Do you happen to know where and when London got its first official skyscraper? I didn’t until a few moments ago.
Here it is – 55 Broadway SW1, built as the headquarters of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London, which later became London Transport and then Transport for London, and incorporates St James’s Park tube station, which still has original bronze and enamel signs and wooden benches. Not exactly huge is it – but then no building was back then and it was the tallest thing in town at the time. It was designed by Charles Holden and built between 1927 and 1929; in 1931 the building earned him the RIBA London Architecture Medal.
The building was honoured in 2011 with a rare Grade I; when it opened, it would have represented the height of sophistication and a move towards the development of modernism. As you can imagine anything that new would have courted public attention – and it did. Most of the outrage was focussed on the nude carvings which adorned its walls, by some of the greatest names in 20th-century British sculpture including Henry Moore, Jacob Epstein and Eric Gill.
These nudes provoked uproar when they were unveiled in the 1920s, with the poet Ezra Pound saying Epstein was contributing to “a cult of ugliness”. The sculpture above, Jacob Epstein’s Night & Day drew the most criticism. At the end of the furore it was the only artwork to be modified – but by just two inches.
Next time you are near St James’s Park Station – take a step back and admire this important landmark in British architecture – but try not to get run over while doing so!
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