Sunday, January 17, 2010

Western Avenue, London


Perivalediction (1)

When I visit London my route in and out of the capital city takes me past the former Hoover Factory in Perivale, and seeing its long pale façade on the way out, I know that I’ll soon be beyond the urban sprawl and on to the M40. For thousands of others every day, this great flash of white and green represents their farewell to London, and no doubt when the factory, designed by Wallis, Gilbert & Partners, opened in 1933 it was designed to make just such an impression.

The Hoover Factory was one of many built on the western fringes of London in the Art Deco style. From the road, we see the office section, but behind stretched a huge manufacturing building – eventually extended to about a quarter of a million square feet – where some 1,600 people assembled the vacuum cleaners that were already synonymous with the company’s name.

For Hoover, manufacturers of the latest cleaning devices, this factory was a perfect symbol. Its white walls suggested cleanliness and hygiene; its flashes of coloured decoration implied that the company's products were stylishly designed; its big windows created light, airy spaces inside, showing that modern workers could work in modern comfort.


Gliding past along Western Avenue, one takes all this in, but stop and look at the details and it gets even better: the great cinematic sweep of the window above the entrance; the artful arrangement of diagonal glazing bars in the doors (mirrored incidentally in the patterns of the iron railings around the site); jazzy light fittings; white sculpted variations in the wall surface; amazing recessed quadrant windows in the stair towers.


For a while, buildings like this were unappreciated. They were seen as ephemeral cinema-style architecture, their flashy decoration out of kilter with the puritanical tenets of modernism. And so, one by one, as manufacturing moved away from London, they were demolished. Hoover shifted their manufacturing away from London in the 1980s, and their building looked likely to suffer a similar fate.

But by this time, more people came to see the virtues of buildings like the Hoover. The decorative flair, and sometimes excess, of postmodern architecture helped many see them in a new light. Architects and public alike realised that cinema-style building was not all bad (I once heard a well known postmodernist modestly refer to some of his own work as ‘B-Movie architecture’). So the Hoover Factory was saved, although it’s now the called Hoover Building, because nothing is manufactured here and it is occupied by offices and a supermarket. For which I for one am grateful, as I drive westwards, dodging speed cameras and dashing objects, and saying my farewell to London.

12 comments:

Peter Ashley said...

I've just had a complete mental blank. What was the factory next door that was 'accidentally' knocked into oblivion one Sunday morning? Anyway, another, slightly less exuberant example would be Ovaltine in Kings Langley. Now the obligatory loft apartments I should think.

Philip Wilkinson said...

That would be the Firestone factory, which was hastily pulled down when the developers got wind of the fact that it was imminently to be listed – in fact the listing was due to come into force the following week.

Hels said...

In a post a year ago I was examining the reasons why cinemas, in particular, were so well suited to Deco. See
http://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com/2009/01/passion-for-building-art-deco-1929-39.html

But that doesn't mean other examples of Deco aren't absolutely fabulous eg your Hoover factory.

For buildings like this to be labelled as "ephemeral cinema-style architecture", and "out of kilter with the puritanical tenets of modernism" is just an excuse for mass vandalism.

Of course we can't tell much from the outside, but I bet Hoover's white walls really DID suggest hygiene; and its coloured decoration really WERE were stylishly designed. Even now my squishy office is awful and I would do anything for light, airy and comfortable spaces inside.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Agreed! It's shameful that so many Art Deco buildings were demolished, but thankfully, these buildings are now widely appreciated. I want to say some more about this and have not done with the Hoover Building - watch this space.

DC said...

There's an isolated and mysterious Art Deco erstwhile factory doorway standing, supported by bracing on a corner plot just opposite the big Tesco south of Hatton near Heathrow. If anyone knows its provenance, I'd be very interested.

DC said...

Clearly I should have Googled before posting here - mea culpa - but here's a picture and the story, which sounds regrettably like the Firestone one:

http://www.artofthestate.co.uk/london_photos/minimax_factory_art_deco.htm

Wartime Housewife said...

That main doorway reminds me of an great organ in a cinema.

There are lots of remnants of Deco buildings in West London and it used to be a great joy as children, seeing them all lit up at night. What is interesting, is that, particularly in Staines where a lot of new buildings are going up, there is a move towards retro architecture which is rather gratifying. A new office block went up in Staines High Street a few years ago and it looks just like an ocean liner.

Philip Wilkinson said...

DC: Thanks for the link. The doorway is amazing, and sad.

Wartime Housewife: The similarity between current 'retro'/postmodern architecture and Art Deco is one reason why Deco has come back into fashion, so it all adds up. But sadly it's not fashionable enough for everything to be saved, as the example cited by DC in the comment above shows.

patpaget said...

The Hoover Building.
I lived in Rydal Crescent, next to the Hoover Building from end 1940's to mid 1960, so I used to pass the building every day. I am so glad to see it is still standing, and the memories of my teenage years with it.

Patricia

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks for your comment and memories Patricia. It's good when people find a new use for buildings like this, ensuring their survival.

DC said...

Actually, from this link:

http://www.geograph.org.uk/gridref/TQ1074

it doesn't look like we lost much when the Minimax factory was razed; it appears the door was the highlight....

Philip Wilkinson said...

Thanks for the link, DC. I see what you mean.