120 Fleet St – Daily Express Building
Known by the journalists who worked there as the ‘black lubianca’ because of its uncomfortable interior spaces and their notoriously long working hours, the Daily Express building was built specifically to serve the needs of the newspaper by Sir Owen Williams, and completed in 1932. It’s exterior is covered in black vitriolite and has a lobby modelled on those of New York skyscrapers, and boy does it show!
The building lay empty for seven years after the paper moved its staff to a new site in 1989 but since then it has received a major refurbishment which includes the complete restoration of the lobby, returning it to its 1930s glory. The silver leaf on the ceiling has been reapplied, and the subtle uplighting which was an original feature of the space has also been reinstated. Despite its relatively modest size compared to its more modern contemporaries, to my mind the Daily Express lobby is without doubt the most breathtaking art deco interior in London.
The Maughan Library – King’s College
The Maughan Library building has been used by King’s College London since 2001 – previously it was occupied by the Public Record Office. It was designed by Sir James Pennethorne, one of John Nash’s acolytes, and took 47 years to complete, chiefly because of the very complex and innovative features which made this building the first fire-proof environment. The Government commissioned this building as a direct result of the fire that consumed Parliament fifteen years before and were determined that no more historical records and manuscripts would be lost to fire.
The Weston Room (or Rolls Chapel) is a delightful space, reminiscent of a medieval hall. It has a remarkable mosaic floor and a series of stained glass windows which commemorate the Masters of the Rolls (the second most senior judge in England, and traditionally the chief judge at the Court of Appeal). The other remarkable room in the building is the twelve-sided Round Room, made of cast iron with a domed ceiling with painted zinc decoration. It still retains its original slate shelves – the tables and reading lamps also date from the 19th century.
The Government Art Collection
Tottenham Court Road is well-known for its technology stores and camera shops, but it’s also home to one of the largest collections of art in the country. Housed in an unpreposessing warehouse on Queen’s Yard, the Government Art Collection holds the 13,500 paintings, sculptures and installations which the British Government has been continually acquiring since 1898. The main gallery space is currently showing works relating to the Thames by artists as diverse as John Virtue and Richard Wilson
At any given time two-thirds of the collection are outside the building, gracing the walls of Minister’s offices, ambassadorial residences, high commissions and so on across the world. The small team of 15 have recently been very busy as they are preparing to exhibit a large number of works at the Gas Hall in Birmingham, and they have also been engaged in helping to select the art which the incoming Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Maria Miller MP. Many arts commentators will be scrutinising what she picks out from the collection, as they try to discern what this might indicate about her views on the art world.