Perception versus reality at The Savoy
Hearing tales last week of queues of people waiting to get into the American Bar of the recently re-opened Savoy in London brought on a wry smile. I must declare my hand – my company was the architectural practice on the four-year restoration, but the cause of my smile lay in two rather less partisan ruminations.
As has been very publicly documented, the restoration of The Savoy cost some 100% more than the sum originally projected and the contractors were on site for 21 months longer than announced at the time the hotel was closed. There were a number of very good reasons for both these factors, but it is not the purpose of this blog to go into them. Instead – first cause of wry smile – I am pleased to see that despite the negative press commentary and the usually ill-informed gossip about the project, the general public will make their own minds up.
And, of course, most people have short memories and the sniping press stories quickly fade when replaced by the reality of a pleasant, exciting or even simply convenient reality. After all, who really remembers – or cares – that another London icon, the ferris wheel known as The London Eye, that was planned to mark the Millennium did not actually start turning until well into 2000? Or when we marvel at being able to do the London/Paris journey in a little over two hours, do we still think that the channel tunnel was 80% over the predicted budget? And then there’s Australia’s national symbol, the Sydney Opera House that was originally estimated to cost $7 million to build. It actually cost $102 million – and that was in 1973.
Right now, the Savoy is fully booked everywhere. Of course, this is due in part to the fashionistas who follow new hotel openings and will, by definition, soon move onto the next one, but there are also all the signs that the longstanding clientele are back despite the dire warnings that life as they knew it at The Savoy would never be the same again. And this brings me onto wry smile cause two. When all those people queuing to get into the American Bar last week finally made it into the haloed sanctum of mixology, they would have seen a room that looked – well – exactly as it did before. Virtually the entire hotel had been stripped out to make way for a modern services infrastructure but then most of the elements were refurbished and put back, or new features faithfully replicated from the original.
When a place is as special and legendary as The Savoy, people don’t want to think it has changed and, as long as the project team takes a lot of care in ensuring that it looks as if it hasn’t, even when it has, the general public will vote with their wallet and screaming press headlines of the past quickly become little more than a quaint rant.