Monday, 20 May 2013

Ames House

Architect: Beresford Pite, 1904

A landmark of female emancipation where the reforming agenda is reflected in its architecture.

Once known as the Ames House and Restaurant, this was the first purpose-built hostel for young, unmarried women working in London. The residents of the hostel were part of the new independent class of female workers that was burgeoning in the Edwardian era, notably including typists and telephone operators. At the hostel they found basic, but modern accommodation. Each of the small private rooms had access to natural light, and this explains the generous number of arched casement windows on the corner site with three street-facing facades, as well as the dormer windows that dot the steeply-pitched roof. The women also had use of shared sitting and dining rooms within the interior, although these spaces were altered when the upper storeys were converted into flats.

The complex was also an early model for mixed-use architecture, containing not only residential accommodation, but also a restaurant, shops, and different service facilities. Shops still occupy the ground floor of the block but modern retailers have altered the window configuration and cornice details. Overall, the style of Pite’s design was not uncommon for Edwardian buildings with a socially-progressive programme: a kind of simplified Arts & Crafts with banded brickwork and tall recessed brick niches that emphasise the verticality of the building. The elaboration of traditional building forms, such as bays, chimneys and gables was intended as an expression of craftsmanship, and by association, the supposed sanctity of work. 

Best time to visit: apart from the refitted ground floor shops, the building is closed to the public.

Address: 44 Mortimer Street, London W1W 7RJ.

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