Some history on the venue for the 2013 Building Futures Awards
The Spirella Building was created for the Spirella Corset Company after the American entrepreneur William Wallace Kincaid invented a flexible corset for his wife.
In 1912, the architect Cecil Hignett was appointed to construct the Spirella Building in Letchworth. This was seen as an appropriate place to make an innovative product as the town which was the first of its kind was considered a modern and revolutionary form of town planning and design. The design of the building reflects the arts and crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. The First World War delayed construction however the building was completed in 1920 and eventually gained 2000 workers.
Spirella grew a reputation for excellent workers privileges including baths and showers, gymnastics classes, a library, free eye tests and bicycle repairs. This was years ahead of its time and revolutionised the relationship between the workforce and the company. There was however a ban on alcohol which was not revoked until 1958.
The springy design of the Spirella corsets was more flexible and much easier to tighten; before, the inflexible designs would often break leading to embarrassing situations such as the one suffered by the wife of the inventor who demanded that he do something about it.
The corsets soon had a reputation and with the help of the dedicated team of sales women Spirella become a thriving business. The cost of a made to measure corset was typically one or two week’s wages however there was demand for the products and the business thrived.
After the war, the factory continued making corsets until the 1950s when the demand for corsets declined. This was due to the increasing use of synthetic fabrics and changing fashions. The company attempted to reverse the decline by making lingerie however the decline continued into the 1960s and 70s.
On 7 September 1979, the Spirella building was awarded Grade II* listed status reserved for buildings of historical and architectural significance. The building fell into disrepair and closed in the 80’s.
In 1995, the Spirella building was acquired by the Letchworth Garden City foundation and restoration began two years later at a cost of £11 million. In 1999, the building was reopened.
The businesses that now operate in the building are high tech industries, which is appropriate for the renewed purpose the building has. There is 80,000 sq ft of office space which accommodates over 20 businesses.