SOAS University of London

SOAS into Senate House

About Senate House

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Senate House North Block - A Short Tour


Senate House, designed by the British architect Charles Holden (1875–1960), houses the unique resources of Senate House Library, one of the world’s largest humanities collections.

It is also the home of the University’s central staff, who provide services to the University of London Colleges and beyond.

This landmark Art Deco building was the University’s first permanent home after a century of being housed in a series of temporary premises.  King George V laid the foundation stone on 26 June 1933 and the building welcomed its first occupants in 1936.

Senate House, consisting of 19 floors and standing 210 feet (64m) high, was the tallest secular building in Britain on completion. It was constructed of the finest materials available at that time, including Portland stone, Travertine marble, English walnut and South American cypress.

Acknowledged as a building of great architectural significance, it was listed as Grade II* in 1969.

Senate House has proved a popular location for film and TV production companies. Films that have featured the building include Richard III, The Hunger, Batman Begins, and Nanny McPhee and The Big Bang.

Five facts:

  • The building was taken over by the Ministry of Information during WW2 and inspired George Orwell's description of the Ministry of Truth in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
  • While working in Senate House, John Betjeman, later Poet Laureate, fell in love with Joan Hunter Dunn who was Assistant Catering Manageress and the inspiration for his poem ‘A Subaltern's Love Song’.
  • Senate House was the first large-scale building in the UK to be heated by electricity, using an early form of storage heater.
  • Jazz syncopation influenced Holden’s design, the architect changing the rhythm of the windows on the top floor so that they don’t align with those on the floors below.
  • In 2011, coinciding with its 175th anniversary, the University completed a five-year programme to refurbish and enhance the building to provide it with modern, upgraded office space, improved meeting and teaching facilities and new and enhanced library resources.