Saturday, May 7, 2011

Oxford Street, London

Festival of Britain (1): For these reliefs much thanks

Of all the streets in London, or anywhere else for that matter, Oxford Street is probably the place where it’s most difficult to follow the instructions I’m always giving people: “Look around you, and look up.” With a footfall this dense, it takes me all my time to dodge my fellow pedestrians and look where I’m going on the rare occasions when I walk along this street. But, since it’s sixty years since the Festival of Britain kicked off in 1951, it’s time to share with you one of Oxford Street’s highlights: number 219, now part of the Zara store.

This corner block was designed in a neat strip-windowed moderne style by Ronald Ward and Partners (who were also the architects of the Millbank Tower), and was presumably built in 1951. Its simple façade, with long windows, pale masonry, and wonderful corner curve, picks up where pre-war Art Deco and moderne architecture left off. But the frontage is just that bit different because it’s enlivened by three relief plaques celebrating the Festival of Britain. At the top is the Festival Hall*, next is Abram Games’s festival symbol†, and at the bottom are the highlights of the Festival’s South Bank Exhibition, the Dome of Discovery and the Skylon.

Lots of people are remembering the Festival at this anniversary moment, such reminiscences ranging from memories of modernistic aspiration (the Skylon) to evocations of sheer whimsy (the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway). So it’s good to be reminded of the Festival architecturally by these reliefs, especially as so little remains on the ground at the main London focus of the Festival – there is the Festival Hall, of course, but little else on the South Bank or at Battersea, although there are other buildings elsewhere in the capital, as I hope to show in another post soon. Meanwhile, all praise to John McAslan and Partners for their refurbishment of this little gem when building Zara’s main store beside and behind it.

*indistinct in my pedestrian-dodging quick-fire iPhone photograph: apologies
†of which more soon

* * *

There are some clearer photographs of the plaques on this building at the fascinating Ornamental Passions blog.


Chris Partridge said...

There are clearer pics of the plaques here:

Philip Wilkinson said...

Chris: I missed your post on these plaques the first time round, so thanks for the link. I'll add a link at the end of my post, too, so that readers who don't read the comments can follow it.

Sue Hayton said...

Fab - never seen this before even from the bus which is my way of building spotting in London!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Sue: Oh the things that can be spotted from the tops of London buses! I must remember to go on a bus along Oxford Street and take some clearer pictures of those plaques.

Wartime Housewife said...

The thing I love about your blog, Phil, is that you point out things that I think I know but don't really know at all because I've never had time to look properly. Also thanks for introducing us to Ornamental Passions. What a joy.

Philip Wilkinson said...

WH: Thank you so much. And yes, Ornamental Passions is a joy, and an education.