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Description: The Adelphi
Date Listed: 24 July 2009
English Heritage Building ID: 505186
OS Grid Reference: TQ3041380577
OS Grid Coordinates: 530413, 180577
Latitude/Longitude: 51.5091, -0.1222
1900/1/10422 JOHN ADAM STREET
24-JUL-09 (Southeast side)
Also Known As: 5-6, ROBERT STREET
Purpose-built office building, 1936-8, by Stanley Hamp of Colcutt and Hamp. Later additions including additional two storeys of 1993, in a style and materials which broadly match the original building, as well as late-C20 alterations to the interior.
EXTERIOR: A steel-framed building with reinforced concrete and pot floors, clad in Portland stone on its riverside frontage with a mixture of buff brick and Portland stone to its land-facing elevations. It originally had eight storeys to John Adam Street, and a further three to the Embankment, where the ground level drops towards the river; two further storeys were added in 1993. The design and detailing of the building are strongly Moderne or Art Deco, a popular idiom for commercial buildings at this time. It is expressed here through the curved balconies to the river frontage, the bronze anodised bow windows within each recess, plentiful use of sculpture and the jazzy patternwork around the entrance portals, to the cornices and in the bronze railings and panels. Classical motifs are also deployed, for example the coffering under the colonnade and the carved putti in the side elevation door surrounds. Much of the carved stonework is figurative, but there are also four giant allegorical relief figures on the corners of the Embankment front, representing west-east: 'Dawn' (by Bainbridge Copnall), 'Contemplation' (by Arthur J Ayres), 'Inspiration' (by Gilbert Ledward), and 'Night' (by Donald Gilbert). In scale and visual power, the four allegorical figures along the riverside are impressive. They frame the advancing wings and their expressive gestures emphasise the verticality of the building. Carved under the direction of one of the foremost interwar British sculptors, Gilbert Ledward, the four sculptures are one of the few remaining architectural works by him in situ. Also important are the carved reveal panels to the entrance doors on John Adam Street by Newbury Abbot Trent depicting scenes of industry. Other sculpture includes carved coats of arms of UK cities at ground floor level to the east and west elevations, and smaller panels on a variety of themes including the signs of the zodiac, agriculture, and industry; the artists of these features are unknown, but their abundance, period character and considerable charm contribute to the interest of the building. The lettering above the entrances, in sans serif capital letters, was executed by George Manswell.
The building incorporates a roadway and promenade on the south side (known as Adelphi Terrace) with views across Victoria Embankment Gardens and the river. A garage undercroft takes advantage of the slope down to the Thames to allow vehicular access at street level from Savoy Place. The treatment of the drop in levels to the Embankment lends the building a particularly dramatic effect, with the two side wings projecting on square pillars over the upper road, which itself rests on a colonnade at Embankment level, running alongside Savoy Place. This multi-level arrangement was designed with the motor car in mind and is a characterful expression interwar modernity. The stone here is sharply-cut and unmoulded, in contrast to the more undulating upper floors with their curved balconies and bow windows. To Savoy Place, fluted classical columns and Deco bronzework illustrate the eclecticism that characterises the 1930s.
INTERIOR: Some elements of the original Art Deco interior survive, such as the pillars around the perimeter and Travertine marble surfaces in the main entrance lobby to John Adam Street. The Art Deco-style etched-glass panels are late-C20. The main east and west staircases survive with their Travertine marble cladding. A flat brass handrail is supported on decorative, black-painted posts. The secondary stairs are plainer, of concrete and with tubular steel handrails of the 1980s. The stairs from the foyer to garage level have been infilled. On the upper floor the offices are mainly open plan, and have been comprehensively stripped out and reworked since 1938. The main east-west corridor on each floor has been lost and the original north-south one on the John Street level compromised; the lift and service cores have been repositioned.
HISTORY: The construction of the office block required an act of Parliament (the Adelphi Act of 1933) due to the covenants on the site imposed by a statute of 1771 relating to the original development of the area by John, Robert, James and William Adam from 1772 (Adelphoi is Greek for brothers). The Act gave permission for the demolition of 24 Georgian houses built by the Adams, as well as placing conditions on the height of the new building and requiring the developers to maintain and widen public thoroughfares. The demolition, which occurred in 1936, was one of the C20's most notorious of an historic building and it invigorated a nascent preservation movement; the loss of the Adelphi is regarded as one of the watersheds of early conservation history. Houses in the two side streets (Adam Street and Robert Street) and in John Street (now John Adam Street) are all that survive of the original development. The new office building was originally called the New Adelphi, the building is now known simply as the Adelphi.
Collcutt and Hamp was a major early C20 architectural practice. Stanley Hamp was at first an assistant to the noted Victorian architect TE Collcutt, designer of the Imperial Institute in South Kensington and Wigmore Hall in the West End, before becoming a partner in 1906. Hamp's arrival secured the partnership's commercial and architectural success in the transition from the pre- to post-WWI eras; as A Stuart Gray describes, he 'introduced a quite extraordinary exuberance into the firm's work'. The Adelphi building also features the work of sculptors Bainbridge Copnall, Arthur J Ayres, Gilbert Ledward, and Donald Gilbert. Under the direction of Ledward, each carved in-situ one of the four figures at the bases of the two advancing river-front wings in Autumn 1937. Ledward is best-known for his sculpture of soldiers on the Guards Division Memorial in St James's Park, London (1926, Grade II) and was a Royal Academician who worked in bronze and stone. Copnall's most famous work is the figures on the façade of the Royal Institute of British Architects. The other sculptors are lesser-known but belong to an important transitory phase in British sculpture between the late C19 New Sculptors and the C20 modernists. Another sculptor at the Adelphi, whose work also representative of the high standard of interwar sculpture, is Newbury Abbot Trent, who carved the reveal panels to the main entrance.
'The Rebuilding of the Adelphi, Embankment, W.C.' The Builder (21 May 1937), 1079-1084
'The New Adelphi', The Builder (4 November 1938), 870-878
'The Adelphi', Architect and Building News (4 Nov 1938), 118-121
'Office Building, Adelphi' Architects' Journal (10 November 1938), 769-773
'The New Adelphi' Architecture Design and Construction (November 1938), 423-8
B Weinreb and C Hibbert (eds), 'The London Encyclopaedia' (1983, updated 2008 by John Keay and Julia Keay), 6-7
Catherine Moriarty, 'The Sculpture of Gilbert Ledward' (2003)
Nikolaus Pevsner and Simon Bradley, Buildings of England 'London 2: Westminster' (2003)
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The Adelphi is designated at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:
* special architectural interest for its sophisticated and dramatic composition, a double E-plan with full-height metal bow windows in each recession and wings projecting over a raised roadway;
* high standard of craftsmanship, materials and detailing throughout including Portland stone to the riverfront, rusticated brick elsewhere, and plentiful carved stone detailing;
* impressive integral sculpture scheme, in particular the four allegorical figures along the riverside front sculpted under the direction of Gilbert Ledward;
* part of a group of riverside buildings of considerable monumentality, from Shell-Mex House to Brettenham House of 1931-32 alongside Waterloo Bridge, with which the Adelphi has group value.
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.