Express building to open to public

BY WILL NOBLE of the Londonist

With its swooping black Vitrolite and glass frontage framed in gleaming chromium, the former Daily Express Building cuts a singular figure along Fleet Street.

Seeing inside it is another matter. Unless you're fortunate enough to get a private tour of 120 Fleet Street, you'll have to make do with squinting through the semi-diaphanous curtains, trying to make out what you can of its decadent swirling oval staircase, handrails shaped like serpents, Eric Aumonier's sublime (if jingoistic) plaster reliefs of 'Empire' and 'Britain', and an explosive silver and gilt ceiling that would make Liberace reach for his sunglasses.

Soon though, everyone will be able to admire this remarkable lobby, thanks to green-lit redevelopment plans, confirmed by the City of London Corporation.

Neighbouring building, River Court — which was vacated by Goldman Sachs in 2019 — will be knocked down to make way for a 21-storey office-led development designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). It's been described as a 'direct homage' to the old Express Building, and given its undulating glass facade and stepped design, it's not difficult to see why.

Some will argue that BIG should have gone with something more individual, rather than a pale imitation of the original, although others would say the Danish architects could have done a lot worse.

Anyway, for us, the exciting news is about the original art deco building itself; The City of London Corporation says the Express Building will become a "publicly accessible cultural destination with social and educational outreach" — and although we're not entirely sure what that means, Architects' Journal previously reported part of it will entail an exhibition space, showcasing the history of writing and communication (perhaps of Fleet Street specifically, which has a tale or two million to tell).

And not only will that extravagant lobby permanently open up, sating the appetite of deco-heads across the land, but a small roof garden on top of the building will be made accessible to all, with views over the City of London, and a unique perspective of the St Bride's steeple across the way.

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre