Built in 1927-29 as the headquarters of Underground Electric Railways of London Ltd (UERL), the precursor of London Transport, 55 Broadway served as both offices for the newly unified underground network and as part of a burgeoning corporate identity policy promoted by Frank Pick, managing director of the UERL. Between them Pick and Holden developed a building which ushered in a new age of American influenced modernity and which came to symbolise the whole underground system.
The building fills out the entirety of its triangular site with a two storey base which includes St James’s Park station, one of the most unaltered Underground stations on the network. The central tower, with its four wings which reach out the perimeter of the site, is cruciform in plan and rises to a height of 175 ft (53.3m), the tallest office building in London when built. The stepped back massing, scale and use of a concrete encased steel frame are all features of the building’s American influence, albeit carefully calculated to take into account London’s building restrictions.
Of special interest are the two sculptures representing night and day, by Jacob Epstein, and the eight figurative reliefs representing the Winds for each cardinal point, designed by a group of sculptors led by Eric Gill and which included a young Henry Moore. Day, located above the entrance of the south east facade, and Night, located at the point on the north east facade, are of an avant-garde style and caused much controversy on unveiling due to their stark modernism and graphic nakedness. The reliefs, located on pediments above the sixth floor on each of the eight principle faces, differ in style but all share core element of design being the representation through the use of a reclined figure facing in the direction of their particular wind.
Holden’s association with the Underground would continue with the design of many of the stations of the extended Northern and Piccadilly lines. He also gave London another distinctive landmark in Senate House for the University of London in Bloomsbury. 55 Broadway was Grade II listed in 1970 which was subsequently upgraded to a Grade I listing at the beginning of this year.