Just around the corner from Tottenham Court Road sits one of London’s great unmarked pieces of architecture. A building, like so many of its era looks a bit tired and shabby now, but will reward the viewer who stands back to admire the whole.

Built in uncompromising concrete, the former YMCA hostel was built in the early 1970s to replace an Edwardian building on the same site.

Built by the YMCA, it is no longer owned by them though — as a sale was effectively forced upon them in 1991 due to mounting debts, with half the £15 million proceeds used to repay a council grant.

The ground level, as with all too many buildings of this type does not look promising. A tired array of shops and bars around three sides, and a car park entrance on the other would lead you to forgive walking past as fast as possible.

Even the side that faces on to the busy Tottenham Court Road, while wisely designed to minimise noise for the hotel residents within means that it presents the street with a nearly solid, if pleasingly symmetrical wall of concrete.

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It is however around the sides that this building really starts to peel open and reveal a design masterpiece in brutal design.

The stepped recesses are composed of four towers stacked next to each other that enables light to penetrate deep into the core of the structure, while also giving every room its own view across London.

The deep recesses though also break up the structure that could so easily have been just a flat wall with windows into something appealing to the eye and creates interest in the concrete mass that would otherwise be missing.

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Sadly, as with too many buildings of this sort, some aspects of the design cannot cope with modern requirements, and cost cutting, so there are signs of tacky air conditioning units dotted around the place. Some rather odd planting lines the building on the main road frontage that just looks bizarre in that setting.

Get rid of the fake plants and let the raw brutality of the building stand proud once more.

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As a physical structure, it just needs a little bit of cleaning up, and I better use of uplighters at night to highlight the corrugated finish instead of floodlighting the entire building in blue would cause a lot more people to look up and nod in approval at this potentially exceptional bit of architecture.

Oh, and clean up the ground floor shopping frontages, they are disgraceful.

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4 comments
  1. Hannah says:

    Can’t wait to start our Euro trip! And visit London. The architecture is really fascinating!

  2. Marc says:

    It would be interesting to see what the view is like from the rooms with the ‘smoke defelectors’ on the exterior: I’m imagagining a narrow ish field of vision – a modern take on the arrow slit, perhaps?

  3. Colin says:

    Good to see a fellow fan of this building, it’s easily missed as you say due to the street level noise.

  4. Lis N. Gisbert says:

    In all this article, I cannot find the actual NAME of this hotel built on the YMCA site, and I’m trying to locate them to see if I can reserve a room. I have received very good reports on it from someone who was there in 2003 and said the views were beautiful from the 7th floor and it wasn’t excessively expensive in those days. Please let me the name and, if possible, email for this hotel. Thanks in advance, ENG, Spain

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