Marshall Street Baths

A derelict Grade II Listed swimming complex on the Buildings at Risk Register, a disused warehouse and an eyesore of a car park were the perfect ingredients for a huge renovation project in the heart of Soho.

It took me several visits to fully appreciate the immensity of this labyrinthian site in one of London’s most lively areas. Much of what is new has been added on top of several existing buildings which have been pulled together into a single unified project. The work includes conservation too though and the architectural highlight is without doubt the newly-restored barrel-vaulted ceiling of the main pool.

The Art Deco Westminster Public Baths opened on Marshall Street in 1931 in a Roman Renaissance style with white Sicilian marble in the main pool and Swedish green marble on the walls. How it could be allowed to fall into disrepair I will never understand but it is easy to appreciate why 5,000 people signed a petition objecting to its closure in 1997. The pool is now open again to the public.

My first visit to the site took place in late 2009 and I recall walking across the highest point of what was then just a steel frame, marvelling at the views across the rooftops of Soho. It was just a construction site. I knew that things must have moved on when Sir Philip Green – and several burly minders – brushed past me as I walked in recently to see some of the finished flats. He had just given a presentation in the new events space apparently.

The 52 unit development, now being marketed as ‘The Regent Lofts & Penthouses’ (presumably due to its proximity to Regent Street), offers several different types of accommodation. Along with the aforementioned lofts and penthouses, there are terraces of ‘sky houses’ on top of the car park section. In fact, overhead images on the internet still show the old car park’s roof spaces. They are not houses in the true sense but they do have outdoor areas – without any road noise.  Given the choice, I would go for the one bedroom flat in the pool block which comes complete with a distinctive outdoor tower room overlooking London.

The completion of this scheme during a recession is some achievement. But the team behind this project is currently masterminding the rejuvenation of the Aquarium site in Brighton – an ambitious but necessary task also.