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Royal Horticultural Society Hall (1928)
Greycoat Street, London SW1, UK
associated engineer
Oscar Faber
date  1925 - 1928
era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  TQ295790
ICE reference number  HEW 2319
As part of the redevelopment of the Royal Horticultural Society's site near London's Vincent Square in the early 1920s, the architectural practice of Easton & Robertson was commissioned to design a new hall. Its design is considered a step towards Modernism in Britain and its exposed concrete arches by Oscar Faber are much admired.
The Royal Horticultural Society was founded in London in 1804 at the suggestion of John Wedgwood, the son of Josiah Wedgwood. Its new hall was constructed between 1925 and 1928 and is often referred to as being in the Art Deco style. These days it's known as Lawrence Hall and has become a well-known exhibition venue.
Easton & Robertson was a partnership between the Scottish architect John Murray Easton (1889-1875) and the American Howard Morley Robertson (1888-1963). Easton is though to have developed the hall's design. Robertson had trained in the USA and Paris and was director of London's Architectural Association from 1920 to 1935. Although not a Modernist himself, he was one of the first to promote European Modernist buildings in this country.
From the outside, the red brick hall isn't all that striking. However, the main interior space is spectacular. A series of tall 'flat' exposed reinforced concrete arches, not quite complete parabolas in shape, support tiered clerestories of increasing size down to side aisles. The central 'nave' is 22m wide by 45.5m long. The side aisles are 8m wide. The arches are set at 6.4m centres, rising to 17.5m above floor level.
The arches are not true parabolas because the architect wanted their lower ends to appear vertical (as if there were columns). Complete parabolic arches would have brought the forces in the structure right to the ground. In this case, the outward thrust at the arch spring points is counteracted by the side aisle 'roof' slabs, which are treated as beams of 45m span and 8m depth for this purpose. The beam slabs are tied into the end walls for stability.
The clerestories consist of horizontal concrete slabs with glazed vertical faces. They run the full length of the hall and are cut into the depth of the arches, stepping up as they go and decreasing in height and width. The glazing is steel-framed. The final central slab is punctuated with domed roof lights, one per bay.
Heating is supplied by hot water pipes, which are embedded in the slabs an early example of integrated structural and services design. Oscar Faber's firm, which handled all aspects of the building's engineering, included the mechanical and electrical specialist John Robert Kell and structural engineer Stanley Vaughan (known as Jim).
Faber later became well known for his handling of this kind of integration in major buildings, which include the rebuilding of the Bank of England.
Architect: Easton & Robertson
Research: ND
"The Concise Grove Dictionary of Art", Oxford University Press, 2002
"A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture"
Oxford University Press, 2006
"Oscar Faber, his work, his firm & afterwards" by John Faber
Quiller Press, London, 1989
"A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method", by Sir Banister Fletcher, 17th edition, Athlone Press London, 1963
"Modern: The Modern Movement in Britain" by Alan Powers
Merrell Publishers Ltd, London, 2005

Royal Horticultural Society Hall (1928)