ISSUE 04 | LONDON FOCUS | PHOTO STORY

Making An Impact: London’s Factory Buildings

What makes a great cityscape? Glorious factories, according to Lukas Novotny.

Illustrations by Lukas Novotny

OXO Tower by Lukas Novotny

"Industrial buildings add a really important layer to London’s skyline,” he says. “And older factories show the place has a history, and isn’t just glass offices.”

Novotny, a Czech-born, London-based illustrator and graphic designer, has been scouring London past and present for its most aesthetic buildings, and many of them are industrial. They appear as slick illustrations in his new book Modern London, a sumptuous romp through the last 100 years of construction.

Alongside the images are intriguing details of well-known structures and forgotten gems that have succumbed to the wrecking ball.

Novotny has a particular fondness the 1920s and 1930s. London, the biggest city in the world at the time, had been left relatively unscathed by WW1, and benefited from the development of arms factories and the rise of female employment.

As Novotny says in his book: “London’s large customer base, relatively cheap labour and docks linked by ship to cities around the world made it an ideal location for manufacturing. Emerging American companies soon set up shop and… architecture soon became a method of advertisement. Confident and bold facades competed for attention.” He cites the Carreras Black Cat Cigarette Factory and the Firestone tyre factory.

In pockets of activity across the capital, start-ups are blossoming and new life is being breathed into existing industries.

And even the effects of the 1929 Wall Street Crash were not much felt in London. True, ‘old’ industries declined, but “London was becoming a home for all sorts of new businesses,” he writes, “Demand for cars, electrical appliances and other ‘London-made’ goods was rising…” Hence the arrival of Hoover, Gillette and Wrigley’s.

A similar revival has the potential to happen now. In pockets of activity across the capital, start-ups are blossoming and new life is being breathed into existing industries.

Since then, of course, many of those early manufacturers have either bitten the dust or relocated. But some of their structures remain and a few (by the likes of pioneering architects Wallis, Gilbert and Partners, and Gilbert Scott) are now highly prized. “London is an amazing example of how industrial areas have been converted into something completely different,” says Novotny. The Oxo Tower is now apartments and fancy shops, and the Hoover Building has gone from being a Tesco to luxury flats.

To create his images, Novotny amassed loads of photos of each building to form what he calls a descriptive geometry – a useful technique when you don’t have plans. He then used computer software to ‘draw’ over them. He describes his style as realistic. “All the buildings which I draw, I try to make them in their original state,” he explains, “how they were meant to be originally, not with their alternations and extensions.”

Novotny’s research reminds us that, long after the last worker has clocked off, in the right hands these defunct buildings are still an asset.

Now, with the right support, it’s the turn of 21stcentury industrialists to make their mark on the city.

Take-out: Industry deserves to take its rightful place in the capital

Modern London

You may also like

Factories as art

In the line of beauty.

Alastair Philip Wiper, the Copenhagen-based photographer, loves, lives and breathes manufacturing.
Map Design

Magicking Ideas into Manufactured Goods.

A London design firm has perfected the art of bringing start-ups’ concepts to market.
China crafts

From mountainside to mass production.

Upscaling China’s age-old crafts for a wider audience.
A Maker Database

Building a Maker Database

Setting up an online database to encourage creatives and creators to get together.