Olympia Garage


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
Olympia Exhibitions Centre Car Park, Maclise Road, London, W14 8UX


Ordnance survey map of Olympia Garage
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Statutory Address:
Olympia Exhibitions Centre Car Park, Maclise 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:


Multi-storey garage, 1935-1937, built to the designs of Joseph Emberton.

Reasons for Designation

The Olympia Garage, Maclise Road, 1935-37 by Joseph Emberton, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as an important work by Joseph Emberton, a leading architect of the period, demonstrating the influence on his work of Continental Modernism and the technical rigour of his designs;

* as a bold, streamlined design characterised by extremely long banded glazing strips and curved ramp towers, the composition of the distinctive main elevation facilitated by the sophisticated underlying structural frame;

Historic interest:

* as an important staging post in the development of the multi-storey car park in Britain, which refined the established tandem parking system, gave a contemporary expression to the underlying form and, in so doing, pointed the way forward for the building type;

Group value:

* with the Grade II* listed Grand Hall and Pillar Hall, along with the Grade II listed Olympia National and Olympia Central.


The Olympia Garage was designed by Joseph Emberton (1889-1956) in 1935-1936 and completed in 1937 as part of a phase of significant investment in the exhibition centre initiated in the late 1920s. The garage was constructed on a narrow strip of land to the north side of the Olympia site. The plot was previously occupied by a terrace comprised of shops with flats above (cleared to make way for the garage) with a further house to the south-west which the garage was built up against (this subsequently demolished). An additional constraint on the plot was a workshop block of 1929-1930, which abuts the garage to the south, this also having been built to Emberton’s designs to serve the main halls. By the late 1920s, Emberton had become the architect of choice for Olympia Ltd, designing – in addition to the garage and workshops – the Empire Hall (1929-1930), a footbridge (1929), a covered way and ticket hall (1936), an (unbuilt) exhibition hall for a site on the west side of Addison Bridge (1933), the Princes Rooms (1936-1937) and various alterations to the interiors of the original exhibition halls (the Grand Hall and Pillar Hall), completed in 1886 to the designs of Henry Edward Coe (finalised after Coe’s death by James Edmeston).

Emberton’s work at Olympia embraced the emerging architectural fashion for streamlined, Moderne designs. This marked a transition point in his career, moving away from the Art Deco ornamentation of his 1920s commercial work towards the more refined architectural treatment he adopted in the 1930s, as demonstrated by key designs such as the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club (1931, listed Grade II*; NHLE 1123772) and Simpson’s on Piccadilly (1936, listed Grade II*; NHLE 1226639). The Olympia Garage is a restrained, expressly functional rendering of the Moderne style, as was considered appropriate to its use. Bearing the influence of the German architect Erich Mendelsohn’s famous Schocken department store at Chemnitz (1928-1929), the garage was designed with long glazing strips, curved side elevations encasing the ramps, and the absence of superfluous ornamentation; this articulating the building’s integral relationship between form and function. The garage was widely reported upon in the national architectural press and, upon Emberton’s death in 1956, it was one of the designs highlighted in his obituary (The Times, 22 November 1956, p14).

The decision to build a new garage at Olympia appears to have been spurred on by a similar development at nearby Earls Court, Olympia’s major competitor, where the annual Motor Show had moved in 1937. One of the main advantages of Earls Court at this stage was its parking provision, with the centre capable of accommodating around 1,800 cars. Emberton’s Olympia Garage was built as an upgrade to the open-air car park which had previously served the exhibition centre. It is notable that the new garage meant that Olympia’s total parking provision surpassed the capacity of its counterpart at Earls Court, with around 2,500 cars able to park at the centre when the garage was fully opened in June 1937 (The Motor, 15 June 1937, p868).

In London, as with other major cities in the 1930s, increasing demand for parking facilities prompted the need for a range of innovative designs for high-capacity garages with efficient parking systems. At Olympia, several different systems were considered for the long, narrow site. The form selected by Emberton had split (or staggered) floors connected by ramps to provide helical routes between the parking decks. This arrangement was inspired by Sir Owen Williams’ pioneering Cumberland Garage at Marble Arch, which opened in 1934. The plans for the Cumberland Garage had been studied by Emberton when preparing his designs for Olympia (as confirmed in a 1936 letter to the LCC: LMA, GLC/AR/BR/17/043611/01). However, in contrast to the Cumberland Garage, Olympia introduced additional curved ramps to either end of the building, allowing each set of staggered ramps to operate independently of one another. This created two separate routes for traffic which enabled cars to leave swiftly when required at the end of the day (1000 cars could leave the Olympia in 20 minutes when both exit routes were in operation, according to The Motor, 15 June 1937, p868). The garage was fully glazed and, like other contemporary garages, had ancillary features such as a petrol station, a room for chauffeurs, and a dedicated washing area. These were prerequisites in the 1930s but later became redundant. In addition, it provided a mess room for staff, bathing and cloakroom facilities for exhibitors, a large basement store for chairs and a foyer with a small office suite.

Some adaptation has been made to Emberton’s plan to maintain the Olympia Garage as a working car park. The original electric pumps of the petrol station have been removed and a metal screen has been added to the low-level wall, but the raised, kerbed pump island is retained, as are the tanks in the basement and the approach lanes, which now serve as the main entrance and exit ways for the parking levels. On its south-east side the garage was originally connected to a bridge from the Kensington Olympia station and a covered footpath and ticket hall; this has since been demolished (a rendered section of elevation identifies where it was attached to the south-east side). While several original windows survive, those of the principal, north-facing glazing bands have been replaced, although these closely follow the original glazing pattern. Internally, the entrance hall to the garage was refurbished in 1983 resulting in some elements of the original scheme here being remodelled (including the loss of the teak plywood panelling). However, the terrazzo flooring, the central column and the general configuration all survive. The main structural alterations to the garage are to the rear elevation (where parts of the cantilevered first floor have been underbuilt) and to the basement level, where the former mess rooms, wash rooms, kitchen and cloakrooms have been opened out and rearranged, leaving only fragments of the original plan.


Olympia Garage, 1935-1937, built to the designs of Joseph Emberton.

STRUCTURE AND MATERIALS: cantilevered, reinforced-concrete structural frame with buff brick elevations and steel-framed bands of wired windows.

PLAN: the split-level, ten-deck garage occupies a narrow plot to the north-west side of the Olympia site, its long principal elevation to Maclise Road with the east end fronting Olympia Way and the west Beaconsfield Terrace Road. The north side of the ground level (the podium), is entirely taken up by the access routes and the former petrol station, of which the arrangement is still evident. The main parking areas are connected by curved end ramps and central fan-shaped ramps which work together to provide a tandem parking system, as originally designed. Stair towers are positioned in the centre of the garage and at both ends. The main set is positioned on the south-east side, accessed via the entrance hall, with two passenger lifts also serving this tower. The basement is now principally used for storage, with a pump room and some wash rooms to the west side. The upper level of the garage is accessible only via stairs, having never been intended to provide parking space. The rear portion of the garage fronts onto the service yard, with some store rooms and offices beneath the cantilevered structure and a service lift to the basement. The workshop block abuts the rear elevation of the garage further west, with the stair tower on this side wrapping around to front Beaconsfield Terrace Road.

EXTERIOR: the garage stands five floors in height with elevations faced in buff brickwork laid in stretcher bond. Four extremely long, continuous, horizontal bands of glazing (relating to internal parking floors) run across the main elevation to either side of the recessed petrol-station bay, curving gently around the sides to east and west. The glazing is contained within slender concrete surrounds and is uninterrupted by structural supports, owing to the cantilevered form of construction. The principal Maclise Road elevation is punctuated by a square recess, positioned off-centre (to the east side) and screened from the street by an original low wall and an added metal barrier. The podium of the building, at ground level, is faced in brickwork, now painted white. The podium contains the main entrances for the garage and the petrol station. The garage entrances have original Haskins shutters and retain their cantilevered canopies.

The sides of the building are curved, reflecting the form of the ramps. Beyond each of these, to south-east and south-west, is a stair tower faced in buff English bond brickwork. That to the south-west is lit by small rectangular windows, with an unglazed area to its rear. The main stair tower to the east, which opens off the main entrance hall, creates the building’s strongest vertical accent. It contains a full-height bay filled with four superimposed nine-light Crittall windows with central top-hung opening lights. These original windows are separated from one another only by exposed concrete floor beams. A third stair tower occupies the central part of the rear of the building. Porthole windows filled with louvres on its west side correspond to extractor fans (which survive on each floor but do not function). Three small ‘haystack’ roof lanterns with wired glass admit light over each of the three stairwells.

The rear, or south, elevation of the garage is largely concealed from public view. Much of the eastern half of this elevation abuts the workshop block. Between the central stair tower (centre) and the offices (east) the upper floors were cantilevered over the yard. This has been partially infilled with later stores and office space. The western half of the rear elevation is brick-faced with four bands of glazing. While the garage has several surviving original Crittall windows, notably on the lower levels, main staircase, and rear elevation, those of the principal glazing bands have been replaced but these closely follow the original glazing pattern, with wired glass and several louvre vents added.

INTERIORS: the internal structure of the Olympia Garage is of reinforced concrete with visible shuttering, now painted white. The north side of the podium (or ground level) of the garage was entirely taken up by the access areas and the petrol station, of which the kerbed pump islands and access routes remain. Stores and other small rooms for attendants are tucked around the curved end ramps. To the south-east, the main stair and two passenger lifts (mechanisms modernised) are accessed from the entrance hall. This was refurbished in 1983, but the cream-coloured terrazzo flooring, central column and general configuration survive. The entrance hall has a ramp (originally stairs), which would have led up to the covered way in front of the Minor (Pillar) Hall that connected with the booking hall and footbridge, since demolished. Also set off this entrance hall are lavatories for men and women (north), and a four-room office suite (west). The manager’s office survives intact but the partitions defining the other office spaces have been removed. Arranged around the enclosed stair to the west of the ground floor were an office (not accessed), a store and the switch room.

The concrete ramps connecting the parking levels are arranged in a spiral form with central fan-shaped ramps linking the staggered floors, these supplemented by curved end ramps; this enabling flexibility of use (allowing either separate upward and downward routes or, alternatively, dual routes for exiting the garage) and rapid egress from the car park when required. The surfaces of the ramps are ridged to prevent skidding (those of the lower level have, in addition, been pecked), and the sides are protected by kerbs and curved steel rails.

The concrete structure impinges minimally on the parking spaces, with free-standing rounded piers on the south side only. The cantilevered construction allows the window bands to run independent of the structure, to the front and rear. Each floor was fitted with Hoffman sprinklers (valves largely replaced, but some examples in basement may be original). Because the building is glazed – as were all multi-storey parking garages before 1960 – it had to be well ventilated. This was done by providing ducts at ground-floor level and centrifugal fans on the upper levels. The fans survive (one per floor) together with their original louvred oculi vents.

Each of the southern levels has a small, glass-fronted office for an attendant to the east and a store to the west (several with original doors). Additional features were provided on the ground and first floors, including four spaces on the ground level which were designated washing spaces. This is still legible: the area was marked by a low, rounded kerb which partially survives. Substantial gutters separate the bays, and there are two rotating washing apparatus fixed to the ceiling, each with two nozzles. The chauffeurs’ room and lavatories were located on the first floor, directly above the management offices (not accessed but the area remains distinct in the plan).

The parking ramps did not descend to the basement, which was used primarily for chair storage for the halls. Directly beneath the petrol station is the enclosure for the six petrol tanks. Beside the central stair and goods lift (the latter serving basement and ground levels only) was a boiler room (not accessed). In the south-east corner of the building, under the main entrance lobby – and connected with the offices by a straight flight of stairs (stair bay not fully accessed, but stair apparently removed) – was a large mess room, a kitchen with a store, and a cloakroom with a store. Fragments of this arrangement survive: the cloakroom with its store and adjoining corridor, and one of the large windows on the south side of the mess room. The west end of the basement contained extensive bathrooms, showers, lavatories, water closets and urinals, and also a pump room. While the pump room survives intact with some original machinery, the bathroom facilities have been extensively reconfigured within the original enclosure, and additional rooms have been created to their south and east.


Books and journals
Cherry, Bridget, Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Buildings of England London 3: North West, (1991), 223
Ind, R, Joseph Emberton, (1983)
Morrison, K, Minnis, J, Carscapes: the Motor Car, Architecture, and Landscape in England, (2012)
'The Proposed Extension to Olympia' in Architect and Building News, , Vol. 133, (24 February 1933), 244-247
'Changes at Olympia' in Architectural Design, , Vol. 6, no. 12, (October 1936), 416
'Garage at Olympia' in Architects' Journal, (8 April 1937), 601-605
'Working Details, Ramp Construction, Garage at Olympia' in Architects' Journal, (30 September 1937), 509
'A Multi-Storey Garage, Olympia, Kensington' in Builder, (31 October 1937), 1197-1199
'Olympia Garage Troubles Over' in The Motor, (15 June 1937), 868
Olympia Garage Plans, July 1936, London Metropolitan Archives (GLC/AR/BR/17/043611/01)
Olympia Garage Plans, July 1936, RIBA Drawings Collection (PA233/1 1-13)


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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