Raffles Hotels is Remaking London’s Old War Office

Early 2022 will see the opening of The OWO, the ultra-luxe brand’s flagship European property.

Courtesy of Grain London

A string of unique heritage conversions—such as The Ned and L’Oscar London—have left their mark on the British capital’s buzzing hotel scene in recent years. But none have approached the scale of the ongoing Raffles project in the heart of Whitehall, where the Old War Office, a grandiose neo-Baroque pile dating from 1906, is being carefully remodeled. Originally designed to have 1,100 rooms and four kilometers of corridors, this monumental seven-story structure once hosted British spies and served as Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s office during World War II.

For the project, AccorHotels has teamed up with joint-owners The Hinduja Group and Spanish developer Obrascon Huarte Lain Desarrollos, which secured a 250-year lease of the storied building from the U.K. Ministry of Defence for an eye-watering £350 million (over US$466 million). The consortium is now in the process of transforming the Grade II*–listed building into the Raffles brand’s first outpost in the United Kingdom and flagship European project.

An artist’s impression of the hotel’s arrival courtyard. (Courtesy of EPR Architects)

The Raffles London project was initially announced back in 2017, with a target date for completion sometime this year. But the topping out ceremony took place only in February—shortly before Covid-19 spread across the globe—and the hotel’s opening has been rescheduled for early 2022. At the same time, the owners announced that the property would be launched not as Raffles Hotel London but as The OWO, in deference to its existing name that has been commonly used since the 1960s.

Edwardian architect William Young gave the stately edifice its curved edges and domed corner towers to overcome the awkward angles of its trapezoidal site. Young also clad the structure in Portland stone—the same kind of gray-white material used in other London landmarks such as St. Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace. As a particularly important building of special interest (hence the Grade II listing with an asterisk), every effort must be made to preserve the facade and architectural detailing.

From left: Inside the Army Council Room; the marble grand staircase. (Photos: BCCL)

EPR Architects is adding a double-height basement, underground parking, and a rooftop extension, while retaining elements such as the building’s marbled Renaissance-style grand staircase. Antique fireplaces and intricately carved timber paneling in the rooms will be preserved; future guests will be able to bed down in the Haldane Suite—the former office of secretaries of state such as Churchill, David Lloyd George, and John Profumo (the latter resigned in 1963 after a sex scandal involving an affair with a 19-year-old model, who was brought inside the building). The hotel interiors will be the work of New York–based French designer Thierry Despont, whose recent projects include a top-to-bottom revamp of the legendary Ritz Paris hotel and the conversion of Lower Manhattan’s century-old Woolworth Building into ultra-luxe condos.

When completed, The OWO will have 125 guest rooms, including 50 suites, alongside facilities such as a ballroom for up to 720 guests, a spa with a 25-meter pool, and no less than nine restaurants and bars. The development will also contain 85 private residences on site. In February, Accor’s chairman and CEO Sébastien Bazin said in a statement, “Raffles is a beloved brand with British roots, named after the British statesman and founder of Singapore, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, so it is very fitting that Raffles is coming home to London.”

Courtesy of EPR Architects

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