Inaugurated in 1906 as the New War Office, the Edwardian Baroque building in London’s historic Whitehall district is synonymous with intrigue and power. Legendary statesman (Winston Churchill, of course; also, diplomat T.E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia) and fictional spies (Ian Fleming’s James Bond) have roamed the War Office’s 2.5 miles of corridors. The building sat in disrepair for decades, but with an eight-year restoration unveiled in stages over the last several years, the complex, now known as The OWO, houses Raffles London, a luxury hotel and residences, nine restaurants, three bars, and much more.
London-based design and brand consultancy Greenspace—having designed the original branding for The OWO and The OWO Residences—was tapped to develop the identity for Raffles London. It was a vast project involving seven spaces within the complex: The Spy Bar, The Guards Bar and Lounge, The Drawing Room, Saison, Mauro Colagreco at Raffles London at The OWO, Mauro’s Table, and Pillar Wellbeing.
So, what does all of this have to do with type? Because of the sheer scope of the project, I wondered what it was like to consider the typography for such unique entities within a more prominent brand. Adrian Caddy, founder and CEO of Greenspace, was kind enough to indulge my curiosity.
I imagine the history of The OWO would be overwhelming. What details, stories, and historical inspiration helped you focus your aesthetic?
When we started working on this project in 2018, the Old War Office building was like a ghost ship. Everything had been stripped out. There was not a single sign or door number remaining; such was the sensitive nature of operations the building housed. As we wandered through miles of corridors, we heard our echoing footsteps and imagined the secrets the walls could give up if they could talk to us. It was exciting and also humbling.
At that time, the senior client was concerned that the words ‘old’, ‘war’, and ‘office’ might not convey the idea of luxury or hospitality. Yet when we talked to people who might like to live in or visit a place like the one envisioned, they told us that it was the authentic story of the place that mattered most. Consequently, we proposed naming the destination ‘The OWO’, using the acronym to be authentic yet abbreviated and renewed. Thankfully, our clients agreed, and we were able to pursue a philosophy that dictated that ‘authenticity trumps luxury’ in our subsequent work.
“The bespoke Grotesk typeface family 1906, (the year of the building’s inauguration) that we designed with Colophon, arose from this thinking; to revive the fonts used in government communication during the early 20th century—that didn’t exist in the digital age and deserved to be revived—for the benefit of place and legacy.”
What links do you look for when choosing or designing typefaces for distinct entities under a brand umbrella? Or is each entity considered on its own merit?
The honest answer is a little bit from column A and column B. We’re aware that we’re working to create a sense of place, where people feel at home, rather than a corporate identity, where proven brand architecture systems might apply.
Working on this project, we were liberated by the themes of each restaurant and bar space and were anchored to the aesthetic of The OWO house brand we had created.
We looked for and created a suite of wordmarks that conveyed the personalities and narratives of each of the spaces and experiences on offer. Then, we juxtaposed them with the 1906 typeface for consistency so that guests and visitors perceive a consistent sense of place.
Can you talk about your inspiration for the bespoke typefaces: 1906 and the type for The Guards Bar?
For the 1906 typeface, the inspiration came from research into typefaces routinely used in the early 20th century for government communication. Stephenson Blake was the prominent foundry at that time, and they produced a number of Grotesk fonts that can be seen in printed ephemera from the period. Those fonts don’t exist as digital fonts today, especially the letterforms that possess greater character, the ones with more flamboyant terminals and alternate forms.
We drew about 20 or 30 letters and ligatures, like the overlapping capital W used in The OWO wordmark, and proposed a font family to be developed. I’m really happy that we realised this aspect of the project, as it fully underpins the whole notion of authenticity and craftsmanship.
“For The Guards Bar, we knew that we were creating a space that looked directly across Whitehall (the avenue that connects Parliament Square to Trafalgar Square) into the Royal Horse Guards and the guards of the Household Cavalry. With this in mind, we imagined the guards as a squad of six, standing to attention, framed by their arched sentry boxes. This is implied by the letterforms’ exaggerated condensed stance and their subtly curved chamfered edges. The royal red and gold colours are informed by the guards’ uniforms.”