University of Westminster: Architecture And History

965 words | 4 page(s)

Founded in 1838, the University of Westminster is a public university headquartered in Regent Street, London, United Kingdom. Formerly known as Regent Street Polytechnic, the University of Westminster has been listed under the 1990 Planning Act due to its historical and architectural interest. The Regent Campus comprises a number of historically significant buildings, including the Little Titchfield Street building, the Wells Street buildings and the Regent Street Cinema, a repertory cinema that is currently open to the public. The classical fa?ade is one of the building’s most remarkable features, as well as an excellent example of Beaux Arts architecture. Designed by Frank Verity, its pale color, rectangular shape, perfectly symmetrical structure and vertical elements (especially its Ionic columns and steel-framed windows) are clearly meant to convey greatness and elegance. The five-bay fa?ade fronts a block designed by George A. Mitchell between 1910 and 1911 (University College London). Further elements were added in the 1920s by FJ Wills, who also transformed the theater into a cinema. The first floor features wide rectangular windows divided into three by four stone pilasters, whereas the second and third floors feature taller, metal tripartite windows whose dark colors stands in stark contrast with their surrounding elements. The attic is characterized by smaller tripartite windows and Greek-inspired decorative elements; finally, the roof stands out for its bronze cresting.

The building comprises a fine entrance hall, exquisite Edwardian-style teaching rooms, cinema / a lecture theater that can host as many as 330 people, the Deep End Caf?, the Fyvie Hall and various lecture theaters. The entrance features a wooden lobby topped by the university’s motto, i.e., The Lord is Our Strength, surmounted by a stunning circular mosaic portraying Saint George. Classrooms, laboratories and offices at basement and upper-floor levels of the 1910-12 frontage block have undergone repeated changes to their interiors and layout and are thus of lesser interest (British Listed Buildings). Both the basement and upper-floor have been modified several times over the past century, which explains why the Caf?, the laboratories, classrooms and offices appear to be more “modern” that the rest of the building. The Fyvie Hall, on the other hand, is a gem worth analyzing in greater depth. Named after one of the university’s most generous donors, i.e., Lord Leith of Fyvie, the hall was added by George Mitchell and Frank Verity, who also added an extra floor to the gymnasium. Situated on the ground floor, it stands out for its tall stained glass windows, high-quality fittings, oak panels and classical ornaments. In 1923, the University decided to embellish the hall with a set of paintings by Delmar Harmood Banner, an art student. The paintings were meant to represent and honor the technical industries of old London: the first panel portrays Henry II and Henry of Westminster as they watch a team of builders do their job on a summer’s day; the second panel depicts the Master Sculptor, the Prior of the Abbey and the sculpture of an angel; the third panel shows Edward I and Queen Eleanor visiting two painters at a time when artists no longer worked exclusively for the Church; the fourth panel represents the printing of the Bishop’s Bible; the fifth panel shows two boys presenting Queen Elizabeth with a gift of gold ware; the sixth panel represents several tapestry weavers and is meant to symbolize the functional dimension of tapestry; the seventh and eight panels are dedicated entirely to pottery.

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In 2012, the former swimming pool was transformed into a modern-looking caf? – the Deep End – featuring comfortable furniture as well as several wooden elements. Despite being irrelevant from an architectural and historical point of view, the caf? symbolizes the university’s efforts to adapt a typically Edwardian building to the needs of today’s students. In fact, this isn’t the only area that has been transformed and refurbished in order to provide students with more social space. The gymnasium – which now serves as a meeting area for students – has also been transformed into an area where students can meet and socialize. Despite its functional nature, it features a sunken ceiling that was added between 1910 and 1912. At the back of the gymnasium, the Alumni Room – which initially served as the Council Room – stands out for its wooden panels and pictures of governors.

Despite having undergone significant transformation, the refectory – which once served as swimming baths – retains several original features, the most remarkable ones being the tiled pilasters. A stair leads directly to the auditorium, designed in 1848 by James Thomson, the architect who planned the original Polytechnic building. The former theater is known as the birthplace of British cinema and has been restored in such a way to showcase students’ projects and serve as a suitable venue for various academic activities (University of Westminster). It was here that in the 1890s F?lecien Trewey introduced the Lumiere Brother’s Cin?matographe to a paying audience. Initially, the theater could accommodate as many as 1,200 people, which clearly suggests that Thomson had expectations for this part of the building. As of today, the University of Westminster’s auditorium is often used as a lecture and conference room where both lecturers and students can benefit from its latest multi-media equipment. The library – which now serves as the university’s Board Room – features a light-colored barrel-vaulted roof, turquoise panels embellished with wooden inserts and ceiling grilles (British Listed Buildings). It is because of its architectural significance and historical relevance that in 1973 the University of Westminster was listed as a Grade II Building.

  • British Listed Buildings. University of Westminster (formerly Regent Street Polytechnic), 2015,
  • University College London. University of Westminster, 2017,
  • University of Westminster. Go Ahead Given from Heritage Lottery Fund for Landmark Cinema Restoration, 2011,

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