A decorative gold screen of birds in flight has appeared on the side of a grand Mayfair building in recent weeks.
Called Swarm, it’s a new artwork by Alison Wilding RA OBE commissioned to go on the side of a building that has been both the USA Embassy and the Canadian High Commission and is now a block of flats.
The artwork takes the form of a decorative metal screen mounted over a niche formed by a blank window in the central bay of the Grosvenor Street façade. Where the fencing used to be a continuous run along the building, they’ve also cut that back so you can walk up to the art for a closer look if you want to.
Although clad in gold, it’s very easy to walk by without noticing as it’s such a thin and delicate design, which is actually a good thing, as public art should be respectful of the location and not impose itself on people who might not always like what they see.
The sculpture can be read as an abstract artwork, although the screen is inspired by birds swarming in flight, while the curvilinear elements behind it reference the oval plan of Grosvenor Square nearby. It is not, however, the artist’s intention that the sculpture should only contain fixed meanings to be interpreted, but rather that the viewer could be engaged in whatever way they wish, with the sculpture offering different readings over time.
The building it sits on is also interesting, even though it looks like yet another generically grand Mayfair building.
It was originally constructed as the Embassy of the United States of America, opening in 1938, but in 1960 it became the High Commission of Canada when the US embassy moved across to the other side of Grosvenor Square into their new Eero Saarinen designed building.
For decades the Canadian and US buildings faced each other, but now that the US embassy has moved to Nine Elms and the Canadian High Commission consolidated onto their Trafalgar Square site, the area around Grosvenor Square is becoming more residential again.
This building was converted into flats by Eric Parry Architects, but the method of doing so was itself slightly unusual. They retained the facade and gutted the rest of the building, but rather than keeping the facade intact, they dismantled it and kept it in storage, then reassembled it onto the replacement building.
The replacement building is also mounted on vibration-isolating springs to help reduce vibrations from the Jubilee line which runs under the eastern corner of the building.
Sorry house hunters, the penthouse was sold for £138 million in 2020.
More affordable, as it’s free to see, you can find the art on the side of the building officially called 1 Grovsenor Street.
The local TfL street sign needs updating though.