North Watford History Group

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Hille House and Business Centre

Hille House

124–132a St Albans Road map

The brutal modernism of Hille House has polarised the opinions of many North Watford residents and visitors. Often regarded as an ugly imposing concrete structure, it is in fact a building of architectural significance. The building, now part of Hille Business Centre, is not just of historic interest, it remains occupied and in use today. It is home to a number of businesses, with retail units at street level and office accommodation above.

The site upon which Hille Business Centre now stands had been originally built upon to house the Wells Brewery.

Hidden behind the modernist building of Hille House on St Albans road can be seen an older red brick building. This is what now remains of Wells' Watford Brewery Ltd. The later buildings on the site, including Hille House, were built for Hille furniture company.

Following the sale of the furniture company, Hille International Ltd., in 1983, the site was retained by S. Hille & Co. (Holdings) Ltd. At that point, the site comprised of four buildings, plus a collection of redundant sheds, garages and a boiler house. It was no longer suitable for use by a single occupier, so had to be remodelled for multiple occupancy. The disused buildings were demolished and a new light industrial unit, designed by Austin-Smith:Lord & Partners, was completed in 1988.

Watford, at one time, accommodated major industries such as printing, engineering, brewing and aero industries. As the manufacturing base dwindled other uses have been found for the many redundant sites. The Hille Business Centre is just one example providing accommodation for a multitude of smaller companies.

Hille House

Hille House, the building fronting the site to St Albans Road, was designed by the Hungarian-born modernist architect Ernö Goldfinger (1902-1987) in 1959. Like other buildings designed by Ernö Goldfinger, it attracts some controversy. His best-known designs include the Elephant and Castle development, and the residential developments in Willow Road, Hampstead, in 1939, [1] and Trellick Tower, North Kensington, in 1967. The latter is now recognised as a design masterpiece, but had been heavily criticised following its completion. [2] There is now a strong demand for the flats, many of which are in private ownership.

Although the appearance of Hille House is dominated by the concrete, a closer inspection demonstrates the use of white Uxbridge brick infill between the concrete pillars that form the structural frame. The cantilevered box on the front of the building and coloured glass design is an Ernö Goldfinger signature; this is the first of Goldfinger's buildings to have this feature. [3] This cantilever feature on the front elevation is made up of several precast concrete block windows fitted with brightly coloured glass. The detail is repeated on another face of the building at two levels, but unlike the front, these are not cantilevered.

When looking at the building, it is worth taking note of the photobolic screen windows, which can readily be seen from St Albans Road. This technique allows more daylight to be admitted by having a small recessed window above the larger main window. The ledge (i.e. the screen) created between the small window and the large window was painted white to reflect more light further into the room, while reducing glare near the window. Although this invention is credited to Ernö Goldfinger in some texts on architecture, there is a suggestion that this technique was first used in the construction of hospital wards during the Crimean War. There is no doubt though that the use of photobolic screens had been popularised by Goldfinger, and these featured in many of his buildings.

Ernö Goldfinger shares his name with Auric Goldfinger, Ian Fleming's Bond villain. This is no coincidence: Ian Fleming was noted for "borrowing" the names of his friends and acquaintances for the characters in his books. There is some speculation surrounding the reasons behind this choice of Goldfinger's name, most of which centres upon it being an act of revenge by Fleming brought about by his distaste at the way in which Goldfinger had redeveloped the properties in Willow Road. [4] Ernö Goldfinger's biographer, Nigel Warburton, however, rejects this theory and narrates a far more benign background where Ian Fleming had simply considered the name Goldfinger to be suitably villainous for his needs. At the time, Fleming had been discussing Goldfinger's work with his golfing partner, John Blackwell, a cousin of Ursula Blackwell, Goldfinger's wife. [5] It is certain that Ernö Goldfinger did not appreciate being immortalised in this way, and this led to legal action against Fleming and his publishers. The publishers settled out of court, but ultimately, the animosity between the two continued. [6]

Photographs

Hille House

Hille House viewed along St Albans Road, toward Watford Junction station.

Map


View Larger Map

Map showing locations of:
Hille House marker Hille House
Old Post Office marker The Old Post Office
Wells Brewery marker Wells Lion Brewery building
Hille factory marker Hille factory building

Credits

Research: Jill Waterson and Glen; North Watford History Group.
Author: Glen; North Watford History Group.
Photographs: Sean; North Watford History Group.
Thanks to Ian Scheer of S. Hille & Co. for his insight into the development of Hille Business Centre. [7]

References

  1. 2 Willow Road; National Trust website
  2. Ernö Goldfinger biography; The Design Museum website
  3. Dunnet, James & Stamp, Gavin (compilers); Ernö Goldfinger: Works I, page 79; ISBN 0904503267
  4. Ernö Goldfinger biography; The Design Museum website
  5. Warbuton, Nigel; Ernö Goldfinger: The Life Of An Architect, pages 1-4; ISBN 0415258537
  6. Ezard, John; How Goldfinger nearly became Goldprick; The Guardian, 3 Jun 2005
  7. Scheer, Ian; The History of Wells Brewery Site from 1902 ; 2 Sep 2008

[Added by Glen: 10:48pm 14 Sep 2008]
[Updated by Glen: 09:22am 18 Nov 2008]
[Updated by Glen: 1:38am 6 Jan 2009]
[Updated by Glen: 10:43pm 22 Mar 2009]
[Updated by Glen: 11:20pm 13 Apr 2009]

This page was last updated on 18 May 2009.