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Fit for a queen: Remodelling of part of the Queen's House, Greenwich permits its use as a gallery and improves circulation without disturbing its seventeenth-century architecture. (Interior Design).

The Queen's House in Greenwich was designed by Inigo Jones for Anne of Denmark, wife of James I. Built between 1616 and 1635 in the hunting grounds of the Tudor palace of Placentia, it was an essay in Jones's assured handling of Palladian style and proportion. In contrast to the rambling brick palace which, spread around three courtyards, was the haphazard enlargement of a fifteenth-century mansion, the Queen's House was cool and Classically ordered at the edge of wilderness. Pevsner observes that the building's chastity and bareness must have seemed as foreign to contemporary beholders, used to the entertaining elaborations of Elizabethan and Jacobean architecture, as Modernism was to the Edwardians. In reality, architectural exoticism must have been tempered by familiar amusements, for the house had a fantastical surprise garden with fountains; its plan too was diverting. The building straddled the public road, between London and Dover, which divided park from palace. In doing so, it became a metaphorical b ridge between the safety of the palace's walled enclosure and the dangerous world outside (or, if you prefer, the rational link between two kinds of chaos: mathematical and physical). H-shaped on plan, the house had two parallel wings, running east-west and connected by a cross-bar at first floor level, above a vaulted basement.

Anne died in 1619 before her house could be completed and building was resumed by Charles I for Henrietta Maria, for whom the house became a garden retreat (there was never a kitchen). Her garden, with formal parterres and patterns, was designed to be viewed from above. In consequence, the basement (below the level of the road) with its handsome brick vaults and windows on to the garden, was blocked off.

Finding the house too small, Henrietta Maria engaged John Webb, Jones's successor and son-in-law, to add two more bridges to the first floor, one to the west and one to the east.

The house we see today is a square block. Facades on all sides, except the south, are tripartite with a central projecting section and plain walls rising from a rusticated base and surmounted by a balustrade. On the south side, a first floor loggia with Ionic columns overlooked the garden; on the north, a horseshoe staircase leads in Palladian manner to a terrace and a two-storey cubic hall. Inside the building, ornamented rooms are disposed in symmetrical fashion; to the east of the great hall, the interior is pierced by a circular void containing the famous Tulip Stair (the name deriving from the repeating wrought iron pattern of the balustrade). At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the building was extended by addition of east and west wings linked to the centre by colonnades tracing the path of the old road.

The present owner of the Queen's House, the National Maritime Museum, has wanted to use the building as a gallery. But its curious plan and difficult circulation, with no disabled access, made it unsuitable. Wishing to stage its millennium exhibition, The Story of Time, the museum invited Allies and Morrison to explore ways of improving access in, and circulation through, this most sensitive of monuments without upsetting English Heritage.

The practice's solution, with English Heritage agreement, was to restore the basement and transform it into a new public entrance, and in the process to reinstate Jones's original basement door on the north. To the west of the great hall, in a space previously occupied by a contorted staircase and where the basement vault had been breached, they inserted an elegant new three-storey staircase and lift.

Design of the staircase was based on the structural principle of the Tulip Stair, directly opposite on the other side of the great hall. Treads are made of precast concrete units, the load being transferred vertically from tread to tread. A steel string bolted to the face of brick shaft takes the torsion load and restrains the risers. The balustrading suggests the sumptuousness of handmade seventeenth-century filigree and the purity of Jones's decorative ornamentation. It is made of steel strips plaited into a grid which, when wound around circular riser sections, distorts and echoes the geometric distortions of the black and white marble floor of the great hall. A continuous bronze handrail expresses the curve of the staircase.

Within the basement, the vaulted brickwork has been covered, as it would have originally been, with rough lime render and the spaces made lighter and clearer. Down here are the reception, cloakroom, shop and lavatories reached by the new public entrance on the north. Facing the river and embraced by the horseshoe staircase, Jones's door leads to a tunnel under the terrace. The door was previously hidden at the bottom of a short flight of steps that have been replaced by a simple stone forecourt forming a shallow ramp. (Excavation revealed the original brick base of the horseshoe which turned 180 degrees so that the bottom steps faced each other.)

RELATED ARTICLE:

Architect

Allies & Morrison Architects, London

Project team

Bob Allies. DI Haigh

Structural engineer

Harris & Sutherland

Services engineer

Nordale Building Services

Photographs

Peter Cook/VIEW

1 North face with horseshoe staircase to terrace.

2 North face and colonnade to east wing. New public entrance with stone ramp embraced by staircase.

3 From great cubic hall, with black and white marble floor, to new staircase on west.

4 Basement enfilade.

5 New staircase: precast concrete treads, balustrading of plaited steel strips, continuous bronze handrail.
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Article Details
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Author:McGuire, Penny
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2002
Words:904
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