Dominating the leafy and literary area of Bloomsbury is the monumental Senate House. It’s part of the University of London and was built in the 1930s by that great architect of the London Underground, Charles Holden.
It was built on land given by the Dukes of Bedford and funded by, amongst others, the Rockefeller family, Marks and Spencer and City livery companies. The shell of the building was made from steel, encased by hardy Portland stone, which has remarkable anti-pollution qualities: it’s only been cleaned twice in its 80 years.
When it was completed in 1937 the Senate House was the tallest building (64m high) after St Paul’s and was the first true skyscraper. Its first 4 floors houses the administrative offices of the University, a collection of 18 institutions, which include University and King’s Colleges, SOAS and the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.
Above the first few levels lies the library, which houses nearly 2 million books and stages regular free exhibitions. During World War Two Senate House became the Ministry of Information, who made propaganda films here. The writer George Orwell worked there too, drawing inspiration for his Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984. There’s even a Room 101!
Inside, the ground floor is an Art Deco gem, with travertine tiles, geometric decoration and seeing staircases. Not surprisingly it’s been used regularly in filming, standing in for Gotham City in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, as well Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, Jack Ryan, Muppets Most Wanted, The Theory of Everything; and the Bollywood Jhoom Barabar Jhoom.
Occasionally you can visit the rooftop, where you can enjoy an unrivalled 360º view of the London skyline; over to the City, with its skyscrapers; or as far as Battersea Power Station. Best of all, is the birds-eye view of the British Museum: you look down over the Great Court and the round Reading Room. There was once a plan to connect the two. You can visit the Senate House any time, use its cafe and visit the library. Look out for any rooftop tours and don’t forget your camera.