks’ Mess, the Barracks Block, the Warrant Officers’ Mess, the Riding School, the Married Soldiers’ Quarters, the Officers Flats, and finally, the Officers Mess which sits at the site’s west end.
“I never dreamed that I’d ever live in a place like this! We are 30 floors up. It’s almost a penthouse. Last night I stood at the window with my husband, just looking at the view.”
- Linda Savage commenting on her flat in the tower block to the Daily Mail 21 Oct 1970
Despite each building within the complex having a distinct character, Spence also managed to give the whole scheme a sense of unity. This was achieved through the use of red brick, concrete, and concrete arches throughout the site. On these concrete vaults, Spence remarked: “What marvelous frames for mounted soldiers- their romantic appearance demands something more than straight lines.”
The most prominent feature of the site is the 33 storey, 94 metre tall residential tower which overlooks Hyde Park. This uncompromising structure has aroused considerable controversy throughout its history, with many critics complaining that it has “ruined” the view from Hyde Park.
The barracks buildings were officially opened at a ceremony on 20 October 1970.