Friday, 29 January 2010

Steel House, Tothill Street SW1

I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to make of Steel House. When I first saw it I mentally wrote it off as a cheaply-built 1970s government department that had been clad in stone at the insistence of the planners, but in fact is was designed in 1936 by the respected firm of Burnet, Lorne & Tait. When you look, you see the uprights between the windows are recessed and moulded in a very 1930s way.
The facade is sprinkled with figures of Greek gods in stone, which gives a very rich impression but when you look harder you notice that there are only three designs. Was that in the interests of economy or was it some sort of statement?

The figures are of Vulcan, god of fire, appropriately for Steel House, Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders and Hercules killing the two-headed snake Lados (thanks to Capability Bowes for that identification).
I have drawn a complete blank over the maker, however. They are, frankly, not terribly good anyway.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Norway House, Cockspur Street SW1

Norway House was converted into the Norwegian Chamber of Commerce in 1920 by an architect from Stavanger called J.T. Westbye. It is pure historicist nationalism, using Norwegian granite and made-up Nordic details to hark back to a non-existent national architecture. As in Finland, architecture was seen as part of the process of separation from a foreign power, in this case Denmark.
Above the door is a statue of St Olaf, the first king of a united Christian Norway. It is by Gustav Laerum, a sculptor who is better known for satirical drawings.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Norway House, Cockspur Street SW1

When architects Metcalfe and Greig were designing 21-24 Cockspur Street as war broke out in 1914 there was no tenant for the building, so the carving on the front had to be generic Edwardian aspirational rather than illustrating the particular genius of the occupants. Louis Fitz (sic) Roselieb, the son of a sculptor from Hanover who had become a naturalised Briton, was brought in to do the job.
By the end of the War to End War, Roselieb had changed his name to Louis Frederick Roslyn and shortly afterwards the building got a facelift to transform it into Norway House.
Luckily, they left Roslyn's fine work untouched.
From left to right:
Commerce. A naked figure weighs out gold coins, with figures behind presenting goods to exotic foreign monarchs.
Transport. A substantially-built woman holds a steam locomotive, as ocean liners sweep over the waters behind.
Industry. A woman spins, sitting on a stool carved into a sphinx. Behind, a forest of factory chimneys belch smoke.
Communications. Mercury sits on a wall, holding a globe in one hand and his caduceus in the other. Behind, a Greek galley.
I will post the Norwegian alterations later.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Stationers' Hall, Ave Maria Lane EC4

Stationers' Hall is one of those secluded yards that make the City of London so attractive. The hall was rebuilt after the Fire and rebuilt on the existing footprint by Robert Mylne in 1800, who included these attractive panels in Coade stone.
The panels include four chubby little boys representing the seasons and their associated signs of the Zodiac. First is Spring, with Aries the ram, then Summer with Cancer the crab, Autumn with Libra the scales and Winter with Capricorn the goat.
The other panels have a fan with a lion's head and an urn with griffons. They don't seem to be particularly associated with the Stationers, so perhaps Mylne just popped round to Coade's Artificial Manufactory in Lambeth and ordered some designs out of the catalogue.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Saville Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue WC2 (now Odeon Covent Garden)

High on the plain brick facade of the Saville Theatre in 1931, Gilbert Bayes placed these medallions representing Art through the Ages, as a counterpoint to Drama through the Ages on the frieze below. The sequence starts with Egyptian Art, represented by King Tut, and finishes with the Victorian Period, a largish gent with a monocle and a topper. What school of art is represented by Pompadour is a bit of a mystery - the Art of Hairdressing, perhaps.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Southwark Bridge SE1

The pedestrian underpass at the south end of Southwark Bridge has been considerably brightened up by a line of engraved slates by Richard Kindersley depicting the old Frost Fairs that were held whenever the Thames froze over.
The engravings consist of a map with pictures of the stalls and Londoners falling over. The words are from various pamphlets printed on the ice.
The Frost Fairs came to an end when the climate warmed up a bit and Old London Bridge was demolished allowing free water flow. Eventually, the arrival of the power stations made absolutely sure the water would never cool down enough to freeze ever again. A pity.

Friday, 1 January 2010

80 Fetter Lane, EC4

The firm of Treadwell and Martin was one of those Division Two architects who never got the chance to build anything really big, but who nevertheless made a substantial contribution to London's streetscape with a large number of offices and pubs that always entertain.
At 80 Fetter Lane, built as part of Buchanan's Distillery, the firm adopted a rather jolly Dutch style with Art Nouveau leanings, very appropriate for gin. It was built in 1902 and Treadwell and Martin brought in their favourite architectural carvers, Daymond & Son, to produce a load of leafy volutes and, right at the top, a pair of stylish caryatids telemones or atlantes holding up a pediment with a shell. The caryatids telemones are perched uncomfortably on top of very narrow attached columns. Also they are very young for telemones, which are usually heavily bearded because they represent Atlas holding up the Earth.