Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Palladium House

A left turn off Regent Street, just south of Oxford Circus, leads into Great Marlborough Street where there stands a large shiny black box of a building all dressed up with some discreet golden trim on the cornices and sherbet-coloured jazz-moderne motifs in enamel over the showroom windows. It’s diagonally opposite the pseudo-Tudor, half-timbered gables of Liberty’s store and in such noisy company, easily overlooked. For over 80 years it has occupied the corner site at the junction of Argyll Street as a modest outpost of a Manhattan aesthetic that is otherwise unrepresented in London. Widely regarded as central London's best Art Deco building, it was designed by US architect, Raymond Hood (1881-1934) and built in 1928-9 as a showroom and office block for the UK subsidiary of the American Radiator Company for whom he had previously designed a building in Manhattan.

For the New York building in 1924 Hood employed polished black granite cladding to symbolise the blessings of coal as an energy source and embellished it with flame-inspired motifs to symbolise the warm air circulating around the American home. A modified version of this scheme was applied to the much smaller London building known as Ideal House when it opened in 1928. Hood’s relatively brief but influential career began in 1922 when his design (in collaboration with John Mead Howells) won the competition for a prestige skyscraper to house the Chicago Tribune newspaper. The Tribune Tower embodied an anachronistic neo-Gothic style and derived its impact from the massive flying buttresses that supported the top of the 36 storey tower. It was a long journey, in less than a decade, for Hood from this decorative complexity to the relative austerity of Palladium House. Seven more bays were added to the Argyll Street frontage in 1935 and although the original proportions of the building were seriously compromised it remains a rare example of a London building of distinguished North American ancestry.

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