Kicking off his hotel construction career in the late 60s, Alan Lapidus grew up in South London and began exploring the possibilities of creating a home with modern amenities. At 22 he developed the first unit for London’s Roman Grove Hotel – a one-bedroom apartment that had open-plan living space, a kitchen with a bedroom and bathroom, and a terrace. The following year, at 23, he presented designs for a hotel on high land on the Chiltern Hills, named Wessham Hall for the centuries-old Chiltern Hills Farm, owned by King George V.
The two-year gestation process of finding the planning permission required the hiring of former miner and architect Tom Dunn to help convert the bar and cellar into a banquet hall as well as to work on the design. Towards the end of 1965, Lapidus and Dunn launched a competition for an architect and contractors for Wessham Hall, creating brief sketches for prospective entrants. Responding to the competition, the Rotterdam-based Andre Hoeber started to sketch the details of the building – incorporating ornament, wisteria and lights in a shape inspired by the chateau that stood on the former farm land – and by the summer of 1966 he was competing with the world’s major architects, including Aldo Rossi, Norman Foster and Hugh Broughton.