Friday, 14 June 2013

Britannic House

Architect: Edwin Lutyens, 1921-5.

Lutyens' first large (and lavish) corporate project, in which he achieved maximum floor-space, yet failed to disguise the building's bulk with classical ornamentation stretched over seven storeys.

The crowning structure of Dance the Younger’s Finsbury Circus (designed well over a century earlier), Britannic House was Lutyens’s first foray into the Square Mile, and represented a marked shift in scale as the earliest of his London behemoths. Taking its cue from Northern Italian Mannerism, the structure was built for the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, a joint-venture between a London millionaire and the Shah to capitalise on Iran’s newly discovered oil reserves. The stately grandeur of the building is testament to the growth of the company following investment from the British government (principally to ensure fuel for the Navy), that eventually led to the renaming of the company as British Petroleum in 1954. It is said that Lutyens revelled in the lavishness of his tycoon patrons, a scenario far removed from the endless quibbles over government budgets experienced in New Delhi.

Built in what Lutyens himself termed the ‘High Game’ of classical architecture, requiring "hard labour, hard thinking, over every line in all three dimensions and in every joint," the edifice is an exercise in precision and opulence. Spanning seven storeys, the curved Finsbury Circus frontage sits on a rusticated base with arched openings mirroring those of the upper storey. The latter comprises giant Corinthian columns connected by garlands, perched on a balustrade and surmounted by a recessed attic storey. The entire building is bejewelled with fenestration of various shapes and sizes; several of the second storey windows appear to have been pressed into the fabric of the building, squeezed between two columns, with the composition surrounded by lightly etched horizontals. Such detailing accentuates the unusual flatness of the elevation, punctured only by its windows and sculptures of Britannia and an Indian Water Carrier, a quality even more emphatic on the straight Moorgate facade.

The interior was remodelled in the late eighties by Inskip and Jenkins, a sensitive refurbishment including a vast central atrium. More work has been done in the last few years by Gaunt Francis Architects, creating over 16,000 square metres of new office space. The building is now occupied by Natwest Bank.

Best time to visit: the building is not open to the public.

Address: 1 Finsbury Circus, London EC2M 7EB.


  1. Nice piece from Lutyens, thankfully not in red brick!

  2. Nice piece from Lutyens, thankfully not in red brick! Portland Stone? Shamefully, they never emulated his success in London withe the New Delhi buildings.