…a scary building @ M by Montcalm in Old Street

The first time I saw M by Montcalm I was cycling. The building is situated on City road really close to Old Street’s roundabout which is one of the places with the most cyclist casualties in London. Keeping this in mind I always pay extra attention when I am there. That particular day I exited the roundabout successfully and almost had a heart attack at the sight of this new building hovering over me. Later on when I found out it was a hotel called M by Montcalm, I could not help but be amused as its angular and rather distorted façade looks anything but calm.

Left: Old Street roundabout / Middle: M by Montcalm from the beginning of City Road

Left: Old Street roundabout / Middle: M by Montcalm from the beginning of City Road

Being a huge fan of comic books and science fiction I would not be 100% truthful if I said I hated it, because I did not. It immediately brought to my mind Gotham City and Blade Runner. What respectable graphic novel enthusiast would not enjoy something that seems to come out of a book or a film which has been the centre of many a daydreams.

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However the root of my aesthetic satisfaction was also the source of problems for this building which has an out-of-this-world quality. I believe it looks like some funfair ride or a film set. Probably its façade’s geometry is not the only reason for that. The materials chosen play some part too. The finish of the cladding for example gives to it a rather precarious and not exactly sturdy character.

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Attempting to find out more about this building I was at a loss with the absolute lack of information available about it. Who exactly designed it? No one seems to be claiming it even though on the Montcalm website it is repeatedly mentioned that an award winning firm is responsible for it. However its name is not stated, why? Eventually due to one of my readers that left me a comment under a previous version of this article I found out the company behind the design and the construction of this building was Squire and Partners. You can have a look on their webpage where they explain the concept here

Moorfields Eye Hospital which is exactly opposite M by Montcalm

Moorfields Eye Hospital which is exactly opposite M by Montcalm

M by Montcalm is betting heavily on the area being branded as Tech City, a technological start-up apparently third in the world in size after San Francisco and New York. Tech City has received funding in order to boost the companies it hosts which mainly develop new technologies. Google’s headquarters are not far from here for example. I guess the hotel expects to attract many guests related to Tech City’s companies.

Unfortunately the building is not yet finished and I could not enter it. Admittedly I am quite curious to see if the interiors are even remotely influenced by its exterior appearance. I would be quite disappointed and not exactly surprised if they were not. Judging from the hotel’s website it does not seem that the interior spaces mirror the exterior. Naturally in case they were, the hotel might have looked even more like a fun fair ride. However it would have been a proof that there was some sort of concise architectural concept behind it and not only an aesthetic gimmick.

Middle : Old Street roundabout from M by Montcalm

Middle : Old Street roundabout from M by Montcalm

Which leads this train of thought to the inevitable consideration of the effect of a building’s appearance to the street and the responsibility the architects have on account of it. This debate is a never ending one since the beginning of the history of architecture. Naturally there could never exist one absolute truth. Aesthetics are subjective and no one can pronounce they have created a building that is objectively beautiful. Every new addition to any street is a reminder of boundaries between public and private and can initiate discussions about matters of taste but most importantly motives behind aesthetic choices. The beauty of architecture as an art largely derives from the fact that it brings together necessity and technology wrapped in the amalgam of a designer’s and a client’s taste. Matters get much more complicated when the client is the state which has specific agendas to push or (as contemporary economies have it), faceless companies which mainly chase after profit. Montcalm with its luxury hotel branding has contributed this building to the streets. I often think like most designers do, that bold is better than boring. But this is only one angle of looking at things.

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6 comments
  1. Brilliant. I swear I wrote almost exactly the same words a few minutes ago! Apologies; I wasn’t deliberately copying, just thought I’d roam around to see what, if anything, other people thought of this building.

    Nice article!

  2. Poloin Poil said:

    I believe the architect is Squire and Partners

  3. Thank you very much. You are correct. I believe when I posted this article in April they had nothing on their website yet

  4. Mel said:

    Great article, I actually found it by looking for info about this building, I enjoyed reading it. I actually “bumped” into that building not long ago and actually immediately had a crush on it. First time I have such a strong architectural crush on a building. I was fascinated by it, I walked around to see it from every angle (and was late meeting with a friend…).
    Anyway, it’s interesting what you say about the responsibility of the architect and how to reconcile technical challenge, client’s taste while still leaving your “mark”… Adding in the mix the fact that a building may or may not disfigure the cityscape.
    I’m happy they made this building where it is, even though it really doesn’t fit its surrounding. To me I really see as a piece of art… It would be like finding a massive graffiti on a wall somewhere. I’m always in favour of street art in any form and architecture is in fact a form of it, maybe the most obvious one actually.
    Whether we agree that this building is beautiful or not doesn’t matter, what does is that it made you feel something and made you want to write about it. Hats off to Squire and Partners 🙂

  5. Dave said:

    Encountered this in the car a few weeks ago. It’s actually difficult to look at with the weird tricks it plays on perspective, and being on a road junction it does seem a little irresponsible.

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