We continue our journey to the discovery of Architecture in London! After exploring the main styles, let’s focus on people and on the buildings that turned London into an open-air museum of architecture!
Many names have contributed over the centuries to making London’s architectural panorama famous. They have left the British capital a heterogeneous and fascinating variety of styles that make it a unique place in the world.
This variety goes back to the Medieval period, whose leading figure was the prolific Henry Yevele, who oversaw the extension of the royal palace of Westminster and of the Tower of London.
One of the most prolific London architects was Inigo Jones, an eclectic (he was also a designer of theatrical costumes and stage settings) pioneer of English Renaissance architecture, who, after studying architecture in Italy, in the seventeenth century, built the Queen’s House in Greenwich and the designed Covent Garden, the square of which (the first London square with a regular shape) was inspired by Piazza Grande in Leghorn.
In 1666, a few years after the death of Jones, the Great Fire of London would destroy a good part of London’s buildings. In those years, the architect Christopher Wren, an important mathematician and astronomer of noble descent, restored the facades of most of the destroyed churches. But his main work is St Paul’s Cathedral, where his body lies.
Moving on a century, we meet Charles Barry, who designed the world’s most famous Victorian building: the Palace of Westminster housing the Houses of Parliament. The Palace of Westminster’s marriage of classical and Victorian Gothic is found on innumerable post cards sorted by the capital’s post offices.
Moving on to the present day, the architect who has undoubtedly left the greatest mark on the British capital is Norman Foster. He brought high-tech architecture to London with some of the most famous buildings: the Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe) whose unusual shape dominates the London skyline, to London City Hall, which fascinates those crossing the Thames from Tower Bridge to Stanford airport.
The Iraqi Zaha Hadid must also be mentioned. She moved to London in 1972 to start her architectural training and opened her own studio in 1980. The London Acquatics Centre is one example of her work.
Talking about the main styles and most important names of London architecture, we have discovered some of the marvels that should be included in the programme of a holiday in London.
But there are another four whose unusualness means they deserve to be mentioned in our short guide to London architecture.
The Bridge of Aspiration of the Royal Ballet School in Covent Garden provides dancers with a direct route to the Royal Opera House. It was designed by Wilkinson Eyre and consists of 23 square portals that gradually vary their orientation to form a structure that recalls the elegance and sinuosity of dance.
Made in 2012 to a design by Renzo Piano, the Shard is the United Kingdom’s highest skyscraper and the third highest skyscraper in Europe. It is totally clad in glass, resembles a tall and thin spire and is located near Tower Bridge. For its design, Renzo Piano drew his inspiration from the railway tracks in the area and from a tower-shaped water tank painted by Canaletto in one of his depictions of the eighteenth-century skyline of London.
The Paternoster Square Vents are futuristic air vents. Nicknamed Angel’s Wings by Londoners, they were designed by Thomas Heatherwick to cool an underground electrical substation. They are near St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The Barbican Estate is the best known and important example of British Brutalism: this architectural movement developed between the 1950s and 1970s of the twentieth centuries and favoured rough material and buildings made with exposed reinforced concrete facades. The complex occupies 140 thousand square metres, was designed by the architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon and was built in the 1960s and 1970s.