*The following is a guest post.
Ever since London was founded some 2,000 years ago, Britain’s capital has been blessed with an impressive array of buildings.
In the city’s earliest days these included edifices such as the Roman amphitheatre (the remains of which can be seen today beneath the Guildhall art gallery), the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey.
Sadly the names of those who drew up the blueprints for these grand structures have been long forgotten; lost to the mists of time.
For centuries, most buildings in London were erected out of pure necessity and, although they certainly had character, they were built with little regard to design; hulking, wooden structures with no order, creaky floors and straw roofs, their upper floors jutting out over the crowded, muddy streets below.
Architecture as the concept we know today began with a chap called Inigo Jones who was born in Smithfield in 1573.
A natural creative, Inigo’s career started off in the theatrical world where he designed stage-sets and costumes.
In 1616- and encouraged by a generous budget provided by King James I- Inigo began to apply his imaginative skills to building projects. The concept was ground-breaking and, for the first time in Britain, the aesthetic nature of buildings was considered during their design stage.
Inigo’s first major project was the Queen’s House in Greenwich which can still be seen today; right next door to the National Maritime Museum.
Other surviving works by Inigo Jones include the Queen Mary Chapel (opposite St James Palace), the Church of St Paul in Covent Garden and the Banqueting House on Whitehall.
The Banqueting House is of particular interest.
Commissioned in 1619 as a huge hall where royalty came to dine and party, King Charles I enjoyed many wild nights here….it was also where he met his death. Following his defeat in the English Civil War, it was here, in front of a large crowd, that King Charles was beheaded…
Inigo Jones revolutionized the way Londoners looked at buildings and quickly made architecture into a highly respected profession.
The next great architect- Sir Christopher Wren- took the concept to a whole new level…
Born in 1632, Wren studied at Oxford University. Proficient in maths, physics, geometry and astrology, he was a genius in every sense of the word.
It was in the aftermath of 1666’s Great Fire of London that Sir Wren’s skills really came to the fore.
With much of the city destroyed, the great architect drew up plans for no less than 54 new churches; one of the most notable being St Brides on Fleet Street… the spire of which is said to have inspired the tiered wedding cake!
His masterpiece however was St Paul’s Cathedral, a truly gorgeous London landmark which was 35 years in the making.
By the time the project neared completion, Sir Wren was well into his 70s- but, ever the perfectionist, he insisted on overseeing the work, and was often hoisted up in a wicker basket so he could inspect the progress up on the higher levels!
Sir Christopher Wren is buried in St Pauls… his tombstone bearing the inscription; “Reader, if you seek his monument- look around you.”
A contemporary of Sir Christopher Wren was Nicholas Hawksmoor.
An equally brilliant architect, Hawksmoor constructed a number of churches in London, including Christ Church Spitalfields, a grand building on Commercial Street which sits directly opposite the Ten Bells- the pub which would later be favoured by notorious serial killer, Jack the Ripper…
Nicholas Hawksmoor also added the two grand towers to Westminster Abbey which soar high over the main entrance.
We have Sir John Soane for example who was active between the late 18th and early 19th century.
Amongst other things, Sir Soane built Dulwich Picture Gallery, the dining room for 10 Downing Street and the mighty, defensive ‘curtain wall’ surrounding the Bank of England where the nation’s gold reserves are safely stashed.
Sir John Soane also designed his own house; a wonderfully eccentric building on Lincoln’s Inn Fields which is now open to the public as a museum.
Then there’s John Nash, a man who whose forward thinking proved quite controversial during his time.
Nash laid out Regent’s Park, Regent’s Street and designed Marble Arch. He also designed All Souls Church on Langham Place (just north of Oxford Circus), the sharp, slender spire of which raised many eyebrows…
A genius architect of the mid-19th century was Sir Charles Barry.
Born in Westminster, Sir Charles Barry received little education in childhood and started his architectural firm from his bedroom.
Some of his earliest work included two Pall Mall gentlemen’s clubs- the Travellers and the Reform (you may know the Reform Club from Jules Verne’s novel, Around the World in 80 Days- Phileas Fogg was supposedly a member here, the club acting as the start and end point of his amazing, global adventure).
More famously, Sir Charles Barry carried out work on Trafalgar Square and the Houses of Parliament (the previous government building having burnt down in 1834).
The Houses of Parliament project proved to be a most trying commission.
For the tough task, Sir Charles was aided by Augustus Pugin; a young architect who crafted much of the immense building’s finer detailing. Some of Pugin’s best work can be witnessed on the iconic Big-Ben clock tower.
Tragically, Pugin succumbed to mental illness and, after a spell in the notorious Bedlam lunatic asylum, he died at the age of 40. His beautifully ornate work on the world-famous parliament building is truly testament to his brilliant, yet tortured mind.
In the latter half of the 19th century, London’s architectural scene was graced by Sir Horace Jones who provided three of London’s ancient markets with breath-taking new premises. These were Smithfield, Old Billingsgate and the exceptional Leadenhall; a masterpiece forged from sturdy, Victorian ironwork.
Sir Horace Jones also designed one of London’s greatest icons… Tower Bridge.
Another architect from this period is Sir Joseph Bazalgette, a chap who is often overlooked- probably because his work is so integrated into the city’s fabric that we tend to forget it’s there at all…
For much of the 19th century sanitation in London was horrendous.
Despite being described as ‘London’s lifeblood’, the Thames was an open, foul-smelling sewer. Consequently, most drinking water in the capital was heavily polluted, and death from diseases such as cholera became commonplace.
To bring an end to this awful situation, Sir Bazalgette was charged with the task of literally cleaning up the city.
Under his watch, miles upon miles of sewer pipes were laid- the largest of which run parallel to the Thames, taking away the filth and muck from London’s river.
Broad roads were laid over these pipes; thus creating the Albert, Victoria and Chelsea embankments; all very important roads which are still in use today.
As part of the improvements, Sir Bazalgette also gave London three new bridges- Battersea, Hammersmith and Putney.
Thanks to his work, Sir Bazalgette saved countless lives… but is sadly a very much unknown hero.
One of the most important architects of the 20th century was Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who came from a long line of architects.
In 1929, Sir Scott conceived the much-loved Battersea Power Station (which can be seen on the cover of the 1977 Pink Floyd album, Animals… complete with a giant, inflatable pig!)
In the 1950s, he followed Battersea up with a second power-station- Bankside, which was decommissioned in 1982 and is now the spectacular home to the Tate Modern gallery.
Sir Scott also designed the present Waterloo Bridge; the construction of which was mainly carried out by women during WWII, and provides one of the most beautiful, sweeping views of London’s historic centre.
During WWII, the nightly blitz claimed many of London’s historic buildings, including a large number of Sir Christopher Wren’s churches.
Once the conflict was over, thousands of people needed re-homing and many bomb craters needed filling in.
The post-war period therefore saw the rise of the tower-block; looming, concrete monoliths which sprouted all over the capital. At first considered a quick, yet modern fix, they quickly proved ineffectual, bringing misery and numerous social problems for those who resided in them.
A champion of the tower block was one Erno Goldfinger; the inspiration for James Bond’s arch nemesis!
Goldfinger designed a number of flat-blocks… including the Trellick Tower, which stands near Portobello Road. Despite the bad reputation of such architecture, the Trellick has proved an exception to the rule, and has become a popular, modern landmark.
Today, London’s most famous architect is undoubtedly Lord Norman Foster.
Originally from Manchester, Lord Foster has provided London with some of her most recently identifiable structures.
At the turn on the 21st century, he provided London with a shiny new city hall and the Millennium Bridge; a new pedestrian walkway across the Thames which, upon first opening, proved to be a little shaky, earning it the nickname the ‘Wobbly Bridge’… don’t worry though, it has since been stabilised!
Lord Foster also designed Wembley Stadium, The Gherkin (officially known as ’30 St Mary Axe’) and the Great Court which holds pride of place in the middle of the British Museum and, with its successful blend of the past and present, is enjoyed by thousands of tourists every day.