Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Western Avenue, London

Perivalediction (2)

To the west of the main Hoover Factory in Perivale (see previous post) is the canteen block, which was added in 1938. Although it shares the white and green colour scheme of the main façade, the canteen is rather different. It’s a steel-framed building, and the load-bearing structure of metal uprights and girders is on the inside, which means that the outside can be covered with bands of windows, right up to the corners.

The details are still strongly Art Deco. The mixture of sharp angles and curves, the flashes of colour, the nautical railings to the balcony, the mouldings, the clock without numerals – all these features are typical of the style, which is a heightened, large-scale version found in streets of 1930s houses off the North Circular Road. The light interiors must have been pleasant spaces in which to eat and relax.

Strip windows, white walls, and a steel frame structure – these are features of buildings in the international modern style that many architects and writers in the years before and after World War II thought was the best way to build. But these structures for the Hoover Company, with their added ornament and strong decorative forms are a far cry from the pared-down simplicity of the international style.

Nikolaus Pevsner in his 1951 Buildings of England volume on outer London, could not stomach the industrial Art Deco of the Hoover Factory. He wanted factories to be plain and functional, with international modern facades that were in keeping with the utilitarian production floors behind them; such buildings were viewed as honest. Art Deco structures like the Hoover Factory, on the other hand, were seen as dishonestly hiding their functional heart behind a tawdry frontage. ‘Perhaps the most offensive of the modernistic atrocities along this road of typical bypass factories,’ thundered Pevsner about the Hoover Factory, giving succour to developers who wanted to knock such structures down.

Well, the present is another country, and we see things differently here. Indeed by 1991, when the relevant expanded Pevsner volume, London 3: North West, came out, the new writer, Bridget Cherry, revised this judgement, finding much to admire. It’s sad that Pevsner’s original words were seized upon by developers who wanted an excuse to pull down factories like this, but good that Art Deco buildings now have well informed supporters. London is the richer for the survival of such buildings.

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