London has some wonderful examples of art deco in theatres, hotels, stores, factories, monuments, and a wide range of interpretations from the Egyptian Carreras Cigarette Factory to the Streamline Moderne Daily Express Building.
It is surely one of the best places in the world to see a fantastic variety of art deco.
A style developed between the wars which seemed to reflect the mood of the times: a new beginning, simplicity, brightness and confidence in the future.
The name derives from the 1925 “Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs Industriels et Modernes” in Paris. Here was a new coherence of sleek design encompassing not just architecture but fittings such as lighting and handrails, fabrics and furnishings.
The look was characterised on the one hand by geometrical shapes, inspired by cubism, where features were reduced to minimal shapes such as the stepped ziggurat which lends itself to stepped rooflines and decorative features. Often a vertical strip of glass will be used in place of separate windows, especially in stairwells, to simplify the appearance.
The Streamline Moderne version of art deco was epitomised in car design as a visual representation of speed; akin to the cubism-inspired geometric art deco but with curves rather than angles, and a studied simplicity: sleek and aerodynamic without unnecessary ornamentation.
In November 1922, Howard Carter discovered the tomb of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Valley of Kings in Egypt. It fired the public imagination and art deco buildings sometimes based their whole look on an Egyptian temple. This was visually different to the cubism-inspired geometrical art deco but is no less characteristic of the times.
The simplicity of much of the architectural design was echoed in the favoured colour schemes: high contrast often with silver-toned highlights or vibrant primary contrasting colours such as green and orange. The use of chrome and large expanses of black was particularly effective in Streamline Moderne.
A bold style, impossible to ignore; optimistic, forward-looking, modern – a break from florid art nouveau and the strictures of Victorian revivalist architecture. This was a true new look to suit the new age of optimism. Though bright, the colourful schemes were never overpowering, being symmetrically employed and often on large expanses of white stone. Other common features are stone or metal bas reliefs, stepped columns, window and door embrasures, and decorative iron work in gates and fences was also often used – variations on the stylised sunburst and cloud were popular.
Hyde Park Corner
Architect: Charles Sargeant Jagger, 1925
In contrast to earlier memorials – some of which can be seen close by – this focusses on the ordinary fighting man. The bronze sculptures are informal and include a dead soldier covered with a draped greatcoat and with his helmet lying on his chest. The bas reliefs also depict the harsh experience of war at the front. The plinth is ziggurat in style.
Hampstead Rd, Camden Town, London NW1
Architects: M.E and O.H Collins with A.G Porri, 1928
Now Greater London House.
Completely Egyptian inspired with two magnificent black cats flanking the entrance, though possibly only one of these is original. Carreras used to produce the Black Cat brand of cigarettes.
There are several features which serve to simplify the look of this large building: tall, colourful, closed papyrus columns extending over several floors, vertical slashes in the windowed stairwells, architectural framing around the stairwells and several floors of windows. These all help to simplify the architecture by disguising the multiple floors and focussing on the white and coloured fabric of the building.
135–41 Fleet Street, London, EC4
Architects: Elcock and Sutcliffe with Thomas Tait, 1928
The central columned part of the building is surrounded by a scallop frame and windows, those on the left and right set in a zigzag fashion, but here there is no long drop of glass which is a feature I always like to see.
The scalloped roofline is stepped in a classic art deco ziggurat style. The fluted columns have stepped, fluted capitals but still rather too close too classical a version of art deco for me.
A beautifully coloured clock stands out from the facade which has panels of swallows - a popular symbol of summer in art deco.
A bas relief panel over the main entrance depicts winged Mercury over a stylised map of the world, centred on the UK. Mercury is the messenger of the gods - an apt symbol for a newspaper building.
It's a rather heavy-looking building with more mixed decorative effects than I like.
Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, London, SE1 9PH
Architect: Albert Moore, 1928
When Liebig Extract of Meat Company bought the original buildings they decided that their refurbishment would include a tower design incorporating illuminated advertising signs for Oxo. This wasn't acceptable to the planning authorities, though, and permission for this aspect was refused.
The final design for the tower featured a set of three vertical windows on each of the four sides which, coincidentally, spell OXO. When illuminated the OXO windows can be seen for many miles. The planners must have been very amused by the audacity of the design to allow it to pass!
On the corner of Argyll Street and Great Marlborough Street, London, W1
Architects: Raymond Hood and C. Gordon Jeeves, 1929
The striking polished black granite building has contrasting colourful decoration around doors, windows and along the roofline. The roofline is again stepped in ziggurat fashion.
The building has more than a hint of art nouveau in the curves and foliage in the decoration around the main entrance. To me this is a bit of a crossover building.
The Strand, London, WC2
Architect: Howard Robertson, 1930
Reopened 10th October 2010 after extensive refurbishment the hotel has 94 art deco style rooms ad 174 Edwardian. The famous polished steel sign was protected during the renovations.
The new art deco style glass fountain in the Savoy Court entrance was commissioned from Lalique. The entrance to the art deco Savoy Theatre is also here on the right hand side. The Savoy cocktail book of 1930 is classic art deco design.
409-412 The Strand, London, WC2
Architect: Ernest Schaufelberg, 1930
Very modern looking black minimalist art deco with octagonal geometric design on the facade. The look is retained in some of the lobby fittings such as the booking windows with classic art deco script.
17 Wilton Road, Victoria, London, SW1V 1LL
Architects: E. Wamsley Lewis with W.E. Trent, 1930
Portland stone with striking vertical and horizontal banding, a very typical style often seen on radios of the time.
Inside there is an art deco colour scheme of red, green and black with silver highlights, and some art deco fixtures and decoration.
Two bas-relief metal panels (Newbury Abbot Trent, 1930) on either side of the entrance depict an audience watching a film and responding to the on-screen action. Alongside are a lovely Charlie Chaplin sculpture and an Exit sign carved into the stonework.
161-169 Essex Rd London N1
Architect: George Coles, 1930
Originally a cinema, then a bingo hall, this beautiful ceramic tiled building is now boarded up and, seemingly, unused. The coloured ceramic facade is protected by wire mesh and it looks in reasonable shape at the moment.
In the Egyptian style with colourful closed papyrus columns, pyramid and flower decoration. The pylon style of the building is echoed in the window embrasures. A feeling of depth is given by the two central columns being shorter than the two outside columns.
121-128 Fleet Street, London, EC4
Architects: Ellis and Clarke with Sir Owen Williams, 1930, with interiors designed by Robert Atkinson.
This is a stunning example of Streamline Moderne. The exterior of this beautiful minimalist art deco building is of black vitrolite (pigmented glass), clear glass and chromium highlighting.
A nod to the ziggurat can be seen in the stepped layers of the roofline, though this version is in pure art deco curves. One of my favourite London art deco buildings.
It is only open to the public one weekend a year but you can see into the wonderful art deco entrance hall with its clock in a gleaming chrome surround and ripple lighting.
Battersea Park Road, SW8
Architects: Sir Giles Gilbert Scott with Halliday & Agate, 1930
Austere but pure art deco in its symmetric, geometrical simplicity: stepped brickwork rather than stonework and ziggurart style to the four corner towers leading to the chimneys. Long vertical ribbing in the corner brickwork and shorter vertical ribbing on all facades.
Extremely difficult to get close to this building, and the closer you get, the more derelict it appears to be. The whole of the roof over the turbine halls was removed in the 1980s to allow access for redevelopment which was halted due to lack of funds. This has left the interior exposed to the elements.
Western Avenue, Greenford, UB6 8BW
Architects: Wallis Gilbert & Partners, 1931
A hugely coherent design with stepped columns almost the height of the building enclosed within a geometric framework. Decorative ironwork gates and fencing, vertical drop windows alongside stairwells and a flamboyantly decorated entrance. Another stunning building and my favourite.
Everything in this building is created with great attention to detail to fit into the overall design; the entrance, as the area which would be most closely scrutinised, is particularly detailed, the light fittings set into the wall on either side are set in specially made mounts and perfectly set geometrically within the whole, the gates proudly bear the H for Hoover surmounting classic symmetric art deco ironwork.
When purchased by Tesco the building was in a poor state and they embarked on an extensive but sensitive renovation in the early 1990s.
The corner stairwells are particularly beautiful. Front and side faces have elegant strips of green framed glass dropping the length of the stairwell, beautifully stepped at the bottom of the side expanse of glass. The corner, too, has framed, curved windows behind corner columns. A fabulous design which floods the stairwell with natural light.
Even a small side entrance is completely coherent with the design of the building.
The beautiful canteen building to the west has inward curving windows to a central recessed portion, itself having angled windows and decorative vertical fins - several classic elements of art deco design.
The 1990s Tesco store at the rear was constructed to blend in with the existing architecture.
Across the road to the west is a small parade of shops, also in the art deco style, and rather fun, if a little run down.
Portland Place, London, W1A 1AA
Architect: George Val Myer, 1932
Portland stone building with bas relief panels by Eric Gill, and his controversial sculpture above the entrance of Prospero sending Ariel out into the world. The two panels on the west front show "Ariel between wisdom and gaiety" and "Ariel hearing celestial music".
The BBC motto "Nation Shall Speak Peace unto Nation" is incorporated in a stylised bas relief of the coat of arms on the west front.
The facade of the entrance is narrow, resembling a clock tower - the sculpture below the clock of wings on either side of an hour glass represents winged time.
63-97 Kensington High Street, W8 5SE
Architect: Bernard George, 1933
Now multiple shops.
This Portland stone building has beautiful clean lines and there are some wonderful art deco features: long vertical glass drops on the towers, zigzag tops to the towers, ziggurat roofline, bas relief metalwork panels.
At either side of the base of the illuminated towers are carvings in the stone representing various modes of transport and the kinds of goods they might bring to be sold in the store.
The windows are separated by metalwork decorated with bas relief animals and objects.
High St Kensington
Architect: Bernard George, 1933
Now multiple shops.
Right next door to Barkers, the same architect again uses simplicity of design in a Portland stone framework emphasising long vertical lines. Fabulous bas reliefs by C.J. Mabey on the themes of labour and technology, the ironwork in between the reliefs is also very fine but difficult to see from street level.
Above the present day shop windows and entrances are lovely cast aluminium friezes of animals and birds by Walter Gilbert and around the side a stone bas relief of bees, hives and bears.
In the 1970s this became the iconic Biba store.
Avenell Rd, Highbury
Architects: CW Ferrier & Major William Binnie, 1936
This is a fabulous stand which was preserved and redeveloped into flats when Arsenal moved to the Emirates stadium just down the road in 2006.
The building is very harmoniously designed in both architecture and colours of red, white and black. It is faced in red and white – the Arsenal colours – and the entrance gates to the main doors carry the Arsenal crest in art deco style. The crest also appears on the exterior walls in red on white and the cannon above the entrance is echoed in the flooring of the foyer. Classic art deco symmetric vertical drops in the window designs with stepped embrasures.
Charterhouse Square, EC1
Architects: Guy Morgan, 1936
Beautiful curved facade and ziggurat roofline. Classic art deco curved base to the steps leading to the entrance and cloud ironwork. Better known as Hercule Poirot's apartment block!
Architects: H. Weedon & A. Mather, 1937
Extreme minimalist angular art deco in striking black granite cladding.
Architects: E.A. Stone and T.R. Somerford, 1938.
Now Vue cinema.
A bas relief panel by Bainbridge Copnall in each corner depict the spirits of sight and sound, flanking a concave facade with a central tower. A simple but effective design, somewhat spoiled by the cylindrical corner tower.
Buckingham Palace Rd, SW1
Architect: Albert Lakeman, 1939
Now National Audit Office.
Tall central clock tower set in a concave facade with long vertical drop of windows. Flanked by square towers with fluted column embrasures. The beautiful sculpture "Speed Wings over the World" over the entrance is by E.R. Broadbent.