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Qatari Development Completes Grosvenor Square Transformation From ‘Little America’ To Luxury Playground

The Chancery Rosewood hotel in Grosvenor Square

Qatari Diar has unveiled plans for the redevelopment of the former U.S. Embassy on Grosvenor Square in Mayfair. The scheme ends the association of the square with the U.S. government that goes back almost 250 years and completes its transformation to one of the playgrounds of the global super-rich in London.

Qatari Diar, the development arm of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, said last week that the famous building on the west side of Grosvenor Square will be renamed the Chancery Rosewood and turned into a five-star hotel with 139 bedrooms, a spa, a ballroom capable of seating 1,000 guests and five luxury retail stores.

The hotel will be operated by luxury specialist Rosewood, and a chancery is an office attached to an embassy, hence the other part of the name. 

Multiplex won a £400M construction contract for the redevelopment last year, and Qatari Diar paid £500M for the site in 2009 in a sales process that started in 2007.

The mix of uses is interesting — retail and hotels have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, and a 1,000-person ballroom implies Qatari Diar thinks large corporate events will happen again in future.

The scheme has been designed by architect David Chipperfield and is scheduled for completion in 2024. It will retain the distinctive facade of the original building, which was opened in 1960 and designed by U.S. architect Eero Saarinen. Its white facade was supposed to turn black as a result of London’s famous air pollution, thus rendering its bronze details more striking. But clean air legislation stopped the stone changing colour, and now it is just a dirty grey and will be cleaned as part of the redevelopment.

The existing building has more than 600 rooms, with six storeys above ground and three storeys underground. 

The entrance to the Chancery Rosewood

Grosvenor Square was the site of the first American diplomatic presence in London and was the home of the U.S.' second president, John Adams, from 1785 to 1788 when he moved to the UK to re-establish relations with the former colonial masters of the U.S.

The official U.S. embassy had several locations around London before moving into the square in 1938, when it was situated at 1 Grosvenor Square, on the north east corner. It moved to the building now being redeveloped in 1960. 

The U.S. presence grew until it came to dominate the square from the second world war onward. Dwight Eisenhower established 20 Grosvenor Square, taking up the whole of the north side of the square, as the HQ of the U.S. military in Europe, and in 1960 the U.S. Navy moved in. During the war, the square was known as ‘Little America’.

No more. The U.S. government sold the building in 2009 after deciding it needed a site where it was easier to create a security cordon. It opened a new embassy in the Nine Elms district in south London in 2018, a relocation that drew the ire of President Donald Trump

1 Grosvenor Square became the Canadian High Commission after the U.S. Embassy moved out in 1960, but has since been redeveloped as a super luxury resi scheme by Indian developer Lodha. 

And the former U.S. Navy building at 20 Grosvenor Square is being redeveloped into another super luxury scheme by developer Finchatton, with backing from an Abu Dhabi investment fund. 

Qatari Diar has invested £4B in UK real estate projects so far, according to a report on the Chancery Rosewood in Qatari newspaper The Peninsular, and when this scheme and others including Chelsea Barracks and Southbank Place are completed, its UK portfolio will have a value of £7B. 

“Our focus from the very beginning has been to create a hotel and retail proposition that responds to the market and aligns with the wider regeneration of Grosvenor Square,” Qatari Diar Chief Executive Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah told Property Week. “Despite the current climate, there is no requirement to change our position, as our investment is part of a long-term vision to support new public realm and future enhancements to the square.”