Signs of the times
The six-storied Africa House captured the prevailing mood of British success and confidence. Next time you walk into the double-height entrance hall, note the doubleheight screen of Doric columns, which covers the front of the ground floor. Pause to admire the triumphal arch-style entrance, inscribed 'Africa House' and surmounted by two stone sculpted lions. And take the stairs instead of the lift. You have, after all, a choice of two 'divided' flights, this being a prime example of an 'imperial staircase'. For the facade of the building the architects chose Portland stone, only the finest building stone quarried in Britain and the choice of Wren (St. Paul's Cathedral, 1677) and Lutyens (The Cenotaph, 1920). All the metalwork came from the foundry of J.W. Singer & Sons, renowned the world over for their artistry in metals and for casting statues and sculptures in their hometown of Frome, Somerset.
However, nothing was more indicative of the times than the large sculpture on the fifth floor. At the centre of the group of figures and animals, you'll see Britannia, female and seated, carrying a sword and crested shield. To her left, two men in Arab dress (one seated, one standing), a camel, a lion and the obligatory recumbent crocodile. To the right, an African man, a seated colonial officer with a rifle, the head of an elephant, a wildebeest and a snake surrounded by reeds. This was diversity circa 1922, as Africa House opened its doors to its first occupants and businesses.