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Fire Brigade HQ Albert Embankment - worth listing?

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Wednesday 8 August 2007 11.35am
The riverside Headquarters of the London Fire Brigade is being sold off to developers. Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands are the architects. But as it is a listed building they have to keep the existing building and refurbish it.

Photos here:

Why *is* this building listed? Does it really have outstanding merit? It looks a pretty workaday example of a 1930s totalitarian office block. There is plenty of public housing throughout London in this style and Walthamstow Town Hall is more much distinguished.

It would a good site for a decent modern architect to so something of interest. I can't help thinking that it's a shame that we hang on to these architectural fossils. Let's photograph it, by all means, but then demolish it and build something new.

What do you think?
Wednesday 8 August 2007 5.05pm
The local authority will be able to provide you with a copy of its citation which would have been written by English Heritage.

It will come down to much more than just its external appearance. Its function and its internal fitments will also be significant considerations.

My own personal take on it is that it must be one of the largest buildings of that age anywhere in Britain and is fairly unique in its function i.e. to coordinate fire services across a massive city.

If the developer can use it to its advantage, in creating sought-after apartments, so much the better! As soon as ten years from now it could be the only substantial (i.e. not curtain-walled glass and steel and plastic) buildings on the Albert Embankment besides Lambeth Palace.
Wednesday 8 August 2007 9.04pm
I think the exterior is as ugly as sin, but the key question is probably whether the memorials and sculpture are a sufficiently important part of London's social history to require preservation "in situ" and override any "beauty in the eye of the beholder" judgment about the building.

For some reason, the listing details aren't on English Heritage's Images of England website, but I found this in a document on Lambeth's own website:

No. 8, London Fire Brigade Headquarters
SERIAL NUMBER OF LIST ENTRY TQ 3052 7875 963/0/10123

Headquarters fire station. Opened on 21st June 1937 by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth,
designed by E P Wheeler assisted by D Weald for the London County Council as the Headquarters
Building of the London Fire Brigade. Faced in brown brick in English bond but the ground floor, central
part of the first floor, cornice to the top floor and top of central tower are faced in Portland stone with a
course or two of granite at the base of the ground floor. Flat roof. Nine storeys (ten to rear) and twenty
seven windows wide, all metal-framed casement windows with horizontal glazing bars.
EXTERIOR: Stone balcony to first floor with name of building inscribed on it. Ground floor centre has
seven openings for fire engines with decorative metal grilles above and folding panelled wooden doors
with metal grilles to the upper parts. Built-in lights to each side. On each side are four windows with
metal grilles and pedestrian entrances with panelled double doors with metal grilles and above stone
reliefs of fire-fighters in action by Nicholas Babb. The centre of the first floor has a stone cornice curved
at the ends and in the centre around two elaborate metal lamp standards. From the first to the third
floors are central stone reliefs by Gilbert Baye with gold mosaic backgrounds. Flanking the first floor
are two galleys, above the first floor are two mermen with water hoses, above the second floor
Phoebus in his chariot with sun's rays behind and on the third floor a griffin. The central three windows
and the central seven bays to first floor have narrower casements. The seventh floor has a pattern of
incised lines and wheat ears in the brickwork and the remainder of the floor is set back, as is the eighth
floor. The ninth floor has a central watch tower with elaborate stone cornice with square and dot
pattern, iron railings and flagstaff above and large carved LCC crest below. On each side are two
projecting sections with incised brickwork. The rear elevation has balconies on all floors, the three
lowest floors with cast iron balustrade. The ends project and there is a built-in canted bay observation
post to the second floor. The balconies were designed to be used as display platforms for 800 people
to watch weekly public drill displays.
INTERIOR: Front hall is clad in marble and has a geometrical frieze. Doors have elaborate geometrical
patterned grilles. On the left side rear wall of the main hall is a tablet to commemorate the
establishment of the London fire Brigade in 1865. this has a stone relief by Gilbert Baye dated 1938
depicting C18 fire-fighters in a bronze frame with the inscription “OMNIUM RERUM PRINCIPIA PARVA
SUNT” at the top and C18 fire-fighters on each side. On the right hand side set in a large marble alcove
is a further stone relief by Gilbert Baye of C19 fire-fighters to the memory of the officers and men of the
London Fire Brigade who lost their lives on duty presented by the members of Llyods. The bronze
frame has at the top the motto “FINIS CORONAT OPUS” and a bronze relief of C19 fire-fighters with
carts and horses, Rolls of Honour at the sides and inscription to the base. To the sides are metal grilles
with fire fighting equipment motifs. Inserted into the floor is a mosaic depicting the Great Fire of
London. In the centre of the entrance hall is a War Memorial comprising two conjoined marble piers
with partially gilded urn, a stone plaque commemorating members of the fire service who died in the
War and a stone partially gilded casket containing a Book of Remembrance. The front wall of the
entrance Hall has a memorial to the men and women of the fire services of the London Civil Defence
regions who gave their lives during the Second World War. At the back is a brass engraving of the west
front of St Paul's Cathedral and gold flames at the sides. There is an attached bronze “the Fireman's
Blitz” and a floor map in re-constituted stone and brass depicting the London Civil Defence Region.
Names are inscribed on wooden panels on either side.
HISTORY: this scheme was designed not only to house the administrative headquarters of London fire
fighting but also residential quarters and a working fire station in the same building. At the back of the
building was a parade ground with a detached drill tower and there was also a river fire station with

The drill tower is separately listed:

Drill Tower to the East of 8 Albert Embankment
TQ 3056 7878 963/0/10129

Drill tower. 1937 designed by LCC's architect E P Wheeler FRIBA, assisted by D Weald FRIBA as part
of the London Fire Brigade Headquarters scheme. Square structure in brown brick in English bond 100
feet high. Nine storeys with two window openings to each floor. The top two floors of the front elevation
rare recessed with stone cornices. There is a stone band above the rusticated ground floor. There are
two flat-arched windows to each floor, now with metal grilles, and the rear elevation has smaller
openings to the lower five floors. This drill tower is set an angle to the main building on the edge of the
former parade ground. The drill tower was used for training and the balconies at the back of the main
Headquarters building were designed to be used as display platforms to enable over eight hundred
people to watch weekly public drill displays.
Thursday 9 August 2007 3.12pm
Thanks Lang Rabbie. It sounds like it's the hall with the mosaic of the fire of London they want to preserve. I can't find any reference to this work any where else, or any photos. Is it a masterpiece?
Friday 12 June 2009 12.05pm
There's an exhibition of the plans for the old Fire Brigade HQ later this month:

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