Dickens and London
     Modern City Buildings: the  Salvation Army International Headquarters

Salvation Army International HQ and St Paul’s Cathedral

Salvation Army Building, Queen Victoria Street facade

The chapel of the new International Headquarters of the Salvation Army (2004) is the latest addition to the City Churches.  It takes the form of a tiny triangular projection over the main entrance to the building, so everyone enters ‘under prayer’.  Anish Kapoor was originally chosen to design the chapel but in the event it was done by Carpenter Lowing working with Sheppard Robson, who designed the main building.

The Salvation Army have been on the site between Queen Victoria Street, Lambeth Hill, Booth Lane and Peter’s Hill since 1881.  Their first building was destroyed in the Blitz and the second demolished as part of the Millennium Bridge scheme, which created a pedestrian route linking St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tate Modern. The Salvation Army paid for rebuilding, by moving staff overseeing their domestic work in to the Elephant and Castle and renting two thirds of the new building as commercial offices. 

The Salvation Army building is an office-block-cum-religious-building on a site overlooked by St Paul’s and passed by large numbers of tourists and Londoners every day.   It takes the form of a steel framed box with glass curtain walls reflecting surrounding buildings.  Aside from the chapel the only decoration on the building is the organisation’s name and logo in red and quotations from the Bible on the lines of ‘Jesus said I am the light of the world’ written on the facade at eye level.  In the dark the building sheds light on its surroundings.

The Salvation Army focuses on the disadvantaged, feeds the hungry and helps the homeless.  Recently it has started to help families trace missing relatives who risk becoming homeless.  Food, both in its own right and as a symbol of home and family, has always been key to its work.  And, although the International Headquarters is primarily an office block, it welcomes the public into its basement level café, named Café 101 after the building’s longstanding address, 101 Queen Victoria Street.  The café, which stretches the whole width of the building, is given cathedral like proportions of three stories high around its fringes, achieved by large concrete A frames which support the front of the building.  Since the site slopes steeply down to the River Thames on the Booth Lane side, the café is above ground level to the south.  This and the very high ceilings at its fringes flood it with light, like a Wren church.  

Café 101

Finally, like most City churches, the Salvation Army building pays tribute to the spiritual importance of gardens.  The Queen Victoria Street facade is lined by trees, a very rare feature in the City, and the café looks out onto a little garden in Booth Lane.

Susan Gane
First published Cityguide, Winter 2007-8