Wednesday, 7 April 2010

A neo-classical, electricity-generating bus hive

I'm doing some work for the excellent Sofa.com (strongly recommended!). Their warehouse is just off Wood Lane, behind the behemothic Westfield shopping centre. In this chopped-about and still largely open area - the site of the 1908 Exhibition and the Olympics of the same year - stand two strangely impressive buildings.

They are massive. The pair's footprint must be close to that of a football pitch and they stand about three times higher than a double-decker bus - I know the latter dimension as one of them is being used as a bus garage. And yet they're easy to miss, tucked away in this disregarded corner of London. 

It says here that
The Dimco Buildings, built in 1898-9, originally served as an electricity generating station [Europe's first] for the Central London Railways, the forerunner of the Central line, before becoming a machine tool shop for the Dimco firm. The buildings then fell into disrepair but have recently been refurbished and restored...

To use a cliche that was well-worked when St Pancras's railway shed re-opened: they each contain a cathedral-like space. But the visual fascination arises from rather more than this. As they stand alone and can be viewed from a distance you very clearly get a sense of the scale of the voids. This lends the buildings a delicate, lattice-like quality, an impression accentuated by the careful detailing of the brickwork with its suggestion of columns; the perfectly-judged arched and round windows; and the roofs, which are effectively vast, pitched sky-lights.

The colours are appealing too, what with the attractively mottled bricks and the windows containing the sort of virescent reflections you find in antique glass. The interior is decorated with generous strips of cream, brown and green glazed bricks - apparently, a typical London transport livery of one hundred years ago you may recognise from some Tube stations (it seems familiar but I can't recall from where).

Finally, the scale of everything in view is intriguing. These outsize, red-brick wendy-houses are dwarfed by the even more gigantic hull of the Westfield. And the buses that dart in and out have something of the quality of bees. The red double-deckers lose their usual ponderousness and heft: in this over-scaled context, accommodating to an almost ridiculous extent, they seem to glide and zip.

I'm conscious of being perhaps excessively rhapsodic about a brick bus garage and what I believe is still an electricity generating station. See them and judge for yourself (the images I found here; whilst lovely they only show details).

3 comments:

worm said...

lovely stuff, and I don't think you're being excessively rhapsodic, (a la Sinclair or Ackroyd)- you've made it sound like a really fascinating place, and I love finding out about hidden gems in London that I haven't heard of before.

Tell you what, I reckon i'd really fit in at a company called Dimco

Brit said...

I like the bee-like buses. Like when you take off in a plane and all the cars and trucks look like wee little dinky toys.

Gaw said...

I prefer Wormco.

Brit: Yes, it was all rather toy-like as well as huge. Quite disorienting. I could have sat there and watched the whole scene for a while.