Unilever House

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Unilever House
Unilever House 2020.jpg
Unilever House seen from Blackfriars Bridge
Former namesLever House
General information
Architectural styleNeoclassical Art Deco
London, EC4
United Kingdom
Address100 Victoria Embankment
Coordinates51°30′42″N 0°06′17″W / 51.511654°N 0.104671°W / 51.511654; -0.104671Coordinates: 51°30′42″N 0°06′17″W / 51.511654°N 0.104671°W / 51.511654; -0.104671
Current tenantsUnilever, Bristows, Royal Mail
Construction started1929
Completed1933; 88 years ago (1933)
Renovated1977–83; 2004–07
Technical details
Floor area385,500ft²
Design and construction
ArchitectJames Lomax-Simpson
Architecture firmSir John Burnet & Partners
Other designersThomas S. Tait
William Reid Dick
Gilbert Ledward
Walter Gilbert
Eric Gill
Renovating team
Renovating firmKohn Pedersen Fox Associates
Other designersPringle Brandon

Unilever House is a Grade II listed office building in the Neoclassical Art Deco style, located on New Bridge Street, Victoria Embankment in Blackfriars, London. The building has a tall, curving frontage which overlooks Blackfriars Bridge on the north bank of the River Thames.[1]

The site of Unilever House was previously occupied by Bridewell Palace, a residence of Henry VIII, which later became a poorhouse and prison. These buildings were destroyed in 1864 making way for De Keyser's Royal Hotel.[2][3] In 1920, Lord Leverhulme leased the site to build the London headquarters of his soap manufacturing company Lever Brothers, which became Unilever in 1930. Construction did not commence until 1929.

Design and construction[edit]

The design was a collaboration between James Lomax-Simpson, the Unilever company architect and a member of its board, and John James Burnet and Thomas S. Tait, partners in the firm of Sir John Burnet and Partners. However, there has been much confusion over the relative contributions of these architects. A note by Simpson claimed exclusive credit, suggesting that Burnet and Tait merely approved the final design; but Burnet and Tait exhibited the design as a joint work with Simpson at the Royal Academy; and drawings held at London Metropolitan Archives are signed by Burnet and Tait alone.[4] Burnet was on the point of retiring owing to ill health; while Tait was a leading proponent of modern architecture, little of which is evident in the final design.[5][6] The conclusion of Clive Aslet is that Lomax-Simpson was responsible for the overall concept (an early drawing by him dated October 1929 depicts the frontage very much as built); while Burnet and Tait were invited to become involved because of the prestige of their practice's name, but contributed only details.[7]

The main contractor for the construction was Holland, Hannen & Cubitts.[8]


The most striking aspect of the building is its enormous curving frontage along the Victoria Embankment, with its giant Ionic columns between the fourth and sixth floors. The heavily rusticated ground floor is windowless to reduce traffic noise inside the building. The corners are marked by entrances surmounted by large plinths on which are placed sculptures of human figures restraining horses (called Controlled Energy[9]) by Sir William Reid Dick. Merman and mermaid figures are by Gilbert Ledward. The original lift cars were lined with art deco pewter panels designed by Eric Gill.


A refurbishment of 1977–83 saw the addition of parapet figures by Nicholas Munro and a new north entrance lobby in a Neo Art Deco style, by Theo Crosby of Pentagram.[10] The building has been extended along Tudor Street.[4]

In 2004, the firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates began renovation work in consultation with English Heritage and the City of London to make alterations to the interior work space. As part of the renovations, original fittings were retained or re-used, such as parquet flooring or Eric Gill's pewter lift car panels, but Crosby's distinctive and historically-important additions were removed.[11] A roof garden was created on top of the building.[12]



  1. ^ Sutcliffe, Anthony (2006). "The Modern Breaks Through, 1914–1939". London: An Architectural History. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-11006-7.
  2. ^ Howgego, James L. (1977). The Victorian and Edwardian City of London from Old Photographs. Batsford. ISBN 978-0-7134-0598-9.
  3. ^ De Keyser's Royal Hotel, Victoria Embankment, London[1]
  4. ^ a b Pevsner, Nikolaus; Bradley, Simon (1997). London 1: The City of London. Buildings of England. Penguin. pp. 567–68. ISBN 978-0-300-09652-1.
  5. ^ "Unilever Building". Dictionary of Scottish Architects. Retrieved 16 November 2008.
  6. ^ "Unilever House" (PDF). Open Site 2005. 2005. Retrieved 17 November 2008.
  7. ^ Aslet 1981.
  8. ^ "London landmarks built by Cubitts" (PDF). Thamesmead. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 January 2009. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
  9. ^ Philip Ward-Jackson: Public Sculpture of the City of London (Public Sculpture of Britain). Liverpool University Press, Liverpool 2003, ISBN 978-0-85323-977-2, p. 278. Retrieved 2010-08-30
  10. ^ Crosby was the Design Consultant on the job. The design team was headed by Frank Bex, working with Unilever's chief architect Roy Ashworth
  11. ^ These additions are illustrated in No.9 Unilever House: Towards A New Ornament. In Pentagram Partners (Author), Delphine Hirasuna (Editor): Pentagram Papers. Chronicle Books, 2006, ISBN 978-0-8118-5563-1. In this Paper, Crosby argues that his work on Unilever House was part of a necessary "change of emphasis" in building; to reduce the scale at which buildings are contemplated, and to "revive the responsible craftsman".
  12. ^ "Unilever House, London, United Kingdom". Design Build Network. Retrieved 16 November 2008.
  13. ^ "100 Victoria Embankment - 'Unilever House' - Building Details". Open House London. Retrieved 24 April 2016.


  • Aslet, Clive (1981). "Unilever House, Blackfriars". The Thirties Society Journal. 1: 18–21.