Romanian Cultural Institute
- Original design
- Thomas Cubitt, 1828
The 2017 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2018 programme on 21st August.
There are so many embassies, high commissions, consulates and cultural institutes in and around Belgrave Square it would easy to devise a version of the board game Monopoly based entirely on diplomatic properties. The symmetry of the square is very like a Monopoly board: its terraced sides have 12 houses each (the fourth side has 13) with four detached mansions filling the corners. Grand total: 49. It is somehow fitting many foreign legations cluster here as the Square sits in an exclusive area whose name sounds like an imagined pocket state – Belgravia. Yet there is nothing fanciful about this toffy square, built between 1825-47 in the Greek Revival style.
For all its upper-crust confidence and elegant uniformity, the 10-acre square was conceived as a speculative venture on land owned by an ancestor of the present landlord, the Duke of Westminster. It was backed by Swiss bankers and laid out by a property builder, Thomas Cubitt who, like his noble client, had an eye for grand schemes. Cubitt also developed sections of Bloomsbury and Pimlico and founded a family dynasty of shrewd builders. He recruited skilled craftsmen and architects for Belgrave Square. George Basevi, who later designed the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, was responsible for the four-storey white terraces; commissions for the corner mansions went to other architects.
Rather unusually, Belgrave Square is aligned diamond-wise, so that its sides face north-east to south-west, rather than north-south. The numbering starts from the north-west corner.
Number 1 was leased to the Romanian foreign ministry in 1936 for a period of 999 years. Until 2005 it was the official residence of the Romanian ambassador in London, and diplomatic receptions and public events were held here. Since 2006, the house has been used jointly by the Embassy and the Cultural Institute. It occupies a corner site with generous frontages – on the Square and on Wilton Terrace – both of which have pairs of recessed Corinthian columns; a first floor balcony wraps round the corner and overlooks both streets.
Basevi, a pupil of Sir John Soane, had travelled and studied in Italy and Greece and used a sort of Classical Lite style for Number 1, built in 1828. This theme is continued inside. In the entrance hall a pair of columns marks off the stairwell, which takes up about a fifth of the floor area. The room on the right hand side of the hall is decorated with some very English panelling and has a mock Jacobean fireplace. The relative coziness of this room contrasts with much of the decoration of other public parts of the house, which have a restrained French classical look; a light hand has been laid on the gilt frames and fittings.
On the first floor landing is a wide and sociable bow-shaped balcony. The staircase winds effortlessly up to the top floor; a skylight illuminates the well. The main room on this floor is a huge and handsome L-shaped salon, with access to the exterior balcony through tall windows. At one end, an arch and a raised platform mark out a space used for performances. The grand piano here was owned and played by the renowned Romanian pianist, Dino LePatti, who died of leukaemia, aged 30, in 1950. It is still used on concert evenings.