Building work on Surrey House, The Norwich Union (now Aviva) headquarters in Surrey Street in Norwich, commenced in 1900 and the fine Palladian style building opened for business in 1904 having been built to fulfil a role to house a successful insurance company. The interior of this building in English Renaissance style is astonishing, it is almost impossible to prepare yourself for your first sight of this incredible spectacle. The entrance hall is the perfectly conceived introduction to what lies ahead, with its domed ceiling and marbled columns said to be the finest of their kind in the world.
It was the architect George Skipper, commissioned to produce a splendid yet functional office space, who persuaded the directors to use marble throughout and indeed for the 40 columns in the main hall. Skipper also incorporated the themes of insurance, protection and wellbeing in his design and his aim was to reassure policyholders, when they entered the building to pay their insurance premiums, of the Society’s strength and prosperity. The spectacular domed ceiling is eleven metres in diameter. A marvel of ingenuity at the turn of the century was the stylish air conditioning fountain, decorated with a host of symbols, which wafted warm air in the winter and cool fresh air in the summer. Whilst public access is restricted to the main hall, visitors can see the magnificent staircase with its six different types of marble, stained glass window and richly painted ceiling. The upper rooms are equally opulent.
The building is still functional but the original Edwardian desks have been replaced by modern furniture.
The variety of marble types used in the Marble Hall lend an air of grandeur to this magnificent structure. Much of the stone was shipped from Italy and Greece, and the work was carried out by two teams of Italian stone masons.
Surrey House is certainly unusual amongst commercial offices and is one of the finest and most beautiful of non-ecclesiastical buildings.
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Photo taken in Norwich, Norfolk, UK