During the time that I was studying there I would spend a lot of my time at college staring out of the window at a silver cube in the middle of the Elephant and Castle northern roundabout. Today I would bet the thousands who pass through that roundabout don’t even notice the enormous box in front of them. At 75ft wide and 20ft high it is what must be by volume the largest monument in London – and nobody seems to notice it.
The Michael Faraday Memorial was designed by the brutalist architect Rodney Gordon who, with the regeneration of the Elephant in the early 60s, wanted to embody his visionary credentials of the man who was the area’s favourite son, who was born in nearby Newington Butts.
Unfortunately even though the notorious Heygate Estate was still under construction vandalism was already a problem. So out went Rodney Gordon’s box of glass, which would have allowed the public to see the London Underground transformer beneath, and thus make a connection with the pioneer of electricity. The glass was substituted by polished stainless steel panels, but they needn’t have bothered with the increasing traffic levels closer inspection is almost impossible marooned as it is surrounded by the Elephant and Castle gyratory system.
In 1996 Blue Peter held a competition, which was won by a local schoolgirl from English Martyr R.C. Primary School, to design a lighting scheme to illuminate its 728 steel panels and thus draw the public’s attention to its presence.
That same year the monument gained Grade II listing status, unlike its neighbour the Heygate Estate currently in the process of being demolished.
The box has appeared on the BBC’s Dr. Who and Harry Potter, but despite its size and prominence it is ignored by Londoners. In 1995 the Evening Standard carried a picture of the cube with the caption ‘What on Earth is it?’
For more about post-war Elephant and Castle check out my colleague’s View from the Mirror.