One of the architectural landmarks of South Bank, the Oxo Tower has stood by the River Thames for over a century, its distinctive lettering standing out against the borough’s skyline. Today home to shops, restaurants, and offices, its origins were actually much different. Beginning construction in the late 19th Century, Oxo Tower was finished in 1900. Its original purpose was to serve as a power plant for the nearby Royal Post Office.
While some speculate that the Tower was a factory for the famous Oxo cubes, the truth is that the name appears on it as bit of stealth advertising. At the turn of the century, London had a regulation that forbade certain types of advertising such as billboards on the waterfront. Liebig Extract of Meat Company acquired the building in the 1920s with the aim of turning it into a cold storage facility for their products. It had wanted to have illuminated signs featuring its Oxo cubes, but that was rejected.
Company architect Albert Moore redid the building in the popular Art Deco style and going around the city’s regulations, he worked the company’s most famous product into the windows on the tower. This “coincidental” design played fast and loose with the city’s rules against signage and gave the company a bit of subtle promotion. The original river-facing façade was kept and extended, while most of the power plant equipment was moved out and the interior seriously renovated to serve Liebig’s intended purpose. Meat was then brought in on barges through the lading bays that are still visible from the waterfront and then processed and packed for cold store.
Oxo Tower continued to be used for this purpose until sometime after World War II, when Liebig cleared out and it became empty except for a small company using it to make “long eggs” that were inserted into meat pies. By the 1970s, the building had become completely derelict. Coin Street Community Builders purchased the tower in the 1990s with the intent to restore the structure and change its purpose yet again. The new plan was to transform it into a new type of building fast catching on in London—the mixed-used building. Oxo Tower would be renovated to contain shops, offices, restaurants, and flats.
Liftschutz Davidson Sandilands was responsible for the refurbishment which ultimately cost £20 million. The cost was met with a variety of funds, mostly consisting of bank loans, CSCB equity, a Housing Corporation grant, and English Partnerships. Work was completed in 1996 and in 1997 the Oxo Tower received the Royal Fine Art Commission/BSkyB Building of the Year Award in the category of Urban Regeneration in 1997, also winning the RIBA Award for Architecture in the same year along with the Brick Development Association Award. Other awards include the Civic Trust Award in 1998 and the Waterfront Center USA Award in 2000. As of this time, the building’s history and success in the renovation have yet to earn it listed status.
Today, the Oxo Tower has more than fulfilled CSCB’s dreams. It contains multiple shops and services from contemporary interior furnishings to hair salons. The Tower also contains a café and the well-known Oxo Brasserie, which filmgoers may recognise from the early scenes of Thor: The Dark World. Additionally, the Oxo Tower contains art galleries that regularly host new exhibits and fashion shows. The Tower’s exhibit spaces are available for hire for any number of events from a showing or a special occasion. Whatever your reason for visiting Oxo Tower, there is something that can please just about anyone from foodies to historians and architects to movie buffs.