Built in the 1930’s, the Grade II* Listed building was a favourite haunt of icons like Coco Chanel, Wallace Simpson and Lawrence Olivier. It is widely regarded as the finest example of Art Deco hotel architecture in the UK. Original architect, Oliver Hill, involved several artists in the hotel most notably Eric Gill, Eric Ravilious and Marion Dorn. Its heyday was a distant memory when the hotel finally closed in near ruin in 1998. There are very few buildings like the Midland Hotel and little to go on in terms of precedent, it is a unique building firmly anchored in its location (it has become its location and it has become a disproportionate part of Morecambe), it is much more than a ‘genre’. To add pressure there is the hotel’s acquired status as a barometer of Morecambe’s fortune and the considerable commercial risk of the client taking their first steps where other hotel operators feared to tread. The unprecedented interest and sense of ownership by so many people has heightened the significance of every move in the refurbishment process.
Union North’s design philosophy has been that the restoration of the Midland should be delivered with confidence and sensitivity. It should share the aspirations of the original development. Care has been taken to underscore the building’s heritage value without resorting to deco-themed interior and architecture. There is no mimicry, new interventions are deferential but remain unambiguously modern resulting in a clear reading of Oliver Hill’s original design.
The Midland became as much a symbol of Morecambe’s malaise as it was a symbol of its former fashionability. A positive and sustainable future for the Midland Hotel is a prerequisite of an area wide regeneration for Morecambe. The hotel acquired status as a barometer of Morecambe’s fortunes. The hotel must be a thriving and confident business, a striking statement about the future and a signpost for a new direction for Morecambe.
This elegant and economic design was nevertheless a populist seaside attraction described by Gavin Stamp (Chair of the 20th Century Society) as: ‘Streamlined in form and aerodynamic in plan it is at once Modern and modernistic (Art Deco?), informed by the Continental aesthetic of the Modern Movement and yet somehow flashy and slightly vulgar – as befits a seaside hotel’. A destination hotel, commercially bold and creatively astute. In approaching the refurbishment two things were clear there was a need to preserve and make accessible the distinctive and significant qualities of the original and maintain the spirit of optimistic futurism, to look forwards and backwards, to be both reverent and brave. Union North have not however elevated ourselves, where design risks have been taken, these have been limited to the transient or reversible.
To reconnect the building to its beginning – to rediscover the original modernist vision, the specifics and the spirit. While we have considerable experience with listed buildings Union North are not conservation specialists and at an early stage we partnered with Avanti Architects to bring their specialist knowledge of Oliver Hill and early modernism to the project. Together we mapped out the conservation priorities and the core character of interventions.
To disconnect the building from its recent past – to separate the building from decades of decline and a string of failed regeneration bids, to begin to describe an alternative future. At its simplest level the building, like the town, required a commitment, a statement of intent, an expression of confidence and some care and attention. Working within the framework of the Listed Building Consent Union North have sought to take appropriate risks, to be bold in places and deferential overall.
Ideas for the Midland have been generated in Morecambe from an immersion in the stories of the hotel and the town. The hotel means a great many things to a great many people and we have tried to underwrite our response with personal stories, unknown guests caught on Standard 8, Jim Izat amateur photographer, Gay Spink (Miss Great Britain 1974) amongst others. We have sought to create continuity with new and former uses, to reinvest this seaside hotel with stories of the seaside from personal and collective memory. To underscore this continuity we hoped to create an opening exhibition mixing original and new guests lists on the 75th anniversary of the launch (after Castiglioni, Foire de Milan 1966).
Avanti Architects were appointed to undertake a Conservation Report at an early stage. This included a Statement of Significance which highlighted items to be retained and restored. Avanti, Union North and Urban Splash consulted with English Heritage during design development and they supported the final proposals submitted for planning approval.
The 20th Century Society and Friends of the Midland Hotel were consulted prior to submission of the original and subsequent planning applications, both supported the proposals. A public open day was held at the hotel prior to the submission of the planning application. Thousands of local residents attended demonstrating the degree of public interest in the hotel, most had personal stories to share and were supportive of the development proposals.