By their nature, factories tend to be rather utilitarian buildings, constructed with financial economy rather than architectural impact in mind. There are however exceptions to this, and there are few better examples than the Hoover factory located on the A40 Western Avenue in Perivale, in the west of London.
When built, the Western Avenue was a potent symbol of the modern age; a wide, tree lined boulevard intended to whisk the increasingly motorized masses out of the City and off to the west. Although when built it largely ran through a rural area, this major new artery was soon being lined with new homes and industry, many of which reflected the optimism of the period.
By the early 1930s, the American Hoover Company had established itself as a leading brand of vacuum cleaner manufacturers internationally, and as domestic residences were increasingly being wired up to mains electricity, demand grew for the new appliances. The Perivale plant was to be first manufacturing facility outside of North America to be built by Hoover; its aim was to produce goods for the European market, thus avoiding the inconvenience associated with Transatlantic exporting. Perivale was convenient for both road and rail networks, and had a growing population capable of staffing the works.
Designed by the architectural firm of Wallis Gilbert and Partners, the Perivale plant was just one of several spectacular Art Deco factory buildings that lined Western Avenue. Their different styles befitted their prominent locations on this new highway, and it would not be inaccurate to claim that the factories themselves formed a type of advertising for their owners.
The main building at Hoover was opened and manufacturing vacuum cleaners by 1933, and although the building is relatively restrained in comparison to other examples of this architectural genre on these pages, it nevertheless proved to be a striking landmark, both then and now. The factory was built in steel-reinforced concrete, which was formulated to stay pure white in colour and referred to at the as 'Snowcrete'. This kept the building looking clean at all times, especially after rainfall, and seeing such a sparkling and modern building would have led to a positive association between it and its products to the passer-by.
The brightness of this facade was further heightened by the glazed ceramic tiles applied in detail to it - bold reds, greens and blues appeared in the corners of the building, whilst red stripes zig-zagged their way across the length of the frontage, punctuated by the large windows with their light green frames that extended a considerable way up the structure. This use of colour, whilst commonplace today, was sensational in the predominantly drab surroundings of the early 1930s. The centrepiece of this building was the front entrance, which was topped by a large window, a geometric burst of glass with an intricately designed steel frame, not dissimilar to the sunburst motif common at the time.
Work was not completed at the site until 1938, and one of the later additions was the canteen building to the west of the main plant. This building, whilst also art deco in style is rather more dramatic in appearance than its parent building, and illustrates the extent to which modern architecture had changed in such a short time. The main factory building has strong Egyptian overtones, but the canteen could easily have passed for a cinema, with its dramatic expanse of glazing that in some places wrapped round 180 degrees and its low central tower.
The plant stayed in use by Hoover until the early 1980s, as concerns about the condition of the structure were expressed. The building was suffering from what is known as concrete cancer - the process of the steel reinforcing rusting and pushing apart the concrete. The building had been listed before closure, a move seen to be a response to the destruction of the Firestone factory (an earlier creation of Wallis Gilbert and Partners, and recognisably related to the Hoover building) elsewhere in West London in 1980.
After standing idle for some years, the site was purchased by Tesco supermarkets in 1989, and although the main manufacturing area at the rear was removed to make way for a supermarket and car parking, the frontage and the canteen were carefully restored by the retail chain, a process which included pioneering use of a re-alkalisation technique which was instrumental in preserving the original fabric of the structure. The future of this remarkable building is now assured, and it remains as one of the best-known landmarks in West London.