Art Deco arrived in the 1930s and smacked Victorian London in the face. Its brash colours, cheap materials and general suitability for big working factories were seen as celebrating colour and light, electric power, speed and industry – and particularly their role in improving the lives of ordinary people. Factories spread out into the newly accessible suburbs along the A40 and A4, and seemed to perfectly fit the lives of workers who now lived in fresh air, open space, and the glorious 20th century. The Hoover Building on the A40, the busy Western Avenue, is one of the grandest of them all.
It’s Charles Holden’s era too, though arguably he did even more interesting things with simple brick and concrete. At the end of the day the Hoover Building is just a big box with some exciting decoration sprayed over it, while Holden’s buildings though smaller are truly sculptural and creative. Later generations (and writers like the original Pevsner) certainly understood this distinction and despised buildings like this on the principle that a factory should look like a factory: what that meant in practice was “dull”, as evinced by Brent Town Hall. But there’s just such a sense of fun, excitement and confidence here that you can’t let it go. I know even without going inside how big and echoey those floorplates are, and how wonderfully light the staircases are; so let’s have more of those lovely light interiors, those fantastic geometrical shapes, and Hercule Poirot on the Orient Express…
The point about Hercules Poirot is not an idle one: even as late as October 2010 there was an episode aired where the canteen here did duty as the offices of the Parade Movie Company.
The Hoover Building, gorgeous Art Deco
Brent Town hall, a different kind of “Modern”
The glorious main door
A detail from the corner
Just across the road there’s a branch of Lloyds Bank obviously built around the same time, though perhaps a little earlier. It’s a much smaller building but it shows that same sense of decorative fun…and just for completeness I’ve thrown in an entry from the Black Cat factory in Camden:
Black Cat Factory
Grand though the Hoover Building is, it didn’t survive as a factory once Hoover had moved their operations first to Wales and then overseas. For many years it stood derelict and in danger of being knocked down – like some of its sad counterparts along the A4 – but thankfully Tesco’s have stepped in and rescued it. The ‘shape’ of the Tesco store is rather different from the original shape of the building: they don’t occupy all the floors, and half of the store is a ground-level extension at the back – but on the whole they’ve done a sensitive job of levering the new into the old.