Saturday, November 2, 2019

London, Western Avenue, travelling westwards

A different angle

I’ve read two recently published books that mention the old Hoover factory in Perivale, West London. Both books were good ones, but neither author had had the chance to cover at any length the building’s fast-changing fortunes. After Hoover left, Tesco eventually acquired the building and ran a supermarket there for some years. This is the stage it had reached when I lasted posted about it in 2010. Tesco pulled out and in 2017–18 the building was converted into 66 flats.

I’m all for finding new uses for old buildings – it’s often a way of saving therm from demolition. But when I passed the other day on the coach from London to Oxford, I thought the price of this change of use was a rather intrusive alteration – it seemed that the developer had very slightly increased the building’s height by adding a pitched roof behind the original sleek, white parapet. Looking into the history of the Hoover Building, however, I discovered that the roof line has been changing almost since the beginning. The Hoover factory was built in 1932 as a two-storey building with a front topped by a long white parapet, with a centre portion slightly taller than the rest. As early as 1935, the building was enlarged by adding another storey, its front windows set well back from the parapet. Soon after that, a gently pitched glazed roof was added, to let more natural light into the top storey, and some time later still, this roof became more substantial, reaching the form it takes today. Various photographs exist of these stages, and the first version of the pitched roof was there early on. But it’s not clear to me quite when the roof reached its current form.

The fact that I could see this roof so clearly, its grey slope detracting from the effect of the original white parapet, was due mainly to the fact that I was looking at it from an elevated position on the top deck of the Oxford Tube,* when I took the photograph above. I’m much more used to seeing it from the position of the driver of the silver car, or from pavement level. When the Hoover factory was designed in the early-1930s by Wallis, Gilbert & Partners, the last thing the architects were thinking about was what their building looked liked from the top of a bus. Their main thought would have been for the result when seen at ground level – that and the host of other things that preoccupy the designer of a large industrial building: everything from getting the interior spaces to work for their intended purpose to making sure the building is completed on time and within budget. They might even be surprised that their building, years after Hoover moved out, having undergone two changes of use, is still, triumphantly, there.

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*The name of a coach service that runs between Oxford and London


Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I think the roof improves it immeasurably, as well as keeping the occupants more effectively dry than the flat roofs foisted on us by architectural theory. Two important aspects of function are (a) to be weather-proof and (b) to look good from a purely aesthetic point of view. No disposal of interior spaces can compensate if these basics aren't right, surely. London, Western Avenue, is usually where I stop looking at the scenery and take out whatever reading matter I've brought with me.

Jenny Woolf said...

I wonder how desperate the residents must be to live in an iconic building that they're prepared to live on the Great West Road! I imagine you remember the wonderful Firestone building which came to a shameful end.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joseph: Modernists could have learned a few things from the Georgians – for example, how to tuck a pitched roof behind a parapet, thereby combining the weatherproofing and the flat skyline they wanted.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jenny: Yes, the fate of the Firestone building was shameful. At least the Hoover is set back a bit from the road, which reduces some of the traffic impact on the residents.