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Bartlett Buildings: The Pearson Building

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The Pearson Building in the Gower Street quadrangle has played a pivotal role in The Bartlett’s history.

Bartlett Buildings: The Pearson Building

The Gower Street quadrangle, or ‘the quad’, photographed in the 1980s.

Credit: UCL Image Store

The Pearson Building comprises the north-west wing of the neoclassical quadrangle in Gower Street, the historic nucleus of UCL’s campus in Bloomsbury. The east wing and Corinthian portico were built in 1827–9 to designs by the architect and classical scholar William Wilkins, who won a competition to design the newly established university’s first building.

Owing to financial constraints, the quadrangle was completed in a piecemeal manner. The south wing and the north wing were built in 1869–76 and 1870–81 to designs by T. Hayter Lewis. The ground floor of the south-west wing followed in 1891–3 to accommodate the engineering department. This extension was designed by Thomas Roger Smith, who succeeded Lewis as the university’s chair of architecture.

Bartlett Buildings: The Pearson Building

Viewed from University College Hospital, the Pearson Building occupies the left-hand side of the entrance to the quadrangle. Photographed in 1985.

Credit: UCL Image Store

An anonymous patron

The north-west wing was designed by F. M. Simpson, who was appointed professor of architecture in 1903. The wing was funded almost entirely by a donation from Sir Herbert Henry Bartlett, the managing director of the contracting firm Perry & Co. of Bow in east London. Bartlett approached the university in 1911 with a proposal to ‘help in completing one of the most beautiful of London buildings’, but wished for his identity to remain anonymous. He supported the unification of UCL’s School of Architecture with its counterpart at King’s College. Bartlett initially offered a grant of £30,000, but later increased his gift to facilitate the completion of the Gower Street front.

The School of Architecture had previously been displaced after the demolition of its temporary base at 135 and 137 Gower Street. The north-west wing was built to accommodate the School of Architecture, sculpture studios, and the department of applied statistics, including the Galton laboratory for the study of eugenics.¹ The building is currently named after the statistician Karl Pearson.

Simpson opted for a restrained neoclassical manner for the north-west wing, and faced its main elevations with Portland stone. The east elevation overlooking the quadrangle was originally composed of nine bays. The rusticated ground floor has a frieze with carved wreaths, and pilasters on the first floor rise to a plain entablature and dentil cornice. The treatment of the south elevation was originally more workmanlike, with plain brickwork in anticipation of the construction of pavilions to mark the main entrance into the quadrangle. Bartlett’s donation did not provide funds for the pavilions, which were deferred and completed to a modified design in the 1980s.

Bartlett Buildings: The Pearson Building

Cast gallery, 1914. From Alan Powers’s thesis, referenced as from the programme of ‘Conversazione in the New Buildings of the School at University College’ (23 June 1914), UCL Hist V B.14, University College Archives.

Onset of war

The School of Architecture moved into its rooms in the north-west wing in December 1913, but the completion of the rest of the building was interrupted by the onset of war. The block was requisitioned by the War Office for use as a temporary military hospital under the management of University College Hospital. The school returned after the war ended in 1919 and the building was opened officially in the following year.

At this time, Professor Albert Richardson was appointed to head the department and it started to be known as ‘The Bartlett School of Architecture’. Richardson had an enthusiasm for architectural salvage and introduced a number of treasures to the university campus, such as the seventeenth-century gate of Pewterers’ Hall installed behind Foster Court. Another of Richardson’s prizes was the niche laid in 1513 at the Royal Dockyard in Deptford, placed in the entrance hall of the north-west wing after it was given to the university by the London County Council in 1954.

The School of Architecture had an assortment of spaces in the north-west wing, including three large studios, a museum, a cast gallery, and a library. There was also a classroom and a lecture theatre, along with a dark room and a diagram room. The school continued in the Pearson Building until 1975, when it transferred to Wates House in Gordon Street.

¹UCL has recently launched an inquiry into the history of eugenics at the university, which is being led by an independent chair, Professor Iyiola Solanke of the University of Leeds.

The Bartlett Buildings series is produced by Amy Smith, Historian, Survey of London, part of The Bartlett School of Architecture.

The Bartlett is UCL's Faculty of the Built Environment, comprising 12 multidisciplinary schools, institutes and centres. Find out more:

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