British Empire Exhibition site
Sir Owen Williams
date 1921 - 1924
era Modern |
category Building |
ICE reference number HEW 2317
The British Empire Exhibition opened on 23rd April 1924 and was intended to be a reassuring display of the strength of the Empire after WW1. Pavillions were built for each colony and Great Britain was represented by three major buildings plus Wembly (formerly Empire) Stadium. The exhibition covered a 216 acre site.
The three major buildings were the palaces of Industry, Engineering and Arts. All were intended to be temporary. However, the Palace of Engineering wasn't demolished until the 1970s. The facade of the Palace of Art and the whole of the Palace of Industry still stand. The original stadium, with its distinctive towers, was demolished in 2002.
Reinforced concrete seems to have been chosen as the main construction material for four reasons: cost, speed of construction, appropriateness for temporary buildings (though this seems odd today) and to show the advanced state of British concrete technology.
At the time of opening, the Palace of Engineering was the world's largest reinforced concrete structure, enclosing half a million sq ft.
The ten-acre Palace of Industry is slightly smaller. It consists of a series of halls with glazed pitched roofs. The columns and knees of the portal frames are cast in situ, with precast open web rafters. For the larger spans, the columns support steel lattice girders.
The facades of the building are by Maxwell Ayrton, the architect of the whole exhibition complex.
Other items of interest include part of the reinforced concrete elevated track for the screw-driven 'Neverstop' railway that took visitors around the site, which can be seen adjacent to Wembly Park Station -- itself another element of the exhibitions' construction programme.
In 1933, the site owners comissioned Owen Williams to design the Empire Pool, one of the largest in the world at 200ft by 60ft. It was built on the site of the exhibition's artifical lake. The building that housed it also enclosed 4,000 spectators. William's concrete frames spanned 236ft clear and were exposed on the outside of the building. This building is now known as Wembly Arena.
Owen Williams was knighted for his work on this site. He was 34 years old at the time.
Architect: Maxwell Ayrton of Simpson & Ayrton
Contractor: Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons