Olympia National and Olympia Central, Olympia Exhibition Centre
- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Statutory Address:
- Olympia Exhibitions Ltd, Hammersmith Road, London, W14 8UX
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- Statutory Address:
- Olympia Exhibitions Ltd, Hammersmith Road, London, W14 8UX
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Greater London Authority
- Hammersmith and Fulham (London Borough)
- Non Civil Parish
- National Grid Reference:
Olympia National (the former National Hall), part of Olympia Exhibition Centre of 1923 by architects Holman and Goodrham and Olympia Central (built as the Empire Hall) of 1929, by architect Joseph Emberton, altered in the later C20.
Reasons for Designation
Olympia National of 1923 by Holman and Goodrham and Olympia Central of 1929 by Joseph Emberton, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons.
Architectural interest: * the distinctive classical detailing of Olympia National’s façade combined with its simplified, scaled-down version of the Grand Hall’s roof creates a distinguished exhibition space;
* Emberton’s façade to Olympia Central is a well-composed early representation of Modern architecture in England with characteristic detailing, fronting the first example of a four-storey exhibition building in the country.
Historic interest: * for their cultural role in national and international exhibitions as two important elements of the Olympia Exhibition Centre; * as part of Olympia Exhibition Centre, a nationally rare surviving example of a building type which rose in prominence in the mid-C19, of which few examples remain countrywide.
Group value: * for their strong group value with the Grand Hall and Pillar Hall, the earliest phases of the Olympia Exhibition Centre, listed at Grade II*.
Olympia was originally conceived in the early 1880s as the National Agricultural Hall, a larger version of the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington. The project of building a National Agricultural Hall was conceived by Major Edwyn Sherard Burnaby (1830-1883), MP for Leicestershire North, who primarily wanted to see shows such as the military Royal Tournament, held at the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington (1861-62, Grade II) since 1880, staged on a much larger scale and made more easily accessible by railway from across London and the rest of the country.
The site chosen was a former market garden in West Kensington, immediately adjacent to Addison Road station, already a major passenger station on the West London Railway, which became an important method of transport for visitors to Olympia. The building was branded as Olympia even before it opened as its commercial rationale quickly evolved beyond the staging of agricultural or military shows into an open-ended exploitation of what was the largest such venue in England at the time. Intended as a large indoor space for exhibitions, tournaments, sporting competitions and entertainments of various kinds, the building followed in the tradition of large-scale exhibition halls popularised by the Great Exhibition in 1851, the inspiration for various imitators in London, elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and around the world.
The foundation stone was laid Tuesday 21st July 1885 when details of the proposed design by Henry Edward Coe (1826-1885) were released in the architectural press. Coe was an obvious choice for principal architect, having already designed the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington with his partner Peck in the early 1860s, which at the time of completion was the largest such hall in the country. Coe had trained under George Gilbert Scott in the 1840s, at the same time as George Edmund Street, and had enjoyed a solid career with particular success in public buildings such as the Cambridge Guildhall and Royal Agricultural Hall, educational buildings and some churches.
Working across a range of styles in his career, Coe was evidently confident in the High Victorian mode of merging historicism with pragmatic and sometimes daring solutions to modern building types, as had been seen at major railway stations, market halls and other large indoor spaces from the 1850s onwards. Coe’s Italianate elevation for the new hall along Addison Road (now Olympia Way) was surmounted by the huge, glazed vault of the roof, with applied decoration kept to a discreet minimum. Henry Edward Coe died in December 1885, a year before the grand opening, but the design of the Grand Hall was entirely his, as well as the overall plan and concept of the hall complex including the Pillar Hall (built as the Minor Hall) and function rooms. James Edmeston had already been announced as an additional architect a few months before Coe died, and it was Edmeston who completed detailed designs for the Minor Hall, an ornate neo-classical anteroom to the Grand Hall designed for smaller events, lectures and dinners.
The Grand Hall had an impressive principal floor area of 440 ft by 175 ft (134m by 53m) under a largely glazed barrel-vaulted roof. It was England’s largest enclosed space at the time of construction, with unobstructed views, and created an architectural spectacle matched only by the great railway termini of the High Victorian period. The roof was engineered by Arthur T Walmisley and Max Am Ende, both of whom had worked earlier with Rowland Ordish, a specialist designer of iron structures who designed the St Pancras Station roof, the largest span iron roof in the world at that time. Walmisley and Am Ende employed a number of innovative approaches to maximise stability whilst maintaining an open and light structure. These include the hinged top openings and crinkle-crankle effect to the end gables (which Walmisley described as vertical ridge and furrow construction).
The new Olympia opened on Boxing Day in 1886, with an opening show from the Paris Hippodrome Company, a circus spectacular which included performing horses and elephants. At its opening, Olympia was the largest uninterrupted floorspace in the country and had a multifunctional character from the start, with numerous ways to profitably exploit such a valuable resource. With temporary raked seating in place, stretching from the floor to above the level of the gallery, 9000 people could be seated, and it was claimed that the arena and track laid out at the centre of the audience (suitable for the stag hunting staged by the Paris Hippodrome) was 100 ft (30m) longer than any previously available in the country. Before subsequent phases of Olympia and nearby houses were constructed, pleasure gardens were also laid out surrounding the undeveloped portions of the original site, for the purposes of dances, musical entertainments and promenading during the summer months, emphasising Olympia as an entertainment destination and not just a functional space for one-off events.
The second phase of Olympia, Olympia National, was built in 1923, designed by architects Holman and Goodrham. Known as the New Hall (subsequently National Hall) it was built on the site of a detached house and three pairs of semi-detached houses at the eastern half of West Kensington and opened in time for the Ideal Home Exhibition of March 1923. It fulfilled a functional requirement for more space in what had become a successful commercial enterprise, and referenced the original building stylistically and in its plan, albeit at a smaller scale with a substantial new commercial frontage to Hammersmith Road entered from a chamfered corner between Hammersmith Road and Olympia Way. This entrance had a large restaurant on the ground floor and a substantial function room above it (currently known as the Apex Room) with numerous smaller functions rooms, offices and miscellaneous service rooms over two floors and a basement, used largely for kitchens and store rooms. There was, and still is, complete interoperability between Olympia Grand and Olympia National (and later with Olympia Central) with roller shutter doors installed at both the main floor and gallery levels. Events could be held separately across the separate halls or unified across the available space, a design maxim that continued in further expansions of the site.
From 1929 onwards, a newly reconstituted company, Olympia Ltd, commissioned Joseph Emberton, one of the country’s leading architects in the modern idiom, to design a major new hall for the complex, several auxiliary structures and a multi-storey garage completed in 1937. The Hammersmith Road elevation of Olympia Central (Emberton’s Empire Hall of 1929-30) was an early expression in England of the modern movement in architecture. Functionally, it was the first-four storey exhibition building ever erected in the country, with an emphasis on the pragmatic requirement for floor space rather than the large enclosed spaces required for spectacular shows.
CHANGES TO THE BUILDINGS Olympia National is little altered, but Olympia Central has been remodelled. The exterior has a good degree of survival, but the loss of ‘1929’ below ‘Olympia’ in relief to the front elevation is noted. The loss of ‘1929’ below ‘Olympia’ in relief to the front elevation of Olympia Central is noted. Restoration of the facade in 2011 indicates there was a copper finish to the canopy and that darker panels of either granite or granite/bitumen aggregate were between the windows in the band of fenestration. The exhibition floors, which were intended to be functional, remain much as constructed. However, the roof is replaced and the interior of the reception block on Hammersmith Road has been greatly reordered including the removal of the principal stairs and lantern above, although the basement lift lobby is thought to survive. A conference centre with lecture theatre was created on the third floor, with conference facilities located on the second floor in addition to the exhibition area.
Olympia West, located on the site of a one-storey annexe built in the 1890s intended as an overflow space, is a two storey exhibition hall dating from 2011 (by Collado Collins Architects) which fills a curved wedge shape to the west of the Olympia site and sits between the rear of Olympia Grand and Central. Its external brick, curved wall is historic fabric but as an unthreatened building principally of 2011 it was not eligible to be assessed for listing (2018).
Olympia National (the former National Hall), annexe to the Olympia Exhibition Centre of 1923 by architects Holman and Goodrham and Olympia Central (built as the Empire Hall) of 1929, by architect Joseph Emberton, altered in the later C20. Part of the Olympia Exhibition Centre which includes, in a separate List entry: the Grand Hall, (the former National Agricultural Hall), and Pillar Hall (the former Minor Hall), both of 1885 in Italianate style by Henry Edward Coe with James Edmeston and engineers Arthur T Walmisley M.Inst.C.E. and Max Am Ende M.Inst.C.E.
MATERIALS: Olympia National is of red brick with stone dressings with an iron, glazed roof.
Olympia Central, of 1929, is a building of steel and brick, with concrete floors. The front range has a reconstructed stone facade manufactured from concrete with a Portland stone aggregate. The original glazed roof has been renewed.
PLAN: the evolved Olympia Exhibition Centre is served by an open yard to the west with access from Blythe Road. The halls have shared ground and first floor levels in places, and are linked internally, but can operate independently with their separate entrances. Internal ‘streets’ for vehicular movement known as Hospital Avenue and Portcullis Avenue fall within the footprint of Olympia Central and National.
The Grand Hall and the Pillar Hall, aligned on an east-west axis, lie to the north of Olympia National and Olympia Central and are described in a separate List entry. Olympia National occupies the south-east corner of the site, with the principal, façade and entrances onto Hammersmith Road with a prominent corner entrance at the junction with Olympia Way. To the rear is a glazed exhibition hall. Olympia Central is attached to the west of Olympia National, with its main entrance on Hammersmith Road. The plan is broadly rectangular, with grouped fire escape stairs in each of the four corners, lifts to the front of the plan and the steel beams of the building frame at 15m intervals on a square grid. The front range had a large light and stair well, a grand route through the building, which have now been lost.
EXTERIOR: Olympia National continues the facade south along Olympia Way and the Hammersmith Road in a pared down neo-classical style. The front range has two storeys with a glazed exhibition hall to the rear (north). It has a prominent corner entrance pavilion at the south-east, a central entrance block of eight bays (doors not original) and an end pavilion in Portland stone ashlar with carved details including ionic pilasters, wreaths and dentils. The facades between the pavilions are in red brick, each with metal windows with stone surrounds on the ground and first floors loosely grouped in threes, and a brick parapet above.
INTERIOR: Olympia National has a more stripped-down aesthetic. The principal function rooms are the now separate restaurant in the south-east corner of the ground floor and the 'Apex' room above. The entrance vestibule from the corner entrance on Hammersmith Road is richly detailed with mahogany panelling, mirrors and elaborate white plasterwork, a decorative theme that runs through the entirety of the entertaining and function room suites throughout this wing of the building. On the ground floor is the former function room with panelling and neo-Classical details (in use as a restaurant in 2018). Stairs with a moulded timber handrail lead to the Apex Room on the first floor of the corner section of the building and accessible directly by stairs from the vestibule as well as directly from the gallery level of the hall in a flexible manner. It is a substantial entertaining space, largely free of structural pillars and with a coffered ceiling, neo-classical plaster mouldings and brackets. A club room with similar decorative treatment lies to the west.
Inside the main space of the hall, the overall effect is very similar to Olympia Grand Hall, but much simpler, on a much smaller scale and with fewer decorative effects. The roof span of 30m (100 ft) by 72m (238 ft) and height of 24m (79 ft) remains substantial, but essentially a reduced scale version of the Grand Hall because of the design of barrel-vaulting over an unencumbered space with aisles and galleries surrounding on all sides.
EXTERIOR: the new hall created 250,000 sq ft (23,225 sq m) of new space for Olympia, with three main exhibition floors of around 60,000 sq ft (5,574 sq m) and a service floor (plus entry and circulation) at ground level and basement beneath. The facade of Olympia Central on the Hammersmith Road is in the Modern style; the doors to the main entrance are not original. Horizontal strips of windows are designed to light the floors inside at a high level, to avoid being blocked by exhibition stands. A vertical panel of glazing rises above the low entrance, originally to light the light well just inside. 'Olympia' is written in relief at the top of each end of the facade, although '1929' in subscript has been lost following the conversion of the top floor into a conference centre and the closing off of the central internal light well in 1987 which required the addition of a new horizontal window at the top of the main elevation. The surface is also punctuated by small angle windows, other small windows, and decorative air vents. The original decorative horizontal fixing bars for electric exhibition advertisements are retained. The original canopy stretches most of the length of the facade, decorated and lit on the underside, and concealing floodlighting for the facade above.
Behind the front range are three exhibition floors above the ground floor service yard. The steel and concrete structure is expressed in the exposed west elevation, where the brick elevations are functional, punctuated by near continuous rows of high level windows to allow maximum daylight to the exhibition areas within. These windows were lit originally by ‘Maximum Daylight’ glass, a combination of lens and prism layers intended to maximise light even on dull days, much of which appears to survive.
INTERIOR: the reception area of the interior of Olympia Central has been significantly altered, including the removal of the main stairs at the ground floor and infilling of the light well above. It is said, however, that the basement lift lobby which originally led to a basement restaurant survives well. The exhibition floors were always deliberately functional. The third floor has been modified to form a conference centre.
Books and journals
Cherry, B, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: London 3 North West, (2002)
A.T.Walmisley, Iron Roofs, London, E and FN Spon, 1900.
A.T.Walmisley, The Roof of the National Agricultural Hall, Kensington, 1887, RIBA pamphlet collection
Early Structural Steel in London, Jonathan Clarke, English Heritage 2014
Olympia Exhibition Centre Research Report, Matthew Whitfield, Historic England, February 2018
The Architect and Building News, February 24, 1933.
The Architect and Building News, January 24, 1930, pp.127, 130-137
The Architect and Building News, January 9, 1931. pp.74-6.
The Architect and Building News, March 28, 1930.
The Architect and Building News, October 3, 1930, pp.455, 468-9.
The Architects' Journal, April 8, 1937, pp.601-606.
The Architectural Review, April 1930, pp.319-320.
The Builder, December 18 1885, p.876
The Builder, October 3, 1885, pp.460, 477
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.
End of official listing