Sunday, December 30, 2012
Great West Road, London
Standing out again
By the early-1930s, a new generation of industry was establishing itself around the edges of Britain's towns and cities. This wasn't the heavy industry that had probably first come to mind when people thought of manufacturing in the 19th century. This was modern, light industry and it was producing all kinds of things – domestic appliances, personal-grooming products, and items connected with the growing car industry. I've posted before about some of the 1930s factories that survive along the main roads of West London – especially Western Avenue and the Great West Road.
These buildings have gleaming white Art Deco fronts (containing offices, mostly) with larger, plainer, but well-lit workshops or warehouses behind. The fronts acted as advertisements, presenting a modern image on behalf of the owners and their companies. This example on the Great West Road began as the Coty cosmetics factory. Its white walls and strip windows speak of cleanliness and the latest decorative fashion of 1932. The building lacks the brightly coloured flourishes that appear on many Art Deco factories, but there are several telling details that show the architects, Wallis Gilbert and Partners, balancing decorative touches – their design is basically about setting up a rhythm of straight lines (windows, glazing bars, uprights) and then introducing just enough curves, steps, and diagonals to play variations on the grid. The stepped profile of the top of the facade and the detailing (both curves and verticals) around the entrance are key decorative elements. The way the glazing goes all the way up to the corners and the little angled detail on the lower edge of the corner windows is another telling touch.
It's interesting that this kind of building, now surrounded by office blocks of the 1980s and 1990s in various, mostly postmodern, styles (with much mirror glazing and colourful cladding), now looks almost restrained. Apparently cared for and well used, these buildings of the 1930s have found a new way to stand out.