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Tom Stuart-Smith’s iconic illusions

Tom Stuart-Smith’s iconic illusions

Heavy metal. Photo: The Connaught Hotel

Jodie Jones revisits an iconic but evolving design by Tom Stuart-Smith MSGD at The Connaught

The Garden of Illusion at the Connaught Hotel in London, created by Tom Stuart-Smith MSGD, has become an icon of meticulously pared-back design. The garden was hailed as a triumph when it was unveiled as the Moon Garden in 2009. When, subsequently, the central Ilex crenata tree died, Tom’s innovative solution won him even more plaudits for the greater depths it added to the symbolism of the design.

Classical inspiration. Photo: Tom Stuart-Smith

Classical inspiration

The brief was to create a garden 3m wide and 14m long in an internal light well surrounded by four-storey buildings on three sides. The design was to be viewed from one end and from above, and had to look good all year round. “In the isolated world of the hotel, I wanted to evoke an idea of the natural world,” says Tom. “Although it can be seen as a Japanese landscape, it was actually intended to be an evocation of Hogarth’s line of beauty.”

Heavy metal

When the Ilex crenata died, Tom took the bold step of replacing it with a metal replica. “I chose the Ilex crenata because it was sculptural and shade tolerant, but there just wasn’t enough light to support it. With Adam Lowe of Factum Arte in Madrid we decided to cast the tree in bronze.” The replica includes more than 20,000 leaves, cast from life, and was installed in 2013. “In some ways I feel the space is visually less successful, but conceptually it is richer.”

Hidden Depths. Photo: Tom Stuart-Smith

Hidden depths

The water feature was conceived by Tom but, he emphasises, “the execution is entirely down to Andrew Ewing”. Andrew made the pool from black granite, water-jet cut and mounted on to stainless steel. The water is 2cm deep and is height adjustable to maintain the meniscus along its edge. There is a plant room in the basement of the hotel with filtration, chemical dosing and pH control, much like a swimming pool. Tom also wanted the water to have reflections, which is achieved by an unseen wall-mounted light. “This beam bounces off the surface of the water and hits the Portland stone on the back wall to form a moon-like disc.” In addition, there are fibre optic ‘stars’ set into the granite of the pool. These are randomly positioned and in three different sizes to replicate the varying brightness of stars in the sky. Sally Storey at LDI was also involved in the light installation. 

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