Earls Court Exhibition Centre, London

  • Warwick Road, London, SW5 9TA
  • Designed by: Charles Howard Crane
  • Built: 1937
  • Status: Demolished
  • Tags: Commercial, Modernist

Standing in West London is one of the capital's premier exhibition centres, Earls Court. Famous for hosting exhibitions, trade shows and concerts, for many years Earls Court played host to the British Motor Show where iconic cars such as the Jaguar E-type and Morris Minor were officially unveiled to the public. The centre traces its history back to 1887, but the current landmark structure at the site was designed by American architect Charles Howard Crane (1885-1952) in 1937.

The main building at Earls Court has a concave facade formed of two outer blocks and a recessed central section. For many years the building retained its original unadorned concrete-faced facade (as illustrated) but this was subsequently covered with cladding, which also concealed the original windows with a layer of additional glazing. The outer blocks of the main facade carry two later additions - large advertising hoardings used to promote events at the exhibition centre - beneath lettering spelling 'Earls' on the affixed to the top of western block and 'Court' on the eastern block.

The central section comprising five bays. The bays are filled tall windows, with each window topped with a square motif. The central bay motif depicts a knight - an Earl - atop a horse. From left to the right the remaining motifs depict science and industry represented by meshed cog wheels, music represented by musical instruments, sports represented by a tennis racket and archery target, and a thistle and leaves representing flora and fauna.

There is a projecting, curved canopy over the entrance to the building, where the building can be accessed by steps up from the courtyard at the front of the exhibition centre. Further exhibition halls can be reached by access roads either side of the main building. During the building's history, flag poles were installed atop the canopy parapet, which itself was used for signage. Two of her entrances have been bricked up over the course of the building's history.

Earls Court Exhibition Centre was earmarked for demolition to make way for a huge redevelopment plan, branded "London's worst major regeneration scheme" by the Guardian newspaper, which would see the area reused for retail and housing and the plans showed no exhibition centre would be part of the scheme. Earls Court was not listed by English Heritage, with the organisation citing lack of original features. Additionally, the Mayor of London has rubber-stamped its demolition. This provoked a fierce campaign to save the centre, although in the face of support from the Mayor this seemed unlikely. Earls Court Exhibition Centre closed for the last time on 13 December 2014. The bulldozers moved in and tore the structure down.

Earls Court was recognised by many as an important example of commercial architecture in Britain, but not by those in charge of heritage retention and planning policy. All too often our industrial and commercial built heritage is consigned to the wrecking ball. Without a concerted effort to protect and cherish our industrial and commercial built environment Britain's architectural heritage will be poorer. Earls Court might not have been as 'pretty' as other listed buildings in Britain, but together these buildings form a narrative of our nation's architectural style and development. That narrative is that poorer following the loss of Earls Court.

Posted on Sunday, March 23, 2014

A celebration of Modernist architecture in Britain