Strange how little fuss has been made about Buckingham Palace. There’s just time in the calendar for me to remind you that the east front was built a century ago this year. This is the front with the balcony on which the Royal Family appears-a landmark known around the world. Sir Aston Webb, a consummately efficient architect, erected it in a mere 13 weeks, when George V was away for the summer. It provided the finishing touch to the Queen Victoria Memorial, comprising the sculptural group outside Buckingham Palace, the Mall improvements and Admiralty Arch. Together, they constitute London’s one really grand piece of town planning.
Admiralty Arch’s moment should have come two years ago: it was opened for George V’s Coronation in 1911. But the architectural establishment is prone to sneer at the combination of a triumphal arch with offices for Admiralty civil servants. I think it was an inspired solution-not least because it enabled the thing to be built. The result, as I know from having just gone around the empty structure, prior to its conversion to a luxury hotel, is unexpectedly suave. Webb did miss one trick: he did nothing with the roof, even though it has stupendous views towards Buckingham Palace in one direction and Nelson’s column in the other. The hotel plans terraces.
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