Greater London House

M.E Collins and O.H Collins with A.G Porri (1926-28)

Built for the tobacco giant Carreras, who had outgrown their factory on City Road, the Arcadia works looms over its surroundings with its long, extravagant Egyptian art deco facade. Designed just four years after the discovery of the tomb of Tuntankhamun, the design was greatly influenced by displays at the Paris Exhibition of 1925, where Art Deco was born, and the wider contemporary fashion for Egyptian art and design.

The building’s frontage stretches for over 550 ft (168m) along Hampstead Road with a main block containing 13 bays with two lower wings either side containing 8 bays. Porri originally envisaged a strictly classical design for the building but this was completely overhauled when M.E. Collins, with his suggestion of an Egyptian theme, was brought on to the design team. This took form most spectacularly in the stylised column capitals, the highly decorated cavetto style parapet and the 8½ ft high bronze statues of the cat-goddess Bastet that adorn either side of the main entrance. Like 55 Broadway earlier, albeit more directly, there was a strong emphasis on tying corporate branding with design, with the statues of Bastet echoing the image of the black cat on Carreras cigarette packets at the time.

In contrast to its millennia old stylistic influence the building was designed with a pioneering pre-stressed concrete frame and, unique for the time, contained many employee welfare features such as air conditioning and a dust extraction plant.

In 1959 Carreras merged with Rothmans and the building became surplus to requirements. In the early 60’s the building was stripped of all its Egyptian styling in an office conversion with the building being renamed Greater London House. The stylised columns were boxed in and the black cats were removed, with one going to a new factory in Basildon, Essex and the other to a Carreras’ factory in Spanishtown, Jamaica.

In the late 90’s the building’s original styling was restored by Finch Forman in collaboration with Munkenbeck and Marshall, which included installing replicas of the black cats. The restoration work won both a Civic Trust Award and Camden Design Award and was featured as Building of the Month in the RIBA Journal.