To those casually walking past the building it is the sheer size that amazes; covering a site of two and a quarter acres, the five storeys of the building give over eleven acres of floor space.
Externally Freemasons' Hall has a severe, appearance. In true art deco style, the architecture speaks for itself and there is a total lack of fussy decoration. The plain Portland stone enhances the monumental feel of the building, but the gradual 'stepping back' of the facades and the openings in the tower prevent the monumental from turning into the forbidding.
Internally, the surprise is the feeling of light and space; from the Great Queen Street entrance a grand staircase of alternating double and single flights of stairs rises from the ground to the third floor. Natural light streams in on one side from large windows looking out on to the internal courtyard and a glazed dome in the roof, and is reflected back by 'mirror windows' on the internal walls.
From the staircase, spacious corridors - which would not be allowed by current building regulations - give access to the public rooms on the first floor and the lodge rooms on the second and third floors. Again, an imaginative use of natural light from the courtyard gives a lightness to the simple, unadorned walls and the dark mahogany of doors and doorframes.
On the upper floors the corridors give a complete circuit of the floor. The joke amongst the staff is that if you get lost, keep going forwards along the corridor and you will at least get back to where you started!
The 23 lodge rooms vary in size from No. I, which can seat 600 to No. 6, which seats 40. Each has a completely different style but has two things in common: the walls are plain or articulated by architectural features (raised or inset panels, pilasters etc), but the ceilings are masterpieces of the plasterers' art; they vary from a stylised barrel vault to heavily coffered plasterwork of geometric designs with the occasional stylised flower or plant.
When I first joined the staff in 1971, the lodge rooms were a uniform sandstone colour (easy to maintain), which gave them a severe and rather cold atmosphere. In recent years, major refurbishment has been taking place with a return to the original colour schemes of vivid colours gradually fading into each other as the surface of the walls changes, and the detailing of the ceilings being brought out by contrasting colours.