The building

The School was founded in 1899 by Sir Patrick Manson as the London School of Tropical Medicine and located in the London Docks. In 1920 the School moved, with the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, to Endsleigh Gardens in central London, taking over a former hotel which had been used as a hospital for officers during the First World War.  In 1921 the Athlone Committee recommended the creation of an institute of state medicine, which built on a proposal by the Rockefeller Foundation to develop a London-based institution that would lead the world in the promotion of public health and tropical medicine. This enlarged School, now named the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine was granted its Royal Charter in 1924.

Keppel Street was part of the Duke of Bedford’s Bloomsbury estate and previously contained 40 Georgian houses (when it originally ran to Russell Square) and another 42 in Keppel Mews North (now Malet Street). A well-to-do area in Victorian times, Keppel Street housed several distinguished residents, including the painter John Constable, the novelist Anthony Trollope, and the Irish nationalist politician Charles Steward Parnell. In 1922 the site was acquired for £52,000 from the National Theatre Committee, who had purchased the land in 1913 intending to build a Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in readiness for the tercentenary of the playwright’s death in 1916. These plans were shelved at the outbreak of war.

The purchase of the site and the cost of a new building was made possible through a generous gift of $2m from the Rockefeller Foundation. A competition to design the new School building was held involving five architects, all experienced in laboratory design and construction. This was won by Morley Horder and Verner Rees.

The Minister for Health, Neville Chamberlain (whose father, Joseph Chamberlain, had been involved in the School’s foundation in 1899) laid the foundation stone for the new building on 7th July 1926.  The building was officially opened on 18th July 1929, by HRH the Prince of Wales. It is a steel framed building (one of the first ever erected) with a Portland stone façade designed in the stripped Classical style. A carving of Apollo and Artemis riding a chariot (used as the School’s logo) can be seen above the main entrance. The first floor balconies are decorated with gilded bronze insects and animals involved in transmitting disease. A frieze surrounding the building displays the names of 23 pioneers of public health and tropical medicine between laurel wreaths. Another feature worthy of note is a sculpted panel by Eric Kennington placed above the entrance to the Library.

The building was designed in the shape of a capital A. Two large open courtyards were originally designed to give air and light to the surrounding rooms. The architects stipulated that the furniture for the Board Room and Library should be to their design and made by a guild of craftsmen. The Keppel Street building was listed as Grade II in the 1980s.

Although the façade of the building has remained unchanged since 1929, there have been several internal transformations and modernisations. The Malet Street wing, in which the author Graham Greene undertook wartime firewatching duties, was damaged by a bomb in 1941 and was not restored until 1951. New floors were added and redeveloped in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The terrazzo main foyer was partially restored in the 1990s.

In February 2004 a new building within the North Courtyard was opened by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This seven-storey building is set within a glass atrium and provides office, research and meeting space for over 100 staff, enhancing some of the original inner courtyard. 

The South Courtyard development was opened by HRH The Princess Royal in May 2009. This five storey building accommodates state of the art lecture theatres, teaching and research space and social space for staff and students.  The building uses many energy efficient technologies and is an excellent example of how low and zero-carbon technologies can be incorporated into an urban setting.