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Description: London Underground Headquarters Including St James's Park Underground Station
Date Listed: 9 January 1970
English Heritage Building ID: 208839
OS Grid Reference: TQ2960079486
OS Grid Coordinates: 529600, 179486
Latitude/Longitude: 51.4995, -0.1343
09-JAN-70 London Underground Headquarters includ
ing St James's Park Underground Station
(Formerly listed as:
LONDON REGIONAL TRANSPORT HEADQUARTERS)
Offices and underground railway station. Built 1927-9 to the design of Charles Holden, as the headquarters of Underground Electric Railways of London Ltd (UERL) under Lord Ashfield and Frank Pick, later London Transport. Sculpture by Jacob Epstein, Eric Gill, Allan Wyon, Henry Moore, Samuel Rabinovitch, Eric Aumonier and Alfred Gerrard. Ground floor refurbishment in 1989 by Manser Associates. Late-C20 extension to NW is not of special interest.
MATERIALS: Steel-frame encased in concrete and faced in Portland stone ashlar.
PLAN: Cruciform in plan, built on a tapering corner site. It was planned to maximise daylight and street-facing views in each office and so that the tower did not overwhelm the modest character of the streetscape. The planning owes much to Holden's earlier work on hospital buildings, where issues of cross-ventilation were paramount and courtyard plans discouraged. The General Motors Building in Detroit, which Holden's partner Pearson photographed on a trip to America, also influenced the design.
EXTERIOR: The building has two storeys covering the whole site, over the centre of which rises the 175 ft (53.3m) tower, with four spur wings carried out to the perimeter. The topmost stages of the tower have north and south porticoes in antis and a clock face to the east. The spur wings rise five storeys above the second floor with splayed corners and with three further storeys stepped back in stages. The wings are braced by diagonal arches at seventh floor level, screening re-entrant square courts at each corner of the tower.
The scale and massing are American in inspiration, albeit carefully calculated to take into account London's building restrictions. Each wing rises to exactly 80ft (the limit imposed by the 1894 Building Act) with the pitch of its set-back attic storeys at the maximum permitted. The tower was much higher, of course, but located in the centre of the building so as to neither reduce the daylight of neighbouring buildings nor disrupt the streetscape; thus the restrictions were wavered. The building was constructed using the Truscon reinforced concrete system, developed at the start of the C20 in Detroit and exported to Britain from 1907. In addition to the extensive reinforced concrete piles required as foundations, massive steel girders support the building where the District line railway runs beneath it. Yet for all its modernity in construction, size and form, there are classical references in the architectural detailing and the materials on show are traditional. The ground floor has a screen of blue-grey Norwegian granite baseless columns in antis with block capitals in black Belgian marble; the ground floor windows have bronze frames, ventilation grilles, and area railings. The upper floor windows are shallowly-recessed, vertical casements with steel frames and glazing bars, reminiscent of Georgian sash windows in their proportions and glazing bar arrangement. The rainwater hoppers bear the figures 'U 1929 D' set into the Underground roundel symbol. There are two foundation stones and original City of Westminster street signs set into the ground floor of the building. Arts and Crafts principles underpin the craftsmanship: the stonework is fine-sanded in the main, but the string courses are picked out with vertical chisel marks, which emphasise the handwork of the stone carver. The stonework is grouted in Portland cement to prevent staining.
SCULPTURE: The building displays ten sculptures: two figures representing Day and Night, by Jacob Epstein, and eight figurative reliefs that represent the Winds for each cardinal point. Day is located eight feet above the secondary entrance portal on the south-east façade; Night is in the same position on the northeast facade. The two figures are in an avant-garde style, with the sculptor rejecting the formality of the classical tradition for a more primitive idiom, recalling ancient Assyrian works. Epstein deliberately avoided the beautification of the sculptures, and created a stark contrast between the two works to illustrate the extremes of day and night. The sculpture representing Day takes the form of a seated smiling adult male with a young boy, whose body is twisted unnaturally to allow his penis to become a central focal point of the work. The adult male has a strong physical presence, aggressive facial expression, and surrealistic elongated arms. This superbly contrasts with the female figure with child representing Night. The shrouded woman has a mournful expression and is cradling a frail looking child, evoking a darker, more solemn mood.
The other sculptors, led by Eric Gill, created eight reliefs representing the Winds on pediments above the sixth floor on each of the eight principal faces of the cruciform building. The Tower of Winds in Athens, an ancient octagonal clock tower featuring eight freezes representing the wind deities, was the loose inspiration. Although completed individually by six different sculptors, the core elements of the design are uniform. All eight are nude figures of different genders, positioned horizontally and facing the direction of the wind that they represent. Gill's three works (two female, one male) show the influence of English and French medieval religious works, which contrast with the animated, sexually-charged poses celebrating bodily beauty, and are broadly representative of many of Gill's other works, such as his 1922 engraving 'The Nuptials of God'. They are located on the east side of the north wing, the east side of the south wing and the north side of the west wing. Aumonier's South Wind relief opts for a more formalised Art Deco arrangement, with a male figure carved with sharp geometric features and flowing lines (see Dreamland Cinema and East Finchley tube station for other listed examples of Aumonier's work). It is on the west side of the north wing. Gerrard also employs geometric shapes, in the forms of waves protruding from his female figure as she holds her hair. His relief is sculpted in a more abstract manner, albeit one that retains the formalised Art Deco style. It is on the west side of the south wing. Rabinovitch's relief on the south side of the east wing, also an elongated full-figured female nude, is more closely in keeping with the Art Deco tradition, with its strong lines and monumental appearance. Wyon's East Wind relief, located on the south side of the west wing, is a dynamic and more naturalistic depiction of a male figure squeezing a balloon. Of particular note is Henry Moore's female relief representing the West Wind on the north side of the east wing, an early work by the esteemed sculptor and his first public commission. Compared to the other sculptures it has a greater three dimensional quality and appears to be rejecting Art Deco design, prefiguring the rise of modernism and Moore's ultimate dominance of 20th century British sculpture.
PUBLIC ARCADES: Ground floor is traversed by three Travertine marble-clad and paved arcades, accessed from the street-facing sides of the building (north, east and south). The three arcades originally met in a central hall, where access to London Transport's offices was through swing doors outside the lifts. In 1988-9, two shops in the northern arcade and an office in the east arcade were removed and an additional diagonal arcade inserted in their place, skirting around the central hall. The same was inserted between the east and south arcades. This provided a new, albeit more circuitous, public route through the building and permitted the central hall to be closed to the public and converted to a foyer for London Underground's offices.
The original arcades retain their ornamental ventilation grilles in a geometric design, wall clocks set into a low-relief sunburst in Travertine marble, polygonal Travertine-clad columns, and coffered ceilings. The shop fronts and the bronze up-lighting, in an interwar period style, date to 1988-9. The skylights in the new diagonal arcades are original features, which previously lit back-of-house areas, but the marble cladding was inserted in 1988-9 to match the original arcades.
OFFICES: The office foyer, formerly in the public part of the building, retains its bronze-framed information boards, which were originally for public benefit. These included a clock, a London Underground map display case, and operational dials mounted on a bronze trimmed glass panel displaying the frequency of services on individual tube lines. The Deco-style polygonal desk in cream marble with black banding was added in 1988-9. The coffered ceiling and inset glass lamps are original. The doors to the original lift lobby were removed at this time and possibly reused elsewhere in the ground floor. Adjoining the foyer is the hall of the building's principal staircase. The stair has a flat, polished bronze handrail supported by a lacquered cast-iron balustrade, which terminates in a square Travertine pier. The balusters are in a distinctive design, which is repeated throughout the building: a stylised stalk with leaves, loosely Egyptian in inspiration. In the stair hall is a memorial to Lord Ashfield with a bronze medallion portrait and an inscription which reads simply 'The Rt Hon. Lord Ashfield 1874-1948 Creator of London Transport'. The hall is Travertine-lined and has a shallow coffered ceiling and low-relief carved medallions with sunbursts in the Travertine above the doors.
In the upper floors, the tower functions as a service core. Each landing has Travertine floor and walls, a decorative cornice and coved ceiling. On some floors, the landing has a window seat in a bay; all the landings have a ceiling-mounted clock, a pedestal set into an alcove (possibly for the display of flowers) and a white marble drinking fountain. The main stair is located off the landing to the south-east and is reinforced concrete faced with terrazzo, with a narrow strip of black-and-white on each tread. The stair has a bronze handrail supported on a lacquered cast-iron balustrade in the aforementioned design. In the upper flights, the stairwell's walls are lined with white tiles with edging in green, black and white. To the west of the landing are two pairs of lifts, modern replacements of the originals in a period design; the fluted bronze surrounds and floor indicator panels are original. Next to the lifts on each floor is a Cutler mailing chute, a system for transporting mail within the building. To the south-west of the landing are the WCs, all with modern fittings.
In each wing is a large open-plan office with a double row of columns down the centre. Floors are in teak or granolithic coating. Full-height steel partitions originally divided the space into individual units, each having a minimum of two window bays and independently-controlled heating. None of the original partitions survive, but the flexibility of the plan continues to be exploited and various arrangements are currently in use, some open plan some cellular. Some floors have small antechambers between the landing and the wings which are clad in Travertine and have internal bronze windows; these may have originally been porter's lodges. There are minor tile-lined staircases at the end of the east and west wings, with metal stick balusters and timber handrails. Fire safety was an important consideration in large offices in the period, and fire escape staircases were a requirement. At 55 Broadway, a building without a rear elevation, Holden housed these in the recessed angles of the towers where they are hidden behind the bracing walls. The majority of the original internal doors survive, made of walnut with copperlite glazing and bronze fittings. Most of the floors have been carpeted, but the original teak floorboards may survive underneath.
The east wing of the seventh floor contains the boardrooms and the décor is different here. A walnut-panelled spinal corridor leads to the large boardroom, an elongated octagonal shape, at the end of the wing. This has walnut panelling to dado height, walnut panelled doors, a shallow-moulded coffered ceiling, a clerestory with decorative metal grilles, and French windows leading to a stone balcony with balusters in the same design as those on the staircase. The fireplace in the boardroom, shown in historic photographs, has been removed. Off the corridor are offices, some containing original fireplaces. All the office doors are walnut with bronze fittings and some retain the original lettering painted in gilt and overlights with bronze glazing bars.
ST JAMES'S PARK UNDERGROUND STATION: 55 Broadway also incorporates St James's Park Station, which has a concourse running east-west under the building reached by the original stair, in steel and timber with a polished timber handrail. The tube station retains its original enamel and timber station and directional signs, one of the few instances on the network where these have not been replaced by replicas; these are identifiable by their serial numbers in the bottom left-hand corner. The platform walls are lined with vitreous enamel white/grey field tiles, with lead glazed ceramic tile details (in blue, black and green) that form panels for both station signs and advertising poster positions. This was a standard finish in stations of the 1920s, but is now a rarity on the Underground system. On the westbound platform is a timber kiosk, originally WH Smith, and now used as a display case. Both platforms have original timber benches. The station ticket hall is located in one wing of the Travertine marble-clad and paved arcade on the ground floor of 55 Broadway.
HISTORY: 55 Broadway was built as the headquarters of the Underground Electric Railways of London Ltd (UERL), which under its chairman Lord Ashfield and vice-chairman Frank Pick was gradually taking control of London's various privately-run public transport companies. The new building served as both offices and as publicity for the UERL, which was taken into public ownership and became London Transport in 1933.
55 Broadway was the tallest office building in London when it opened, and won the RIBA London Architecture Medal in 1929. The building featured the stylised advertising posters commissioned by London Transport in the mid-C20, and on decorative tiles by Harold Stabler used in tube stations. 55 Broadway came to symbolise London Transport, a branding policy promoted by Frank Pick, whose prowess as an administrator was complemented by belief in the importance of good design in everyday things. It is to Pick that credit is due for the legacy of well-designed and consistent typefaces, direction signs, posters and station buildings on London's transport network. Pick also had a decisive influence on the design of 55 Broadway. He rejected the neo-classical design for a new HQ by Sir Albert Richardson and instead appointed Adams, Holden and Pearson, who had never designed an office block. He later made detailed comments on Holden's designs. In Architect and Building News in 1930 Pick 'stated that the building was plainer than the designers intended it to be ... because he and his co-directors, being afraid of ornament, were a repressing influence.' Certainly the classical details on Holden's early drawings for 55 Broadway and on a wooden model were omitted in the final design. These include rustication to the ground floor, a projecting centrepiece with a statue in a niche above the main entrance to the east wing, and stone caskets on parapets at each of the canted corners of the wings.
Charles Holden (1875-1960) trained with CR Ashbee and then joined the practice of H. Percy Adams, a specialist in hospital design, with whom he entered into partnership in 1907. Before and during the First World War, Holden was not committed to any particular style, designing, for example, the Arts and Crafts-inspired Belgrave Hospital for Children in 1899-1901 and the mannerist British Medical Association (now Zimbabwe House) in 1906-8. After the war, he designed sixty-seven cemeteries for the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission; these show the growing simplification of his work. By this time his practice was known as Adams, Holden, and Pearson, but Holden largely worked alone on the University of London's Senate House (listed Grade II* and rivalling 55 Broadway in its height), which he designed in 1932, and on projects for London Underground. In the mid-1920s Holden designed façades for stations on the Northern Line extension from Clapham South to Morden and new stations at either end of the Piccadilly line. After the Second World War, Holden devised schemes for the reconstruction of Canterbury and London. None was carried through faithfully, but Holden had, through 55 Broadway, Senate House, and the tube stations, already left a more enduring mark on London than any architect of his generation.
Having admired Jacob Epstein's highly-controversial sculpture on Percy Adams' British Medical Association building, Holden commissioned ten sculptures for 55 Broadway from Epstein and six other prominent sculptors: Eric Gill, Allan Wyon, Henry Moore, Samuel Rabinovitch, Eric Aumonier and Alfred Gerrard. Holden's brief required the figures to be 'carved direct in the stone without the mechanical means of reproduction'. The style of the sculpture and its graphic nudity led to accusations that Epstein was contributing to what Ezra Pound had dubbed a 'cult of ugliness'. Sir Reginald Blomfield, one of Holden's fellow War Graves Commission architects, lamented 'bestiality still lurks beyond the surface of our civilisation, but why grope about for it in the mud' in a letter to the Manchester Guardian. The ensuing public furore led to calls to remove the sculptures, which were resisted by Holden and Frank Pick, who offered to resign over this issue. The campaign did not succeed, aside from the removal of a section of the penis on Day, and the sculptures remained unaltered and in their original position. Pick retained his post. 55 Broadway was one of a series of battlegrounds for artistic freedom in Britain in the first half of the C20.
55 Broadway was damaged during an air raid in the Second World War, the west wing receiving a direct hit which was later repaired. In 2010, 55 Broadway remained the offices of Transport for London (a descendant of London Transport). The only major refurbishment occurred in 1989 when Manser Associates rearranged the ground floor arcades to create a secure foyer for the offices. The work was done with particular attention to the design and materials of the original.
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: 55 Broadway (including St James's Park Station) is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:
* exceptional architectural interest: a milestone in C20 design signalling the influence of America on British architecture
* authorship: designed by Charles Holden, one of Britain's great C20 architects, and arguably his best building
* use of materials: a steel-framed building faced in Portland stone with subtle variations in treatment, and richly-decorated with Travertine marble inside
* planning interest: London's first office 'skyscraper', 55 Broadway heralded the epoch of tall steel-framed office buildings
* historical associations: with Lord Ashfield and Frank Pick, who created London's unified and comprehensive underground railway system. 55 Broadway came to symbolise London Transport in contemporary advertising sponsored by Pick
* sculpture: a showcase of pre-Second World War British sculpture with the foremost artists of the period represented, including Jacob Epstein, Eric Gill and Henry Moore
* intactness: St James's Park Station is one of the most unaltered Underground stations on the network and 55 Broadway retains its marble-lined arcades, lobby and landings and seventh floor boardrooms.
This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.