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A Landmark Uncovered: Senate House to feature in Open House London

The University of London’s Grade II* listed landmark Portland stone building, Senate House, will feature in London’s largest annual festival of architecture and design, Open House London. 

Senate House, University of London
Exterior view of Senate House, Malet Street, London

On Saturday 16 September 2017, The University of London will provide visitors with an insight into the construction and architecture of its headquarters through tours, pop up lectures and film screenings. There will also be access to Senate House Library, one of the world’s largest humanities collections, through separate guided tours.

Designed by British architect Charles Holden, who is also credited with the design of many of London’s Underground stations, the landmark Art Deco building is one of the few buildings in London to boast original 1930s features. It was the University of London’s first permanent home after a century of being housed in a series of temporary premises. 

King George V laid the foundation stone on 26 June 1933 and the building welcomed its first occupants in 1936. Consisting of 19 floors and standing 210 feet high, Senate House was the tallest secular building in Britain on completion and was constructed of the finest materials then available, including Portland stone, Travertine marble, English walnut and South American cypress. 

Holden’s attention to detail is absolute – ceilings, ironwork, bespoke furniture, even the drain pipes are little crafted artworks in their own right. It was also one of the first large buildings to be fully heated by electricity. Acknowledged as a structure of great architectural significance, it was listed as Grade II* in 1969. With stunning features like these the building set the scene for many TV series and Hollywood productions such as Black MirrorJekyll & HydeBatman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises

During the Second World War, Senate House was home to the Ministry of Information. George Orwell’s wife Eileen worked here and her experiences inspired Orwell’s portrayal of the feared Ministry of Truth in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which he describes as “enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace three hundred meters into the air.” Visitors will be able to visit Senate House’s own Room 101 – hopefully a slightly less chilling visit than Winston Smith’s.

Besides being an architectural gem and a literary landmark, Senate House is subject to urban mystification – allegedly Hitler planned to install the headquarter of Nazi dominion in Britain in the building on Malet Street.

Senate House Guided Tours

25 people per tour, pre-booking at arrival desk required
10.30, 11.00 (Ministry of Information focussed Tour), 12.30, 13.30, 14.30, 15.30

Pop-up talks

The Ministry of Information worries about Readers and Reading
Professor Simon Eliot, Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study11.30, 12.30

Hope and Fear Abroad: The Ministry of Information in Latin America
Dr Chris Bannister, Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study
14.30, 15.30

Senate House Library Tours

15 people per tour, pre-booking at arrival desk required
11, 1.30, 2.30, 3.30