History of the BBC

History of the BBC

BBC Buildings - Broadcasting House

Broadcasting House, London
The front entrance to Broadcasting House, London showing the statue of Prospero & Ariel

The first purpose-built broadcast centre in the UK

Designed by G Val Myer and built in 1932, Broadcasting House was the BBC's first purpose-built home for radio broadcasting. It is situated in central London between Oxford Street and Regents Park, adjacent to Nash's All Souls' church and is Grade II* listed.


Built of Portland stone, with 9 floors above ground and 3 below, its central heavy masonry tower originally contained all the studios. A lighter steel-framed 'shell' provided acoustic buffering. With its accentuated front section bearing a clock tower and aerial mast, the building has been compared to a ship. The Architectural Review of 1932 described it as the 'new Tower of London'. It is strangely asymmetrical, because Val Myer had to adapt his first plan when local residents complained about the shadow the building would cast on houses in Langham Street, and their loss of natural light.


Artistic commissions

Artistic commissions adorn the building, notably Eric Gill's statue over the front entrance of Prospero and Ariel (from Shakespeare's last play The Tempest: Ariel as the spirit of the air was felt to be an appropriate personification of the spirit of broadcasting). The naked Ariel provoked comments about the size of his genitalia, prompting a question in the House of Commons on the offence to public morals caused by the image. It is said Gill was ordered to adjust Ariel's dimensions to more decent proportions by the BBC’s first Director-General, John Reith.


There is an additional Gill statue in the Art Deco reception of Broadcasting House. Called The Sower, it is once again a metaphor for broadcasting: as the sower casts seed so does broadcasting cast its messages and communications to its hopefully receptive listeners.


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The reinvention of Broadcasting House

Broadcasting House was restored after being bombed twice during the Second World War, and has recently undergone further extensive renovation and extension. The New Broadcasting House Project is due to complete in 2012/13, and will create one of the largest live broadcast centres in the world, with facilities including 36 radio studios, six TV studios and 60 edit/graphic suites. It will house BBC Audio & Music, News and World Service.


A new East wing, built in the same Portland stone as the original Broadcasting House, balances the existing construction. The two buildings are linked by a glass-fronted extension, which will allow visitors and passers-by to witness the BBC's daily activities. The glass was specially treated to create varied lighting effects throughout the day. An integrated lighting scheme for the site will also embrace the neighbouring All Souls' Church. The Broadcasting House complex surrounds a new central 'piazza' space which will create a new public destination in central London, with facilities including a cafe and performance areas.


Major new artworks have also been commissioned as part of the new development. These include the new pavement artwork called 'World' and the glass and light 'Breathing' sculpture which stands on the new East wing of Broadcasting House. The latter is an international memorial to reporters and crew who have died while reporting the news.


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