Friday, 20 January 2012

Earl's Court: reliefs and reinforced concrete

Built in just two years despite being located over railway lines, Earl's Court Exhibition Centre opened with the Chocolate and Confectionery Exhibition on 1 September 1937. In order for this building to be constructed, its engineers LG Mouchel & Partners had to work out how to build the foundations. Reinforced concrete beam work of great strength was the answer, raising the building over the tracks with columns and girders. One beam is 30 metres long, 5 metres wide and weighs over a thousand tons. That may sound excessive, but it's supporting a weight of over 4,000 tons!

The architect was an American, C Howard Crane (working with Gordon Jeeves), who had specialised in cinemas. He left Detroit in 1930 to escape the Depression; among his other London buildings is the Gaumont (now Odeon), Holloway Road. If we look beyond the show posters and welcome banner, then the building is very much of its period with its sweeping curves, long, slender windows and at the very top, its reliefs. Most visitors probably don't look up that high, and frankly the details aren't easy to make out from ground level. Their subjects are presumably meant to reflect the events within: gears for industry, musical instruments, sports, and flowers for horticulture. At the centre are the words Earl's Court below a knight on horseback.

Just decipherable on the centrepiece is the sculptor's name: David Evans. His better-known London work is the Guildhall's Gog and Magog of 1953. His Times obituary noted that 'it was in the illustrative relief that he excelled. His work was not conspicuously architectural in itself, but he had a very good understanding of architectural application, and he carried out several important schemes on public buildings'; these included Wandsworth Town Hall

British Pathe - Gog and Magog back in London, 1953
Despite all this technical and artistic effort, the Exhibition Centre won't last long past its 75th anniversary. It is destined to be demolished after the Olympics (for which it will host the volleyball) and be replaced by a new development. 


Hels said...

Why won't the Exhibition Centre last long past its 75th anniversary? I don't understand pulling down a perfectly impressive building, with historical, technical and artistic value.

HughB said...

Bit of a shame, all things considered. I think it's all down to making money, and having your political mates in power.

CarolineLD said...

It is a shame - but apparently there's more money in luxury flats etc than in an exhibition hall. One article suggested that the facade might be left in place, for what that's worth.

CarolineLD said...

This article summarises some of the issues with the wider project, which also involves demolition of large amounts of social housing and seems to please almost nobody except the developers.