Daily Express Building, London

  • 120 Fleet Street, London, EC4A 2BE
  • Designed by: Ellis and Clarke with Sir Owen Williams
  • Built: 1930 - 1932
  • Tags: Commercial, Streamlined Moderne

Located at 120 Fleet Street in the City of London on the corner of Shoe Lane, the former Daily Express Building is one of London's most iconic Modernist buildings. The building was constructed between 1930 and 1932 to serve as the headquarters of the Daily Express Newspaper in the capital. Even today, the building is a striking structure amongst the more traditional stone-clad buildings on Fleet Street and appears futuristic compared to even the most recent additions to the streetscape. In the 1930s, the building must have been such a stark contrast to other architectural schemes of the time.

p> Architects Ellis and Clarke (the practice later became Ellis Clarke and Gallanaugh) were commissioned by the owner of the Daily Express William Maxwell Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, to extend forward the existing Daily Express buildings towards Fleet Street. Their original proposal would see a steel-framed structure, clad externally in Portland stone, a scheme similar in principal to that of the Daily Telegraph building further west along Fleet Street. However, complications arose from the physical constraints of the site - it was a relatively narrow plot - and the requirement to have printing presses running through the basement of the existing and new buildings. It meant their scheme was impractical.

English architect Sir Evan Owen Williams (1890 - 1969) was drafted in to the project to resolve the problems with the scheme. Williams was an architect and engineer and his company was later responsible for the design and construction of the first section of the M1 motorway in Britain. His plan for the Daily Express scheme was to span the basement level with a reinforced concrete deck, to allow a clear space beneath for the printing presses. Such was the success of his scheme, the company commissioned Williams to design the company's building for Great Ancoats Street in Manchester.

Williams reworked the exterior of the building; the Portland stone-clad facade replaced with one faced in black Vitrolite panels with chromium strips at the joints, giving the building a streamlined appearance. The ground floor level featured a wide entrance with chromed canopy above designed by Robert Atkinson (1883 - 1952), with a large glass window above to which the Daily Express name was spelt out in large Art Deco style lettering. The next three storeys above had large glazed sections and corner windows, while the final two storeys surmounted the main body of the building in diminishing tiers. A projecting chromium rail was affixed around the outside of the building, just below the fifth storey level.

The lobby of the Daily Express Building was designed by Robert Atkinson, with two plaster reliefs entitled 'Britain' and 'Empire' by British sculptor Eric Aumonier (1899 - 1974) and is one of the most impressive and ornate Art Deco interior schemes in Britain.

Aitken House, to the east of the Daily Express Building on Fleet Street, was built in the mid 1970s replacing a collection of smaller Victorian buildings. The building's facade was clad in similar black panels and grafted on to the Daily Express building forming a continuous block along Fleet Street. The fusing of the two buildings together compromised the appearance of the original Daily Express Building, with the massing of Aitken House overwhelming the original 1930s building.

After over fifty years on Fleet Street the company vacated the building in 1989 leaving the building empty and marking the beginning of the end for newspaper printing, for which Fleet Street had become synonymous. Following the departure of The Daily Express newspaper the building remained vacant. A huge scheme saw many of the ancillary buildings to the rear of the site along Shoe Lane and Saint Bride Street torn down; the adjacent Aitken House fronting on to Fleet Street was also demolished. The orignal redevelopment scheme failed, leaving the building in peril. A new scheme began in 1998; the rear of the building was truncated and a new structure, River Court, grafted on to the back. The original 1930s facade was retained, but altered to fit into the new scheme.

The south-eastern corner of the building was rebuilt; originally it butted up against its neighbour on Fleet Street, but in the new scheme it was rebuilt with a curved corner matching that on the opposite side of the facade, with a large curved glass double height window on the ground floor. The facade and glazing were repaired and restored, and the interiors upgraded to meet modern building standards. The lobby was restored, its lost features replicated and reinstated.

Following the huge redevelopment of the site, completed by 2000, the building was let to investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The building was awarded Grade-II* status on 15 March 1972.

This is an updated and revised building profile first published on 28 September 2010.


Posted on Sunday, October 18, 2015

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