For years I have cycled briskly past the old AEI building on my way from the station, dismissing it as a bland, conformist design that was intended not to offend the Queen (it looks out on the garden wall of Buckingham Palace).
The building was designed in 1956 by Wimperis, Simpson & Fyffe to house the bureaucrats that ran one of the conglomerates that dominated British industry until the advent of Thatcherism. The elderly modernist Sir Albert Richardson was hauled in as a consultant, presumably to intimidate the planners and Her Majesty into giving permission.
The facade would be extremely boring, except that Maurice Lambert, sculptor brother of the composer Constant Lambert, was brought in to add some decoration.
The images are among the most disturbing I have ever seen. I have spent the last couple of weeks trying to work out what they could possibly mean.
Over the columns of the pediment at the centre of the facade, six angels triumph over demons.
Renaissance and Victorian artists portraying the triumph of St Michael over Lucifer show a knightly figure trampling a scaly serpenty figure beneath his feet, aiming his sword at his horrible head. It is the battle of good and evil, and we are all rooting for good.
Lambert carved a line of men torturing women.
The angels gaze into eternity, their faces calm and emotionless. They may even be experiencing some sort of bliss.
They take no notice of the demons they hold, however much they squirm, squeal and
bite. The angels are in control though - one tightens a rope round his demon's neck, another sticks a knife in the demon's belly.
All the angels are clearly men. And all the demons are obviously women. What is going on?