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Archive for September, 2013

The official beginning of Autumn – 22nd September – saw the annual Open House event here in London and, as usual, a large and varied number of edifices were available for public inspection.  Many of these buildings are actually open to the public throughout the year but, as usual, visitors are drawn to those buildings normally closed to public scrutiny.  Even though I aim to visit buildings new to myself, I cannot help but be drawn time and time again to one of my all time favourites – the former Daily Express building in Fleet Street (fig. 1).

fig. 1        Image

Due to a currently busy publishing schedule, I have decided that the following blog post will be fairly short –  ie. photos accompanied by a few comments.  It is just a small selection of the photos I have of this magnificent place.  At a later date I aim to explore the visual feast offered by this building in some detail but, for now, I have just chosen a few images to be going on with.   

The former Daily Express building at 120, Fleet Street was completed in 1932 and must surely count as one of the most classic Art Deco designs of the period.  Lord Beaverbrook, proprietor of the Daily Express, commissioned Sir Owen Williams – an engineer rather than an architect – to design the structure.  Williams is well-known for his building designs incorporating concrete – and yet, perhaps nowadays his most well-known design is not that for a building but for the M1 motorway completed in the late 1950s.  The Daily Express building was designed, of course, to house massive printing presses which were situated in the basement and these were in operation, until 1989, when the decline of Fleet Street as a centre of journalism resulted in the closure of this magnificent building.

Over the years, the building has been redeveloped and restored to its former glory.  From the outside the building seems modest and almost ‘shy’ as the long gauzy curtains hide the beauty within (fig. 2).

fig. 2     Image

Nowadays, visitors are only allowed access to the foyer and only during this particular weekend of the year – but what a foyer!  

The Daily Express foyer was not actually designed by Owen Williams but by Robert Atkinson and the present interior is a restoration of his work.  Atkinson, who died in 1953, had several design influences which he favoured: the foyers of skyscrapers seen in New York and the Art deco luxury  of Hollywood cinemas. 

As you enter the Daily Express foyer this cinematic inspiration is clearly stated.  The eye is drawn forwards to a relatively small and neat set of shiny, black stairs bordered by silver handrails depicting cobras with darting tongues (fig. 3), almost evoking the feeling of walking towards and attending a Hollywood award ceremony!

fig. 3       Image

Apparently, the original handrails were stolen some years ago but, luckily, surviving photographs of the originals allowed copies to be recast.  Above these stairs the eye is then drawn to a simple but effective square Art Deco clock reminding the viewer of the printing trade’s need for getting copy out on time!  This simple but elegant staircase gives access to gleaming silver lifts on either side.

The west and east sides of the foyer are both dominated by tall, modelled, golden figures (said to be ‘incarnations’ of Beaverbrook himself!) set in large silver and gilt relief panels.  To the west (fig. 4), the panel depicts scenes of industry: men and machines at work. 

fig. 4     Image

The art deco ‘feel’ is reinforced by the silver decorations on the walls beside the panel (fig. 5) and the rosewood dado. 

fig. 5    Image

 

To the east (fig. 6), the panel depicts scenes from areas of the world where, in those, times, British influence was keenly felt.

fig. 6   Image

Thus, from India we see elephants looming towards us and snake charmers luring snakes from baskets with hypnotic music.  As an Egyptologist I am interested in Africa (remember northern modern Sudan was part of ancient Nubia) so I particularly like the African scenes on the eastern wall (fig. 7) where we see monkeys and ostriches and elegant people carrying baskets of produce on their heads and valuable wood on their shoulders.

fig. 7    Image

 

The whole effect of the cinematic experience is tied together with the vast expanse of the wavy-effect  blue and black rubber flooring and a brilliant starburst ceiling, in silver and gilt, overhead.

This foyer is, to my mind, a magnificent example of 1930s Art Deco style –  a beautifully crafted evocation of a bygone, but  hopefully never forgotten, age.  Enjoy it, when you can, whilst it is still there!

 

 

 

 

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