The Men Who Built London Part 2

A look at some more of the great architects who shaped our capital city, from Hawksmoor to Soane.
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Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661 – 1736)

Not just a chain of steak restaurants, but another of Britain's great Baroque architects. Hawksmoor's connections with freemasonry and elusive character have shrouded his career in mystery, leading to him being posthumously labelled 'the Devil's architect'. Although accusations like this are usually nothing more than empty gossip, Hawksmoor's fondness for masonic symbols and somewhat pagan imagery does little to help quieten the voice of conspiracists.

Aside from speculation, Hawksmoor's six London churches, decorated with pyramids and mythical beasts, do take on a more sinister character than those of his Baroque counterparts, borrowing more from ancient temples than was usually acceptable for places of Christian worship. Perhaps his most celebrated work is the deceivingly huge Christchurch Spitalfields (pictured), which towers over the surrounding area and is best viewed from Brushfield Street. A permanent exhibition on Hawksmoor's life and works can be found in the crypt of St George's Bloomsbury.


John Soane (1753 – 1837)

A name associated with classic British architecture as much as any other featured in this series, although tragically, surviving examples of John Soane's work are few and far between. His masterpiece was, we're led to believe, the neo-Classicist Bank of England building on Threadneedle Street, however only the protecting facade survives to this day after a 1930s rebuilding project which demolished most of the original structure.

Today, architectural density and traffic congestion have clogged the arteries of the former heart of the City, and Soane's work goes practically unnoticed. Fortunately, we are left with a fascinating tribute to his legacy at his former office, family home and now museum in Lincolns Inn Fields. Also worth a visit is Dulwich Picture Gallery, the world's first purpose built art gallery and the elegantly understated St John on Bethnal Green.


The Men Who Built London part 1

The Barbican In Defence Of London's Ugliest Building

Great Feats Of Architecture That Never Were


Charles Barry (1795 – 1860) and Augustus Pugin (1812 - 1852)

Nowhere else is the spirit of one city embodied so perfectly in structural form than in the Houses of Parliament and 'Big Ben', or to give it its proper name, the Palace of Westminster. After a fire destroyed the old parliament building in 1834, a competition for its reconstruction was won by Charles Barry, who along with his friend and notoriously unsung hero Augustus Pugin, created the Gothic riverfront design we see today.

The project ran way over budget and took much longer than expected (nothing changes) but after a lifetime of work, the magnificent marriage between Classical symmetry and Gothic detailing was completed. Barry received a knighthood for his work and takes the credit in the history books, but it was probably more of a joint effort than first recognised (it was in fact Pugin who designed the famous clock tower).


George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878)

A contender for the hardest working man in architecture, George Gilbert Scott oversaw the building or restoration of a reputed 800 buildings, something which in pre-Blackberry days was an incredibly difficult amount of work to keep up with (he famously arrived in a northern town only to telegraph his assistant in London to ask what he was doing there). Scott's most famous London work is the widely loved and recently restored St Pancras Hotel, an almost impossibly beautiful beacon of Victorian neo-Gothic. Scott was also responsible for the Italian Renaissance style Foreign Office, as well as the Albert Memorial.

His buildings not only present London with some of our most cherished design landmarks, but also raise important questions about taste itself. What we see today as a Victorian masterpiece was viewed, in the cold light of post-war modernism and the welfare state, as excessive, self indulgent and snobbish. The hotel was earmarked for demolition in the 1960s, and it took a great effort from Sir John Betjamin and the Victorian Society to save it from the wrecking ball. Upon reflection, Modernism itself is now found facing those same questions of taste. But before we rush to demolish all those 'concrete blocks', the case with Scott's St Pancras Hotel offers no better argument for a 'cooling off' period when dealing with attitudes to progress.

Scott's legacy lives on not only in bricks and mortar but also in his offspring. His Grandson Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was behind a number of London designs including the red telephone box, Battersea Power Station and what is now the Tate Modern.


Norman Foster (b.1935)

An architect for the 21st Century, Norman Foster has arguably woven his style into London's fabric more than anyone of his generation, or indeed generations before. Foster's London challenges the jutting spikes and sharp points of the Victorian skyline, introducing movement never before seen in our buildings – streamlined, efficient, with an almost alien-like fluidity, embracing new technology along the way.

From the sleek, zeppelin-like Gherkin to City Hall and Wembley Stadium, Foster's designs have become instantly recognisable landmarks overnight, often held in admiration by even the most staunch traditionalists. Foster + Partners continue to practise, with offices in five major world cities.