William Maxwell (Max) Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook (1879-1964), the owner of the paper, had commissioned the architects Ellis and Clarke to extend the existing Daily Express building towards Fleet Street. Complications arose with the original design because the printing room had to become one large space running through the basement of the old and the new building. Sir Evan Owen Williams (1890-1969), originally an aircraft designer who made his name as an architect with the concrete structures for the Wembley Exhibition of 1924, was drafted in to resolve the problems. His engineering skills were especially useful and he came up with the plan to construct a giant concrete box to house the printing room and to stop water from filtering into the building.
The outside of the building, which, in the original plan, was to be clad in Portland stone, was redesigned and is now faced with black glass panels with chromium strips. The western corner of the building was rounded off and in the recent refitting this was matched on the eastern corner. The wide entrance with chrome canopy above leads to the lobby which was designed by Robert Atkinson (1883-1952) and contains two massive plaster reliefs ‘Britain’ and ‘Empire’ designed by the sculptor Eric Aumonier (1899-1974). Aumonier came from an artistic Huguenot family who fled the Poitou region of France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685). Eric’s father, William (1869-1943) had also worked as a sculptor and carver, and his grandfather, another William (1839-1914) established a highly successful firm of architectural sculptors and carvers in New Inn Yard, Tottenham Court Road.(1)
Very similar office buildings to the one in London, also clad in black glass, were opened by the Daily Express in Glasgow (1937) and Manchester (1939).
The newspaper vacated the London building in the late 1980s and the building was left empty for several years. Fortunately the present owner had the good sense to restore the lobby to its former glory as “the Byzantine vestibule and Sassanian lounge of Copper House” that so “rudely shocked” William Boot, the hero of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. This glamorous lobby, minus the “chrys-elephantine effigy of Lord Copper in coronation robes”(2), can now be seen on Open House London days.(3)
(1) J.C. Aumonier, “Aumônier: a Huguenot family from Haut-Poitou” in Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of London, vol. 18 (1947-1952), pp. 311-324; ‘William Aumonier Junior’ and ‘William Aumonier Senior’, Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851-1951, University of Glasgow History of Art and HATII, online database 2011
(2) Evelyn Waugh, Scoop, 1938, pp. 29-30. Waugh worked for a short time in 1927 at the Daily Express.
(3) Most of the information in this post, except that on the Aumonier family, comes from the information sheet given out by openhouselondon.org.uk.