Dilys Maltby. Photograph by Sophie Mutevelian, courtesy of Circus
In Midcentury issue 08, we had the pleasure of visiting Dilys Maltby’s lovingly renovated Grade II listed Span house in Blackheath. Dilys’ search for a Span house was, in part, inspired by her work environment. As Senior Partner at Circus, a management consultancy specialising in brand and proposition strategy, Dilys Maltby is based in a building on London’s Marylebone High Street. The space was designed by John Harris in 1964.
John Harris’ work is most closely associated with Dubai. In 1959, the British architect was introduced to Sheikh Rashid and became the Ruler’s adviser on Dubai’s new Master Plan. The plan encompassed everything from a road system to a map that allowed new Dubai to exist alongside the old city, but was accelerated and amplified by Dubai’s discovery of oil in 1966. Harris was also responsible for the Dubai World Trade Centre, completed in 1979 and for a long time the area’s tallest building.
The building as it was in the 1960s, with garage. Photograph courtesy of Circus
We visited Circus in its John Harris-designed home in Marylebone and talked to Dilys Maltby about the advantages of working in this mid-century building.
What first drew you to this John Harris building as a base for your company?
We were previously based in a large building in Exmouth Market, and I mused on where I would really like to work. I googled Marylebone High Street and up popped this building.
The exterior of the building today. Photograph by Lee Mawdsley, courtesy of Circus
Have you made any changes to the original John Harris design?
The building was as John Harris had designed it in 1964. His architectural practice had grown smaller, so he was based out of his own home – the modernist office he designed for himself was effectively linked to the back of his Georgian town house through a courtyard garden. The building was in need of decoration and some reconfiguration – but was magnificent. I had always wanted Circus to have a gallery, so we converted Mr Harris’s garage into a gallery on Marylebone High Street. And we worked with The Howard de Walden Estate, who own the property, to protect all the key features.
The staircase as it looks today. Photograph by Lee Mawdsley, courtesy of Circus
What are your favourite elements of the John Harris building?
It’s definitely the rather quirky shape of the rooms, with the fantastic vista across to the park and church at the front, and over the beautiful oasis of a garden at the back. The staircase, the doors, the grid internal glass, the black brick flooring and the garden itself with oversized pebbles, ferns and the walkway back through to the Harris house are all authentic and transport us and our guests back to the optimism and future view of the early 1960s. In Harper’s in 1965, this building was cited as “the coolest building in London”. It still has that vibe.
Have you had much contact with John Harris’s family?
Yes. When we were first interested in the building, it was very important for Mr and Mrs Harris that the building was taken on by the right people. So I had afternoon tea – over the course of six months, in their beautiful home. We talked about what we did and why I loved the space. John Harris has since died – but we have waved across the garden from our parties, and they know how much we cherish their creation.
The back of the John Harris building, with the courtyard and covered walkway from his home. Photograph courtesy of Circus
What in your opinion makes John Harris’ design successful as a working environment?
Although it is a small building, all the spaces feel generous and light. We’ve a kitchen table, where we gather for breakfast and lunch. And we have generous workshop rooms, which we use for client meetings. The whole building is open and active.
How does the aesthetic of the John Harris building fit with the ethos of your company?
We are a management consultancy, specialising in brand strategy, so we help clients to understand the past, and imagine the future. The architecture of the building is our inspiration, a physical manifestation of our own brand values – Clarity, Colour and Courage.
Inside Circus. Photograph by Lee Mawdsley, courtesy of Circus
In your opinion, does the John Harris building have an impact on your clients’ behaviour?
Most definitely. As clients walk in, you can feel their spirits soar. It’s the perfect fusion of the beauty and tranquillity of the space, combined with the hedonism of Marylebone High Street with its shops and bars. Often clients ask us to use the space for their own private events. One client said “Circus is a perfect place to think, and a perfect place to shop”. Or another very famous home interiors client says that she would just like to live in the building.
And working here led to buying your Span home?
Yes. I have always been interested in the modernist aesthetic, and working here fuelled that interest. So I now live in South Row, Blackheath, in a Span house by Eric Lyons, with many of the same principles in practice.
Can you tell us a little about the ethos behind your Circus gallery?
Circus Performance celebrates the joy of collaboration and the delight of the unexpected. In our gallery, we host a programme of exhibitions, happenings and talks. We are curious about creativity, and love learning from artists across disciplines. It feeds our imaginations and gives us the cultural currency to inform our brand strategy practice day to day.
Take the tour of Dilys Maltby’s Span home in MidCentury 08
Find out more about Circus’ work and performance gallery here
Read more about John Harris’ career in Dubai here
Discover another lesser known British architect in our article on Joseph Emberton