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Fifth amendment: the restaurant on the famous fifth floor of a London department store has been remodelled and shaped for the twenty-first century.

It is ten years since Julyan Wickham transformed the Fifth Floor of the Harvey Nichols department store in Knightsbridge (AR July 1993). His design of a cafe and indoor marketplace under a rippling polycarbonate roof elaborated, with his own brand of exuberance, on French traditions of shopping and was astonishing. The top floor became the favourite destination for a sophisticated clientele and, for Harvey Nichols, set a precedent. Its success led to other excursions into the higher reaches of design, including Lifschutz Davidson's spectacular glass restaurant on the top of Oxo Tower wharf in London (AR February 1997) and the Forth Floor at the top of the new Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh. In stark contrast to poor old Harrods, now submerged in a sea of vulgarity, Harvey Nichols has acquired a reputation for being the most discerning of architectural clients. Lifschutz Davidson's latest scheme for the store is the redesign of Wickham's restaurant to one side of the Fifth Floor marketplace. This was originally i ntended as a quiet retreat from the visual clamour outside, but possibly for that reason became somewhat overlooked. The client requested that it be given a more prominent, more glamorous identity.

By exercising its considerable powers of invention, and by manipulating light and geometry, the practice has completely altered the space. The original dining room was rectangular with a bar set on its axis alongside the market wine store; at the opposite end of the room you had glimpses, through portholes, of kitchen theatrics. Going back to the idea of the private dining room, Lifschutz Davidson drew an ellipse within the rectangle and, shutting the kitchens away from view, banished ancillary areas - reception, cloakroom, waiter station and dispense bar - to the resulting interstices. Entrance from the bar, which used to be the only way of getting into the restaurant, has been narrowed and a stainless-steel door introduced (in the past, the bar has been disruptively noisy). A new entrance now leads in directly from the marketplace. This too is narrow so that emergence into the dining room is all the more dramatic.

Enclosed by an artificial sky and walls lined by illuminated glass tubes, the room is defined by luminance. Design of the ceiling (recalling Wagner's post office in Vienna and Wright's Johnson Wax building) is another version of the kinetic ceiling, first tried out in the Oxo Tower's restaurant. There, overhead fins control acoustics and lighting; white by day and blue by night, they open and close to suggest the change from diurnal to nocturnal luminance.

In Knightsbridge, lighting behind the glass is connected to sensors on the roof of the building. Without you realizing it, tiny adjustments in light levels (a computer damps down extremes) are continually taking place as they do even on an overcast day. At night the ceiling is dark.

Energy-saving fibre-optics have been used to illuminate the glass tubes lining the walls. Behind them acoustic walls absorb the sound bouncing off and between the curved surfaces; unlike most new restaurants in London, this one should be relatively quiet. Visually, spaces between the tubes add texture and at times the walls seem covered with glowing fabric. A colour wheel introduced into the lighting system allows the room to be suffused by sunset colours -- it's a safe bet that this will not be popular with diners, though the sophistication of the system is such that white linen and white Brno chairs stay white and the colours of wine are unaffected.

Lifschutz Davidson plainly enjoy concocting these interiors, for everything about them proclaims it. The lustrous ambiance here, recalling those early studio portraits of Hollywood stars, is of a different kind to the hard-edged glamour of Oxo Tower and prompts nostalgia for an old-fashioned cream soda. P.M.



Lifschutz Davidson Architects. London


Chris Gascolgne/VIEW


From bar to restaurant. Bar's original superstructure was removed and base encased in ribbed metal.


Restaurant's responsive ceiling connected to light sensors on roof of building; wails lined with glass tubes illuminated fibre optically.


Colour wheel suffuses room with light; stainless-steel door shutting off noise from bar.
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Title Annotation:5th Floor renovation
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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