55 Broadway was officially opened on 1st December 1929. Designed by Charles Holden as the new headquarters for the London Transport Board, it replaced the previous hodge podge of buildings the board used in the same area. The new building brought together different departments under one roof, allowing faster communication and creating a corporate atmosphere. As well uniting the company under one roof, the building would also contain St James Park tube station. Holden, and his firm, Adams, Holden & Pearson, were appointed to the design in 1925, after an initial plan by Sir A.E. Richardson was rejected by LTB director Frank Pick for being too old fashioned.
The site chosen for the building was an awkward, asymmetrical plot, hemmed in by other buildings. To counteract these problems, Holden arranged the building in an irregular cruciform plan, with a long east-west axis and a shorter north-south one. The upper floors step up, getting smaller in floor area as it gets to the top. This allows natural light into each office, as well as allowing more light down to street level. The services such as lifts and ventilation were built into the central tower core.
Holden had previously specialized in the design of hospitals when he joined the firm of Henry Percy Adams (later to become Adams, Holden & Pearson) at the start of the 1900’s. This experience was to provide useful in creating the large, integrated design of 55 Broadway. Another influence on the design was that of the fifteen-storey General Motors Building in Detroit (1919-22) by Albert Khan, also designed to allow sunlight and air to each of the buildings numerous offices.
55 Broadway is constructed around a steel frame encased in concrete and then clad in stone. Portland Stone, a material Holden had used on a smaller scale for London Transport in his Northern Line Extension stations a few years earlier, was used from the 3rd floor upwards, with blue-green Norwegian granite for the first and second floor. Inside, flooring of Travertine limestone forms three paved public arcades and covers the staircases, with bronze used for the railings. Each floor contains a drinking fountain and an automatic mail chute, details picked up from American office designs of the time.
The exterior of the building was decorated with a range of sculptures, produced by a number of different artists. Reliefs depicting “The Four Winds” were sculpted by Eric Gill, Henry Moore, Alfred Gerrard, Eric Aumoinier and Sam Rabinowitcz. Jacob Epstein, who Holden had previously worked with on the British Medical Association building on The Strand and Oscar Wilde’s tomb in Paris, designed two sculptures, Day and Night, which proved controversial. Day in particular drew heavy criticism, with a campaign started to have it removed. Pick, despite his initial reservations to employing Epstein, offered to resign to loyalty to Holden, but it was refused. Eventually 1.5 inches was removed from the statue to appease the complainers.
When it opened, 55 Broadway was, at 176 ft the tallest building in London. The top 4 floors were kept unoccupied, as they were above the limit decreed by the 1894 London Buildings Act. The Observer newspaper called it “The Cathedral of Modernity”, and it was widely praised as the harbinger of English Modernism, balancing Arts and Crafts detailing with new building technology and American design.
It has served as the headquarters of the London Transport and then TFL for 90 years, but that time is drawing to a close. A 2015 plan by Tate Hindle to convert the building to flats and offices came to nothing, and in September this year TFL agreed a deal to sell the property to the Integrity International Group, who have not yet announced their plans for the building. 55 Broadway was Grade I listed in 2011, and so whatever its future, the building should stand as a marker of the journey of British architecture from Art and Crafts towards Modernism.
Charles Holden: Architect by Eitan Karol
Bright Underground Spaces by David Lawrence
Buildings of England: London 6 City of Westminster by Nikolaus Pevsner and Simon Bradley
The Jubilee Line is celebrating two anniversaries this year. First of all, it is 40 years since the line first opened, connecting Stanmore to Green Park. The second anniversary is that of the 1999 Extension, which extended the line from Westminster to Stratford. Not only did the line extend through the heart of the capital, into the newly built Canary Wharf and East London, but it also created a sequence of spectacular stations in the process. The Jubilee Line Extension stations; Westminster, Waterloo, Southwark, London Bridge, Bermondsey, Canada Water, Canary Wharf, North Greenwich, Canning Town, West Ham and Stratford; became the most feted since the heyday of Charles Holden in the early 1930’s.
Originally to have been called the Fleet Line, and to extend down to Lewisham, the Jubilee Line opened on 1st May 1979. The stations that made up the line were older stations inherited from other lines, such as the Bakerloo, whose services it replaced from Baker Street to Stanmore. Various extensions were planned over the next 20 years including through Surrey Docks and south to New Cross, and east through the former docklands (which would eventually happen as the Docklands Light Railway). A 1980s study group recommended extending the line through Westminster and on towards Stratford. This idea was given the go ahead in 1990 and construction began in December 1993, with a projected finish date of mid-1998. The new line eventually opened in stages between May and December 1999, with the eastern stations of North Greenwich, Canning Town, West Ham and Stratford coming into service on May 14.
The design of the 11 stations was overseen by Roland Paoletti, the British-Italian architect previously responsible for designing stations on Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway. Paoletti used a group of architects to design the stations, giving each practice one or two stations. The architects he chose, include some of the most famous in contemporary architecture; Foster + Partners, Michael Hopkins Architects and Alsop Lyall & Stormer; as well as practices who were lesser known at the time. Despite the diverse group of architects, the finished stations have a common design philosophy, and are recognizably part of the same line, something Charles Holden and Frank Pick achieved with their Piccadilly Line stations in the 1930’s.
The first station on the extension, Westminster, is also one of the most spectacular. Designed by Michael Hopkins Architects, the new station was built below Portcullis House, also designed by Hopkins. The station is made up of a vertical space, 128 feet deep. The concrete structural support columns, escalators and stairs are all left exposed, giving the space a dramatic, futuristic feel. At Southwark, designed by Richard McCormac of MJP Architects, the ticket hall has a 40 metre high wall in blue glass, designed by artist Alexander Beleschenko. Bermondsey designed by Ian Ritchie Architects has, like Westminster, a void down to the platform area, drawing in light from street level.
The design of Canada Water harks back to the era of Charles Holden stations like Arnos Grove and Chiswick Park, with its drum shaped ticket hall in glass, again allowing light down to the platform area. It was jointly designed by Ron Herron Associates, Bruno Happold and the Jubilee Line Extension Project architects. Next door is an integrated bus station (another throwback to the days of Holden and Frank Pick), designed by Eva Jiricna. Next along the line is Canary Wharf by Foster + Partners. The station is situated in a space 78 feet deep by 869 feet long, with once again light being directed to the platform areas via two curved canopies at either end of the station. The station is one of the busiest on the entire tube network, with over 50 million passengers in 2017 (another Jubilee Line station, Stratford is the busiest with 62 million).
Foster + Partners also designed North Greenwich bus station connecting to the tube station by Alsop Lyall & Stormer. The bus station features a curving glass roof supported by tree-like steel columns, whilst the tube station forsakes the usual JLE palette of grey and silver for a striking use of blue throughout. Beyond the final three stations on the line (Canning Town, West Ham and Stratford) is Stratford Market Depot by Wilkinson Eyre, the main train depot for the line extension, featuring an arched roof 328 feet wide by 524 feet long.
Despite the delay to opening and the cost running £1.5 billion over budget, in architectural terms the Jubilee Line Extension can be seen as a great success. The eleven stations, and attendant bus stations, ventilation shafts and depots form the most coherent London Underground project since Charles Holden’s Piccadilly Line extensions of the 1930’s. The use of the High Tech idiom, by architects such as Norman Foster and Michael Hopkins, has set a template for transport projects such as the also much delayed Crossrail project. As infrastructure projects grow more complicated, expensive and environmentally damaging to produce, we can look back on the Jubilee Line Extension as possibly one of the last great public combinations of form and function.
The Jubilee Line Extension by Kenneth Powell
The Barbican Estate welcomed its first residents in July 1969, with the completion of Speed House. The estate as a whole would not be completed until 1982 with the opening of the Barbican Arts Centre by Queen Elizabeth II, but it had been planned 20 years earlier. In the early 1960s the 35 acre site was a bomb site, having been hit by the Luftwaffe on 29 December 1940, destroying many houses, as well as the church of St Giles Cripplegate which now sits at the heart of the estate. Various plans to rebuild the area were put forward after the end of the war.
The partnership of Peter Chamberlin, Geoffry Powell and Christopher Bon had designed the nearby Golden Lane estate for the City of London in 1951, and they were asked to produce a plan for the vacant site. Their initial plan for 5000 residents was expanded to the whole site, and they were asked to incorporate the City of London School, the City of London School for Girls and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Their new plan was debated and revised through planning committees before finally being approved in November 1959. Construction finally began in 1963, with the first residential blocks opening in 1969, and being completed in 1975. Ove Arup & Partners were brought in as structural engineers for the project.
The dominant feature of the estate are the three towers; Cromwell, Lauderdale and Shakespeare. Each tower has three flats per floor, plus a penthouse flat, with each flat positioned in a corner of the triangular towers. The towers also feature striking projecting balconies which give the buildings their angular profile. Thirteen, terrace blocks of seven storeys take up much of the estate, many of them on podiums allowing circulation and light between different parts of the site. The flats in the terraces were designed to have flexible living space, with sliding doors used throughout. The estate also features two terraces of two storey houses and a row of townhouses.The concrete exterior of most of the buildings were bush hammered, giving the estate a monumental, weathered look. As important as the interiors and buildings, is the landscape design of the estate. The grounds feature gardens, trees, pools, water cascades, fountains and seating areas.
As well as the residential parts of the estate are many other sections. Blake Tower was built as a YMCA centre and is situated between the Barbican and Golden Lane estates. It has now been turned into a residential tower. Elsewhere there is a library, the City of London School for Girls, the Guildhall Centre for Music and Drama, the Museum of London (designed by Powell and Moya) and the Barbican Arts Centre. Also within the site is the Highwalk, part of the post war system of elevated walkways built in the City of London. Initially conceived as a way of separating pedestrians from traffic, and allowing people to move all over the Square Mile, only a small part was built with much already demolished. However a few fragments still survive, and some are being extended.
The estate is now home to around 4,000 people, and was Grade II listed in September 2001. Despite this listing and its recent popularity as brutalist architecture is reassessed, parts of the estate are under threat. The City of London School for Girls wants to expand their buildings, which would fill in one of the sub-podium spaces under Mountjoy House, destroying one of the estates many vistas, among other changes. You can read more about the expansion and sign a petition against HERE.
The Barbican is one of the great post war building projects in London and indeed Britain. It forms a great modernist village within the City of London, with its towers and terrace blocks overlooking the water features, arts centre and schools. Fifty years after the first residents moved in it has become a reminder of the ambitious and idealistic era of architecture. We hope that in 50 years time we will still be able to enjoy the vision of Chamberlin, Powell & Bon. As Nickolas Pevsner said “There is nothing quite like the Barbican in all of British architecture”.
For a more detailed history and appreciation of the Barbican Estate, visit the Barbican Living website