Before They Were Famous

John Hill
11. February 2021
Photo: George Rex/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The UOP Fragrances Factory, designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano before the duo won the competition for the Centre Pompidou in 1973, has been demolished.

A report of its demolition was posted by C20 Society to Twitter, where the preservation organization contends the one-story building "had long been under threat" but "could so easily have been put to new use." C20 Society wrote about the UOP building on its website in June 2017 to draw attention to the threat and the building's merits. 

Located in Tadworth, Surrey, the building was designed by the partnership of Rogers and Piano for Universal Oil Products and completed in 1973 (UOP started operations there in 1974). Following Rogers' Zip-Up principles, the one-story building was clad in GRC (Glass Reinforced Concrete) panels. C20 Society contends, "it is likely that it predates 22 Cannon Street [now 30 Cannon, designed by Jeremy Mackay-Lewis, completed in 1977] as the first building in the world completely clad in GRC."

Curious about this lesser-known Piano/Rogers creation, I took to Google Maps to see the building in its context. The most recent satellite view, from April 2020, shows the UOP Fragrance Factory already gone. Buildings like Paul Rudolph's Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters may elicit strong reactions from people while they're being demolished, but apparently that's not the case with this diminutive building in Surrey.

Aerial view from April 2020 via Google Maps

The satellite view, above, most likely captures the construction of its replacement, given how the walls visible at the southern end of the site do not coincide with the simple rectangular plan of the original, as seen in an earlier satellite view, below.

Aerial view from 2018/2019 via Google Earth Pro

The website of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners shows the building with a striking yellow exterior: "The building stood apart from the general run of industrial structures being built in Britain at this period. Its economy, generosity of space and sheer verve – the use of color was striking – impressed and seemed to point the way towards a new industrial vernacular." Eventually the building was painted a less-striking white, as evidenced by a Google Maps from 2008:

Street view from 2008 via Google Maps

Ten years later — after it was highlighted by C20 Society as June 2017 building of the month and was under threat of demolition — the view of the building wasn't so promising:

Street view from 2018 via Google Maps

Although a bit unkempt, "the building is still far from derelict," the C20 Society contended in 2017. An important early work of high-tech architecture and a product of the team that created the Centre Pompidou, UOP should have been saved. It's unfortunate to learn about its fate — particularly now, when it's much too late.

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