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Bartlett Buildings: Torrington Place

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Originally built for an electronics company and once home to a Barbara Hepworth sculpture, 1–19 Torrington Place has been an important space for The Bartlett since the 1990s.

Bartlett Buildings: Torrington Place

1–19 Torrington Place.

Credit: UCL Image Store

1–19 Torrington Place was built as the headquarters for Mullard Limited, an electronics company that was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Philips. This substantial block comprises a two-storey podium crowned by an eleven-storey tower, and a six-storey range with a row of shop-fronts facing the east side of Tottenham Court Road.

The building was designed by the architectural firm Robert Sharp & Son and constructed by main contractors Lavender McMillan Limited. Its concrete frame is mostly faced with bricks, but incorporates polished stone cladding. The podium is partially clad with bastite serpentinite slabs, including a large decorative panel between the stepped front entrance and shutters screening the car park at the rear of the building.

“Here the stone slabs have been separated like opening a book, creating a Rorschach pattern in the rock,” geologist and UCL Student Mediator Dr Ruth Siddall has said. “Close inspection shows the silvery-green bastite porphyroblasts set in a fine-grained black matrix. The rock is chaotically veined with white calcite or dolomite. An unidentified, but beautiful, polished fossiliferous limestone lines the recessed porch to the building.”

Bartlett Buildings: Torrington Place

Front elevation plan of Torrington Place.

Credit: Planning Application (2009-4718-P)

Hepworth in the building

At its completion in 1957, Mullard House, as it was initially known, incorporated an electronics centre with a ground-floor public showroom, demonstration rooms and a basement cinema. The idea was that engineers and the public could examine electronic valves and cathode ray tubes, and appreciate their wide application in television, radar, automation and other scientific developments of the time.

On a revolving pedestal in the ground-floor showroom – designed by Rapier Design Limited – was Barbara Hepworth’s Theme on Electronics (Orpheus), a curved brass sculpture with an intricate web of copper strings. Commissioned in 1956, the sculpture was described as a symbol that “shows the way in which the imagery of the artist can translate the dynamics of science into a tangible form whose power is comprehensible to the man in the street” (Design, September 1957).

Bartlett Buildings: Torrington Place

Barbara Hepworth's 'Theme on Electronics (Orpheus)' was commissioned for the street-level showroom of Mullard House, where it sat on a revolving pedestal.

Credit: Design (1957)

Enter The Bartlett

The Bartlett has occupied offices in 1–19 Torrington Place since the early 1990s, when it was known as Philips House for its association with the electronics company. After the arrival of Sir Peter Cook in 1990, the way that architecture was taught at The Bartlett expanded and there was a need for more space. Most departments were decanted from Wates House to 1–19 Torrington Place, apart from the library, the School of Architecture, and the School of Planning.

The second floor was occupied by The Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, the School of Construction and Project Management, and the Energy Institute. The Space Group (now known as the Space Syntax Laboratory) had rooms on the third floor. Part of the basement was converted for the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis until it moved to rented offices in Tottenham Court Road in late 2010.

During more than two decades of existence, the Graduate School proved to be the incubator for institutes for Sustainable Heritage, and Environmental Design and Engineering, among others. Today, the School of Construction and Project Management continues to occupy offices on the second and third floors of the building.

The Bartlett Buildings series is produced by Amy Smith, Historian, Survey of London, part of The Bartlett School of Architecture.

The Bartlett is UCL's Faculty of the Built Environment, comprising 12 multidisciplinary schools, institutes and centres. Find out more:

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