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Exploring Art Deco Architecture In London

06th August 2015

Senate House is a towering example of the extravagant Art Deco movement that graced London’s cityscape in the early 20th century. The style remains popular today, with both Hollywood and fashion trends rekindling the fascination surrounding the iconic look. 

In London, we’re lucky to have some of the most impressive and timeless examples of UK Art Deco Architecture, and in this article, we’ll explore how this cultural and architectural movement has left its mark on our capital city.  

What is Art Deco?

Art Deco is a relatively modern form of style and architecture that is generally characterised by geometric shapes, symmetrical arrangements, defined outlines, bold colours and exterior decoration. The style took a look a lot of inspiration from ancient Egypt, and is seen as lavish, luxury and dramatic. It’s often associated with the jazz age and entertainment and hospitality in general. Many of London’s original Odeon cinemas are authentic art deco. 

Art Deco became popular in the early 20th century and is often seen as the defining style of the 1920s and 1930s. Occupying fashion, furniture and buildings, it remains popular today.

A Short History of Art Deco 

Art Deco style is deemed to have originated in France during the early 20th century, with the movement spreading across Europe throughout the 1920s and 1930s. 

The term ‘Art Deco’ was coined after the style was exhibited at the French E’xposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriel Modernes ‘(International Exhibition of Modern and Industrial Decorative Arts) in 1925. Since then, the style has been making its mark in the form of buildings, jewellery, ornaments, furniture and fashion.

How does Art Deco Manifest in Architecture? 

Due to its linear and decorative aspects, the Art Deco style is often employed in fashion, jewellery and furniture. Its existence beyond the realm of architecture is one of the reasons the movement is particularly unique. 

However, architecturally, Art Deco buildings are extremely impressive. The bold architectural style contains modernist, futurist and cubist influences, all of which are easy to identify in a typical Art Deco example. Architecture.com state that Art Deco is easily recognised by its consistent use of: 

  • Bold and angular shapes
  • Streamlining 
  • Bold Colour
  • Decoration
  • Geometric Designs

Since its rapid rise to popularity in the early half of the 20th century, Art Deco buildings are easy to spot in many European cities, as well as further into the Americas and Africa.

Art Deco’s popularity occurred during a time of rebuilding after the 1st world war, so many structures were built to evoke a sense of recuperation after a time of great difficulty and loss. Art Deco gave access to high quality design to the masses, and this was as true in its presence in buildings as it was in other forms of the style. Although the glamour associated with the style has naturally lent itself to buildings purposed to house entertainment, such as cinemas or theatres, the style was also employed by many tube stations, cafes, factories, offices and apartment blocks, meaning it could be enjoyed by all. 

Art Deco in London

Quirky, eye-catching Art Deco buildings are rare gems in London when compared with other modernist architecture such as brutalism or modernism. 

However, the ones it does house are incredible examples, making the city an excellent place for any architecture enthusiast to visit.

Join us as we detail some of the great Art Deco structures London has to offer.

Senate House 

Senate House London

After the 1st world war, the University of London urgently needed more space for teaching and offices. So, after acquiring new land, the university commissioned acclaimed architect, Charles Holden to design a purpose built building. Senate House was erected in 1937 after 5 years of construction, and at 19 floors high, was one of the tallest buildings in London at the time. 

However, the full extent of the project was never realised, as the Second World War prevented the project from progressing.  Senate House’s initial purpose was put on hold, with the Ministry of Information utilising the building during the war years. 

Senate House still retains its Art Deco features, both external and internal, with many restored to their former glory. Today Senate House houses the library of the University of London, as well as a unique event space for conferences, weddings, parties and meetings.

Southgate Station 

Southgate Station London

The futuristic Southgate Station is another of Charles Holden’s Art Deco creations, and is widely recognised as one of the most iconic tube stations in London. The interior and exterior received an extensive renovation in 2008, and the building was upgraded to a Grade II listed building in 2009.

Externally, the spherical shape of the building makes a huge impression, but the internal decorative features are also very striking. Featuring original tiled flooring, contrasting liner detailing and art deco style lighting; the station is a fantastic example of Art Deco in London. 

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The Hoover Building 

The Hoover Building London

Originally built as the headquarters for the Hoover Company, construction began on the Hoover building in 1933, and was completed in 1938. 

Architects Wallis, Gilbert and Partners were behind the design of the striking structure, which features typical geometric designs, pillars, feather designs, as well as colourful decoration. The latter design element demonstrates how the Aztec and Mayan style influenced the Art Deco movement. Nowadays the building is owned by Supermarket chain, Tesco.

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(Palladium House) Ideal house 

Ideal House London

Ideal House is grand example of how Egyptian style influenced the art deco movement. Comparatively, the features are very different than those of the previous Hoover building, but the polished black granite exterior and gold, green and orange decorative features are typical of the Art Deco era.

Completed in 1929 by Raymond Hood and Gordon Jeeves, the sleek seven-storey building was originally home to the National radiator company’s showroom, and was based on the company’s larger building in Manhattan, New York. Nowadays it’s used as private accommodation with a restaurant on the ground floor. 

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Carrera’s Cigarette Factory 

Carreras Cigarette Factory London

The Arcadia Works, also known as the Carreras Cigarette Factory, is one of the most notorious examples of Art Deco architecture in London. Built between 1926 and 1928, this building also demonstrates Egypt’s impact on Art Deco in the late 1920s. 

Featuring feather details, cat statues, pillars and primary colours, the former cigarette factory is now used as offices; however, the design elements are all considerations of the buildings original purpose. For example, Carreas Cigarettes used a black cat on their packaging, so the two bronze statues of the cat Goddess Bastet have more meaning than simply echoing Egyptian design. 

However, as celebrated as the building was upon erecting, the style became drastically unpopular in the late 1950s and early 1960s leading to many of the features being removed or covered in 1961. This included removing the cat statues and boxing in the pillars, and the building was then used as offices. But in 1996, architects were commissioned to restore the building back to its former glory, cats and all.

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Du Cane Court 

Du Cane Court London

Located in Balham, South London, Du Cane Court was built between 1935 and 1938 and designed by Walter Crittall. The apartment block retains many of its original features, and over the years, many famous and well-known people have lived there.

It has a colourful history too. Due to its location in London, the building was used to house many members of the civil service during World War II, and remarkably made it through the war unscathed, despite its sheer size and its location being targeted as a bombing area. 

Legend has it that the reason the iconic building managed to escape a rubbly end was because Hitler planned to utilise the building as his headquarters upon successful invasion of the UK. 

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Chiswick Park Station

Chiswick Park Station

Chiswick Park Station is another example of Holden’s work for the London Underground. Built between 1931 and 1932, the circular design on the building replaced a previous demolished station. The building received a Grade II status in 1987. 

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Daily Express

Daily Express Fleet Street London

Headquarters to the Daily Express Newspaper, this Grade II building located on London’s thriving Fleet Street features classically art deco curved corners and a black, shiny façade. The flamboyant interior showcases a stark contrast to this, with gold and silver wall decorations, eccentric lamps and swirling floor designs. 

Built in 1932, the exterior was designed by Ellis and Clark and the flamboyant lobby by Robert Atkinson. The entire building received a refurbishment in 2000 by John Robertson Architects. Click here for further reading about the refurbishment.

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Battersea PowerStation 

Battersea Power Station London

The unmissable structure of Battersea PowerStation is one of the most iconic in London. The former coal power station sits on the south of the river and was built between 1929 and 1933, with an additional, identical factory being erected after the war in the 1950s. The PowerStation ceased operation in 1975.

It’s now a Grade II listed building, and although it’s no longer in use as a power station, the building has attracted a huge amount of interest from property developers looking to restore and re-purpose the building. From Summer 2014 to summer 2016, the building and the land surrounding is will undergo an extensive refurbishment, which will see the site include luxury apartments, shopping centre and restaurants. You can find out more about the refurbishment here.

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Tooting Bec Lido 

Tooting Bec Lido, London

It wasn’t just buildings that the Art Deco movement affected. Tooting Bec Lido is just one example of how the style impacted other areas of architecture. Many lido’s in London and further afield in the UK were designed in the Art Deco Style, but some were also re-designed once the style became fashionable. 

This was the case for Tooting Bec Lido; after being built in 1906, it was re designed in the 1930s to reflect the fashionable Art Deco style. 

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Daily Telegraph Building

Daily Telegraph Building

The former Daily Telegraph building joins that of the Daily Express on Fleet Street, London. Built in 1928 and designed by Elcock, Sutcliffe & Tait, this building is notable due to the ornate art deco style clock and the giant order located on the face of the building. These features really draw on the Egyptian style that so heavily influenced much of Art Deco design. 

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BBC Broadcasting House 

BBC Broadcasting House

Headquarters to the BBC, the broadcasting house is an iconic building in the centre of London. The rounded, stone exterior of the main structure is best know, and was opened in 1932. The glass panelled extension was added as part of a major refurbishment in 2005. 

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Victoria Coach Station

Victoria Coach Station London

As the largest coach station in London, Victoria Station is often the first structure visitors see when they arrive in the capital city. Its linear design and curved edges are iconic in the art deco community, and in September 2014, the building was awarded a Grade II listing. 

Designed and built by Wallis, Gilbert and Partners in 1932, Victoria Coach Station has had many different owners. From its initial commissioners, London Coastal Coaches, to its current owners today, Transport for London, the coach station was one of the first transport buildings to adapt the art deco style. It’s also one of the few Art Deco buildings still serving its original purpose, with 10 million passengers travelling through the building each year. 

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Notable Art Deco Architects 

  • Charles Holden 

As the architect behind Senate House, many London underground stations and other notable buildings in the capital, Charles Holden is a key influencer on Art Deco in London and beyond. Born in Bolton in 1875, he is world renowned for his modernist designs and even has designs in France and Belgium. 

  • Wallis Gilbert and Partners 

Responsible for many Art Deco designs in Britain in the late 1920s and early 1930s, this architectural partnership are well known in the Art Deco community. They worked on some of Britain’s most notable Art Deco structures including the Hoover Factory. 

  • Raymond Hood

Although born in America, Raymond Hood is celebrated worldwide for his Art Deco architecture. Many of his buildings stand tall in New York, however his style also graced the cityscape of London, often when collaborating with other architects. This includes Ideal House. 

Where to learn more about Art Deco Architecture:

There are many communities in London and the UK that celebrate the variety of Art Deco buildings that you can find. For further reading and more information on the buildings we’ve featured in this article, see the below list of resources:

Senate House Events 

As a prominent Art Deco building in London, Senate House provides you with a rare opportunity to experience the elegance and wow factor of original Art Deco sophistication.The opulent and grand architecture lends itself to every type of event, whether it’s conferencing, dinner dancing, parties or weddings. We have a team of expert event co-ordinators in house who help plan and execute events to your specification. Get in touch with our team today and find out how we can help you pull off the perfect event.   

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