Sculpture in the City is back in the Square Mile, this year featuring 18 artworks ranging from Jean-Luc Moulène’s Body, an aerodynamic tribute to the automobile as sculpture (located in Undershaft – pictured above), to Thomas J Price’s Numen (Shifting Votive) One & Two, an exploration of the ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian traditions of monumental sculpture (located under The Leadenhall Building – pictured below). Other sculptural works included in this, the 8th edition of the annual event, include Juliana Cerceira Leite’s Climb, a three metre tall obelisk made from the inside out (located in Mitre Square – pictured second below), Sarah Lucas’ Perceval, a life-size horse and cart evocative of the traditional china ornaments that once took pride of place on British mantlepieces (located in Cullum Street – pictured third below), and Karen Tang’s Synapsid, a vivid globular sculpture which brings to mind sci-fi invasion scenarios (outside Fenchurch Street station – pictured fourth below). And, for the first time, the event also includes two sound projects: Marina Abramovic’s Tree, which those passing near a tree at 99 Bishopsgate with insistent, repetitive and distorted birdsong, and Miroslaw Balka’s The Great Escape which, located in Hartsthorn Alley, features the film of the same name’s theme song being whistled repeatedly in a series of slightly different renditions. The display can be seen until April next year – for a map of all the locations, head to www.sculptureinthecity.org.uk. ALL PICTURES: Nick Turpin.
Where’s London’s oldest…skyscraper?
There’s several candidates for this title – NatWest Tower, built in 1980, has been described as London’s first “genuine” skyscraper (we’ll deal with that in our current special) but we’re looking back to earlier times (after all, the term first started to be used in the 1880s) when candidates included 55 Broadway in Westminster.
Once the tallest office building in London, 55 Broadway was constructed in 1927-29 as the headquarters of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (which later became London Transport and then Transport for London). The building contains the St James’s Park Underground Station which is one of the most intact of the early underground stations.
Designed by Charles Holden (also noted for his design of the University of London’s Senate House and war cemeteries in Belgium and France) , the 14 storey Art Deco building is cruciform in plan to maximise street views and the amount of light entering each office as well as to ensure that the bulk of the building’s tower didn’t overwhelm the surrounding streetscapes (and to ensure the building complied with the then current building height restrictions).
The building, the design of which was influenced by US architecture, is made from a steel frame encased on concrete and faced in Portland stone. Based on a two storey pedestal which covers the entire site, the spur wings around the tower rise a further five storeys above the base while the tower itself rises 53.3 metres (175 foot).
Internally, the building features bronze and marble decoration and what was a state-of-the-art system known as a Cutler mailing chute to send letters around the building.
Of special note are the many sculptures which adorn the building, described as a “showcase of pre-Second World War British sculpture”.
Among them are two Jacob Epstein sculptures representing ‘Day’ and ‘Night’ and eight figurative reliefs representing the winds for each cardinal point, the work of sculptors led by Eric Gill and also including Eric Aumonier, Alfred Gerrard, Samuel Rabonovitch, Allan Wyon and Henry Moore (it was his first public commission).
The sculptures proved somewhat controversial at time particularly due to Epstein’s depiction of ‘Day’ featuring a nude male – Ezra Pound famously said Epstein was contributing to a “cult of ugliness”. And while this sculpture eventually had his manhood truncated slightly following the outcry, the sculptures were otherwise left untouched.
Holden won the RIBA London Architecture Medal for the building which received Grade I-listing in 2011 (it had earlier been Grade II listed), partly due to its being London’s first ‘skyscraper’ and a building which “heralded the epoch of tall steel-framed office buildings”.
The building was damaged during the Blitz but remains largely intact. There are now plans to convert the building to luxury apartments although at present Transport for London continue to use the building.
PICTURES: Top – Epstein’s ‘Night’ – One of the less controversial sculptures adorning the building (Loz Pycock (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0))/Right – The mass of 55 Broadway with the controversial (and altered) sculpture of ‘Day’ (David Adams).
Note: The original article said 55 Broadway was once the tallest building but should have, of course, said tallest office building. St Paul’s Cathedral was the tallest building until 1967. The building was also damaged during the Blitz but apparently not by a flying bomb.