On the banks of the River Thames, Locke’s latest aparthotel mixes London grit with home comforts
“Like a giant bowling alley, it has a really skinny floor plan,” says New York-based architect Matthew Grzywinski, describing the building his studio, Grzywinski+Pons, has just converted into a hotel. A 1970s former office block located across the river from Tate Modern, Locke at Broken Wharf boasts an impressive location, even though its architecture offers far less to shout about. Inside though, you’d never know. Through a series of additions and subtractions – of both walls and floors – this utilitarian structure has become an urban sanctuary in shades of sage green and warm beige. Cosy lounge spaces dominate the ground floor, while 113 quirky rooms fill the six storeys above.
Broken Wharf is the fourth venue that fledgling hotel brand Locke has opened in the UK. Like sister sites in Edinburgh, Manchester and east London, also designed by Grzywinski+Pons, you could easily mistake it for a boutique hotel, although it’s actually a new spin on the aparthotel model. Rooms come equipped with functional kitchens and living spaces, so extended-stay travellers no longer have to choose between the practicalities of an Airbnb rental and the luxuries of a hotel stay.
“We’ve all seen those hotels where the bathtub is in the middle of the bedroom or whatever,” says Grzywinski. “There’s a novelty to it, but after a few nights it starts to get annoying. We wanted to make a space that is more homely, where you can sit down and relax without being in bed, but where you know someone else is cleaning up after you.”
Each Locke has its own character and Broken Wharf is no different. Context is key, but that doesn’t mean the interior is full of references to the city at large; you won’t find photos of Big Ben or the London Eye on the walls. Instead, the hotel responds to the scale of its immediate surroundings, not only the scenic river view to the south but also the large concrete underpass to the north, offering a sense of intimacy that suits the building’s narrow floor plan.
Restaurant, bar and co-working spaces are framed by mobile screens and canopies, and embellished with giant cacti and ferns. They are inherently versatile, proven when at the start of the UK’s coronavirus shutdown, the restaurant temporarily transformed into a mini grocery store, selling fresh fruit, vegetables, pasta, bread and cheese.
We’ve all seen those hotels where the bathtub is in the middle of the bedroom or whatever. There’s a novelty to it, but after a few nights it starts to get annoying. We wanted to make a space that is more homely, where you can sit down and relax without being in bed, but where you know someone else is cleaning up after you
In the rooms, bespoke shelving follows the building’s faceted geometries, creating eclectic displays of objects and ornaments, while windows are framed in vivid orange. “The rooms are a little eccentric, but that was a nice gift; they aren’t just a series of boxes,” says Grzywinski. Custom furniture, such as the colourful chaise-style sofas, ensures that no space is wasted, but also creates subtle ties between Locke’s other venues.
Locke has at least nine more venues in the works, in locations including Paris and Berlin, and Grzywinski+Pons is working on three of them. With this expansion, Grzywinski worries about the brand losing the authenticity and individuality of its first properties, about “doing the same thing three or four times without meaning to.” With Broken Wharf though, he has shown he still has plenty of new ideas. If Locke can find more of the same fresh thinking, it will surely go from strength to strength.