Charles Holden (1875-1960) was an outstanding architect, best known for his work for London Underground, in particular Broadway House, its headquarters (1927-9), an extension to the Law Library (1903) and a host of other buildings, amongst which Senate House stands out.
Holden was born in Lancashire and entered the Royal Academy School in 1989. He worked for the Arts and Crafts designer, C R Ashbee, then moved to the office of an established hospital designer, H Percy Adams, where Holden quickly took over all the design work, becoming a partner in1907. In 1936 he received the RIBA Gold Medal for his outstanding contribution to the profession.
Senate House was designed as part of a grand master plan for this part of Bloomsbury, subsequent to the University acquiring land there for a campus. The structure is formed into load-bearing stepped masses of huge bulk, clad in Portland stone. The architectural idiom is stripped classical, i.e. without the orders but retaining the underlying formal concepts. The effect is monumental, with a great tower (requested by the University) dominating the accommodation. Holden wanted the architecture to be simple and reliant on the massing. King George V is said to have liked Holden¹s scheme because it reminded him of a battleship, and Country Life commented that Holden had given the building a quality of "gentleness", which was the hallmark of English art.
Holden¹s plan was for a north-south spine, from which ribs and cross-ribs arose. Services and circulation are gathered at the point where spine and ribs meet. Unfortunately only a relatively small part of the scheme (including the 215 ft tower) was realised, partly for cost reasons and also because the constituent colleges preferred individual identities rather than being subsumed into an overall architectural concept.
Holden¹s Arts and Crafts background is evident in the interiors, although the entrance hall shows distinctly Greek features.