The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Moves to secure Fulham Piper murals

Piper House, with ‘The Spirit Of Energy’ murals crowning the entrance porte cochère.

Image: RE/MAX

C20 Society has supported an application to list the Piper Building in Fulham, and in particular a 76m long frieze of murals by the artist John Piper, which are mounted externally on the entrance of the building.

Formerly the offices of the Gas Light and Coke Company, the site was used before the Second World War as laboratories testing heating and ventilation. After nationalisation, the Gas Board redeveloped the main building, Watson House, for larger laboratory facilities in 1959. In 1962 John Piper was invited to decorate the entrance porte cochère, designing a 250ft long artwork named ‘The Spirit of Energy’, consisting of 32 fibreglass panels. The main building was converted into flats in the early 1990s and renamed the Piper Building, with the murals retained in-situ. It was initially turned down for listing by DCMS in 1994, after being recommended by English Heritage as part of post-war thematic survey of office blocks.

Amid rumours that representatives from a well known auction house had recently visited the site to value the murals, an application has been made to consider both the building and murals for listing.

Watson House, Fulham (1968)

C20 believes the Piper murals to be a rare and innovative installation by the artist and as such make this site very worthy of listed status. Not only are they visually striking, making the building a landmark in the locality, they express many of the motifs that Piper favoured in his larger works, such as the elongated spiral features. The murals change as they progress around the building, using colour sparingly in some areas and lavishly in others to create a contrasting progression of images.

This particular series of murals are innovative for their use of fibreglass, a medium that Piper was to return to in the windows of All Saints’ church, Clifton, Bristol (R. Potter 1967 Grade II). These murals are also believed to unique in being the only example of Piper using fibre-glass moulds for external use, according to Piper expert Professor Frances Spalding.

John Piper (1903-1992) was one of the most extraordinarily diverse British artists of the 20th century. A painter, printmaker, designer of stained-glass windows (perhaps best known for those at Coventry Cathedral) and official war artist in the Second World War, he also worked on tapestry designs, book jackets, screen-prints, opera and theatre sets, photography, fabrics, ceramics and even firework displays.

Image: Laurence Mackman.