Hoover Factory, Greater London

  • Western Avenue Greenford, Middlesex, UB6 8DW
  • Designed by: Wallis Gilbert and Partners
  • Built: 1931 - 1938
  • Tags: Art Deco, Factory

Standing alongside the A40, to the west of Central London, the Hoover Building is a remarkable landmark for commuters and visitors to London using this main arterial route into the city. Originally built for the American Hoover Company, the factory on Western Avenue was built as a manufacturing base for the company's British vacuum cleaner division.

The factory comprised a complex of buildings and were designed by the firm of Wallis, Gilbert and Partners. The architectural firm was established in 1914 and in subsequent decades designed some of the finest Modernist industrial buildings in Britain, including the Firestone Building, a building of similar appearance and equal significance as the Hoover Factory building, needlessly demolished in 1980. The most significant structure on site, the main office building (illustrated above) opened in 1932. The building is constructed using a steel-reinforce concrete frame and has two principal storeys. The exterior is rendered in 'Snowcrete', a type of portland-limestone cement with a brilliant white pigment, that has good durability against weathering. The building's architectural detailing shows the increasing influence of Egypt on art and design following the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter that was prevalent at the time.

The building has a very wide frontage, of fifteen bays, with low towers at either side, set back from the main frontage. The windows within the bays are deeply recessed into the body of the building, separated by stone columns, with distinctive vertical fluting. The windows themselves have three vertical glazing bars and close set horizontal glazing bars, painted a distinctive copper-green colour. The windows extend through both storeys, with window blanks obscuring the first storey floor. The front facade has a distinctive, fluted frieze and an elevated central pediment carrying the company name 'Hoover Limited' and the crest of the company's Royal Warrant. Elsewhere, the external decoration of the building features decorative-coloured faience in in red, green and blue. The centre-piece of the front elevation is the entrance, with doors sent beneath a concrete lintel entablature. Above, the full height window has distinctive glazing in a dramatic, geometric sunburst pattern. The towers on each side of the building are taller than the main body of the building. There are slender, full height windows extend on the exterior-facing elevations, with distinctive arched, corner windows on the stairwell landings.

To the east of the main office building is Building No 3, an eastern range with a four bay frontage. This was originally two storeys but later extended to four storeys. The outer bays have projecting windows, not unlike the 'V'-shape of the prow of a ship.

By the beginning of 1934 plans were in place to extend the main office building upwards with an additional storey (as shown above), stepped back from the main facade. Building No 7, to the west of the main building, was built in 1938 as the factory canteen building. By the early 1980s production at the Western Avenue site was switched to another Hoover site in Scotland. The building fell into disrepair, the neglect typified the problem of finding sustainable uses for large, redundant buildings of architectural significance. The concrete construction of the building also gave cause for concern. Damage to the concrete can let moisture in, which can rust the reinforcing steel bars which expand and fracture the concrete; so called 'concrete cancer'.

In 1989 the supermarket chain Tesco purchased the site. Working in co-operation with English Heritage a compromise between commercial development and heritage retention was achieved. The factory building, building No 5 located behind the main office building, was demolished to make way for the construction of a supermarket. However, the significant structures - the main block, eastern range and canteen block - were preserved and restored. Since the building is no longer owned by the Hoover Company the company name was removed from the front facade, replaced with lettering in the same style spelling out 'The Hoover Building'. The main office building was awarded Grade-II* listed status on 10 October 1980. Additionally, surviving gates and gate piers on the former factory site have also been listed with Grade II status.

This is an updated and revised building profile first published on 1 March 2009.

Posted by Richard Coltman on Sunday, August 12, 2012

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