Thursday, July 30, 2015
Energy and eclecticism
I’ve just finished teaching a course on Victorian architecture, so thought I’d share a Victorian building or two in the next couple of posts – perhaps one or two that I’ve seen recently but did not find space for in the course. Today’s example is a building from the centre of Nottingham. In my course I talked briefly about the vast, very red brick Prudential Building in London’s Holborn, designed by Alfred Waterhouse. Here’s another example of this architect’s work for the insurance company, this time in the centre of Nottingham.
Nottingham’s former Prudential building stands in the centre of the city, on a tight corner looking towards the market place. Waterhouse used the corner to take the building through a dramatic curve, with the entrance at the centre of this curve, and as you look up, you see an array of pilasters and statues (all in terracotta), rising to a square tower that has turrets at the corners and a chunky spire. Like the London Prudential building, it’s very red, but it stands on a very heavy-looking stone base. This base seems to speak a language of solidity and security that’s echoed by the turrets and tower – appropriate, perhaps for an insurance company. Another ‘security’ feature is provided by the false machicolations – the row of little arches above the doorway that are meant to recall similar openings on the gatehouses of castles, through which defenders could pour boiling oil (or boiling water, or whatever else they could find) on their enemies below.
Yet this very eclectic 1890s building* also looks quite palatial, with its big windows and curvy Jacobean-style gables and its rich decoration, This was also conceived as the office of an institution that wanted to suggest
financial security as well as physical security. Waterhouse clearly knew what his client wanted – he designed Prudential office buildings in London, Leeds, Sheffield, and in around 20 other locations. His vivid red brick work for the insurance company reflected the Victorians’ restless eclecticism, but also their unstoppable energy.
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*There’s a date on the front, 1848, but this refers to the foundation of the company, not the construction of the building.