Ventilation Shaft Cover, Pimlico


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Bessborough Street, Pimlico, London, SW1V


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Statutory Address:
Bessborough Street, Pimlico, London, SW1V

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
City of Westminster (London Borough)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


Sculpture by Eduardo Paolozzi, installed in 1982.

Reasons for Designation

The ventilation shaft cover by Eduardo Paolozzi, of 1982, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Artistic interest: a cast metal sculpture of high artistic and aesthetic quality, high tech in spirit with exposed and celebrated mechanical features and an anthropomorphic robotic quality. Its location in its original setting contributes to its significance, but the artistic interest of the sculpture is not dependent on its locale; * Historic Interest: as a piece commissioned by a commercial developer from the internationally renowned artist Eduardo Paolozzi, and representative of a recurrent theme in his oeuvre.


The period after 1945 saw a shift from commemorative sculpture and architectural enrichment to the idea of public sculpture as a primarily aesthetic contribution to the public realm. Sculpture was commissioned for new housing, schools, universities and civic set pieces, with the counties of Hertfordshire, London and Leicestershire leading the way in public patronage. Thus public sculpture could be an emblem of civic renewal and social progress. By the late C20 however, patronage was more diverse and included corporate commissions and Arts Council-funded community art. The ideology of enhancing the public realm through art continued, but with divergent means and motivation.

Visual languages ranged from the abstraction of Victor Pasmore and Philip King to the figurative approach of Elisabeth Frink and Peter Laszlo Peri, via those such as Lynn Chadwick and Barbara Hepworth who bridged the abstract/representational divide. The post-war decades are characterised by the exploitation of new – often industrial – materials and techniques including new welding and casting techniques, plastics and concrete, while kinetic sculpture and ‘ready mades’ (using found objects) demonstrate an interest in composite forms.

Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) was one of the foremost artists working in Britain during the second half of the C20. Born in Edinburgh to Italian parents, Paolozzi attended Edinburgh College of Art in 1943 with the intention of becoming a commercial artist. In 1944 he attended St Martin’s School of Art, London before going on to study sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art, London from 1945-57. In the late 1940s he produced sculptures and collages inspired by Surrealism and spent time in Paris. From 1949-55 Paolozzi taught at the Central School of Art and Design in London and collaborated on a section of the ‘This is Tomorrow’ exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1956. His work during the 1950s focussed on the brutalised human form and introduced impressions inspired by machinery and other moving parts, a theme he would develop in the 1960s by collaborating with industrial engineering firms and experimenting with aluminium. He worked in a wide range of media, including collage and print, and was also a film maker.

Paolozzi was awarded a CBE in 1968 and became a Royal Academician in 1979. In 1981 Paolozzi was appointed Professor of Sculpture at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Munich. Among later appointments were those of Professor of Ceramics at the Royal College of Art, London and Visiting Professor at Edinburgh School of Art. In 1986, Paolozzi was promoted to the office of Her Majesty’s Sculptor in Ordinary for Scotland in 1986, which he held until his death in April 2005. Paolozzi was awarded a KBE and knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988. In the last decades of his life he undertook a number of public commissions in Britain, Germany and Japan; the most well known being 'Newton After Blake' outside the British Library (1996, listed at Grade I with the Library, National Heritage List for England no. 1426345), the mosaics at Tottenham Court Road underground station, and the Rhiengarten project in Cologne.

The ventilation shaft cover was commissioned from Paolozzi by the Crown Estate Commissioners through Whitfield Partners who, between 1976 and 1983, designed and constructed two commercial blocks to either side of the piece. The sculpture was designed and produced between 1978-82, and cast by the Robert Taylor Foundry in Larbert, Scotland. In addition to adorning the public realm created by the immediate architectural scheme, the sculpture may have a functional role screening a ventilation shaft for an underground car park, but although suggested in some references, it has no functional relationship with London Underground.


Ventilation shaft cover, probably to a underground car park, by Eduardo Paolozzi, installed 1982. The sculpture is located in a public open space between nos. 1 and 2 Bessborough Street.

MATERIALS: cast steel panels and stainless steel on a thin cast steel plinth.

EXTERIOR: the overall aesthetic is high tech with exposed and celebrated mechanical features and an anthropomorphic robotic quality. A square sculpture, measuring approximately 12m high, the ventilation shaft cover comprises cast panels on four sides to a height of approximately 4m. Each panel has irregularly arranged cast images of mechanical parts from machinery, aircraft, mechanical diggers, insects, fish, clocks and geometric shapes in a variety of sizes. On the lower panel of the south side is the cast script ‘E.PAOLOZZI/LONDON 1982’. Stacked above the panels are two tanks separated by latticed panels; the rivets are exposed. Each tank has louvred panels to the west and east sides and solid panels to the north and south. From the base of the lowest tank, stainless steel pipes on a frame project at each corner to the top of the grilles. Other pipes of varying diameters are attached to the south and north faces of the lower tank.


Books and journals
Collins, Judith, Eduardo Paolozzi, (2014)
Pevsner, N, Bradley, S, The Buildings of England: London 6 Westminster, (2003), 785, 786
Artist informaiton, accessed 14/10/15 from
Artist information, accessed 14/10/15 from
Artist's biography, accessed 14/10/15 from


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

End of official listing

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