A Landmark Uncovered: Senate House to feature in Open House London

The University of London’s Grade II* listed landmark Portland stone building, Senate House will feature in London’s largest annual festival of architecture and design, Open House London.

On Saturday 17. September 2016, Senate House will host informal tours between 10am and 5pm. It will provide visitors with an insight into the construction and architecture of the 1930s building, its use over the years and its future. Senate House Library, which holds one of the world’s largest humanities collections, will be open for visitors, showcasing its ‘Shakespeare: Metamorphosis’ exhibition. Based on the ‘Seven Ages of Man’ soliloquy from As you like it the exhibition explores the metamorphosis of Shakespearean text and scholarship over four centuries.

Designed by British architect Charles Holden, who is also credited with the design of many of London’s Underground stations, the landmark Art Deco building is one of the few buildings in London to boast original 1930s features. It was the University of London’s first permanent home after a century of being housed in a series of temporary premises.

King George V laid the foundation stone on 26 June 1933 and the building welcomed its first occupants in 1936. Consisting of 19 floors and standing 210 feet high, Senate House was the tallest secular building in Britain on completion and was constructed of the finest materials then available, including Portland stone, Travertine marble, English walnut and South American cypress.

Holden’s attention to detail is absolute – ceilings, ironwork, bespoke furniture, even the drain pipes are little crafted artworks in their own right. It was also one of the first large buildings to be fully heated by electricity. Acknowledged as a structure of great architectural significance, it was listed as Grade II* in 1969. With stunning features like these the building set the scene for many TV series and Hollywood productions such as Black Mirror, Jekyll & Hyde, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises.

During the Second World War, Senate House was home to the Ministry of Information. George Orwell’s wife Eileen worked here and her experiences inspired Orwell’s portrayal of the feared Ministry of Truth in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which he describes as “enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace three hundred meters into the air.” Visitors will be able to visit Senate House’s own Room 101 – hopefully a slightly less chilling visit than Winston Smith’s.

Besides being an architectural gem and a literary landmark, Senate House is subject to urban mystification – allegedly Hitler planned to install the headquarter of Nazi dominion in Britain in the building on Malet Street.