Architecture of London

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Palace of Westminster (1840–70) by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin, one of London's most iconic works of architecture and an archetypal work of the Gothic Revival movement.
Queens House (1633) Indigo Jones (centre) and Old Royal Naval College (1712) Christopher Wren, a poignant example of the English Baroque Movement in London.

London is the largest and capital city of England and the United Kingdom. Founded as the ancient city of Londinium in the first century CE by the Romans as capital of the Roman province of Britannia, London has been an inhabited settlement almost continuously since. After the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the 5th century, the layout of the Roman settlement became the approximate blueprint of the Saxon and medieval city. This ancient core of London is known as the City of London with Westminster, the ancient centre of political power in London, lying to the west. Relatively few structures survive from London's medieval past due to the city's near-total destruction in the Great Fire of 1666, but notable survivors include the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Hall, Guildhall, St James's Palace, Lambeth Palace and a handful of scattered Tudor survivals. After the Great Fire, London was transformed as it was rebuilt and greatly modernised under the direction of the Baroque architect Sir Christopher Wren, with the new Baroque St Paul's Cathedral as its centrepiece. After a period of dramatic expansion in the 18th and 19th centuries, London reached its zenith as the world's largest and populous city from 1831 to 1925, as well as being the capital of the British Empire at its greatest extent and power. In this period London sprawled vastly beyond its historical boundaries, absorbing many formerly rural settlements and creating vast suburbs. The city was also transformed by groundbreaking new infrastructure projects like the West India Docks which affirmed London's status as a major port, a system of canals which included the Regent's Canal, a modern sewage system, some of the world's first intercity railway termini such as Paddington Station, and the world's first underground railway system. These innovations set London apart as the pre-eminent city of the industrial age. After suffering significant destruction during by The Blitz of World War II and a period of economic decline in the post-war period, London is once again a global capital of culture and commerce, with much new development adding to its eclectic cityscape.

London contains a very wide variety of architectural styles from a variety of historical periods. London's great architectural eclecticism stems from its long history, constant redevelopment, destruction caused by The Blitz and historical government recognition of private property rights which often prevented large scale state planning. This sets London apart from other great European capitals like Paris, Vienna and Rome which are more architecturally homogenous and were more rationally planned. London's eclectic architectural heritage ranges from Roman archaeological remains, the great medieval fortress the Tower of London, the 13th-century gothic of Westminster Abbey, the opulent baroque of St Paul's Cathedral, the elegant neoclassicism of Somerset House, the urban set piece of Regent Street, the Victorian High Gothic of St Pancras railway station, the art deco Hoover Building, the austere brutalism of the Barbican Estate and the high-tech skyscraper 30 St Mary Axe.

Being the capital of the United Kingdom, London contains many of the most important buildings of the British State, The Monarchy and The Church of England. These include the Palace of Westminster; the centre of British democracy, Buckingham Palace; the official residence of the British Monarchy and Westminster Abbey; the site of all coronations of English and British monarchs since 1066. London also contains numerous monuments such as the ancient heart of London at London Stone, the 17th-century Monument to the Great Fire of London, Marble Arch, Wellington Arch, the Albert Memorial and Royal Albert Hall in Kensington. Nelson's Column is an internationally recognised monument in Trafalgar Square, often regarded as the centre of London.

Westminster Abbey, a predominantly 13th-14th century gothic abbey, one of London's most substantial surviving buildings from the Middle Ages.

Throughout most of London's history, the height of buildings has been restricted. These restrictions gradually eroded in the post-war period (except those protecting certain views of St Paul's Cathedral) and high rise buildings have become ever more numerous since, particularly in the 21st century. Skyscrapers are now numerous in the City of London financial district and Canary Wharf: a new financial district created in the 1980s and 90s in the former London docklands area of the Isle of Dogs. Notable recent tall buildings include the 1980s skyscraper Tower 42, the radical Lloyd's building by Richard Rogers, One Canada Square; the centre piece of the Canary Wharf district and 30 St Mary Axe (nicknamed the "Gherkin") which has set a precedent for other recent high-rise developments built in a similar high-tech style. Renzo Piano's The Shard completed in 2012 is the tallest building in London and for many years in the European Union, as well as the sixth-tallest building in Europe and the 96th-tallest building in the world[1][2][3]

The City of London financial district in 2015 containing many distinctive high rise office buildings such as 30 St Mary Axe 'The Gherkin', 20 Fenchurch Street 'The Walkie Talkie' and 122 Leadenhall Street 'The Cheesegrater'.

Since 2004, the London Festival of Architecture is held in June and focuses on the importance of architecture and design in London today. One quarter of UK architects operate from London, with the majority of the most high-profile global practices based in London[4] including Zaha Hadid Architects, Foster and Partners, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, David Chipperfield and David Adjaye among the most well known internationally. In September Open House weekend offers an annual opportunity to visit architecture normally closed to the public free of charge, ranging from grand public buildings such as the Bank of England to contemporary private housing.


Although no pre-Roman settlement is known, there were prehistoric crossing points at Deptford and also at Vauxhall Bridge,[5] and some prehistoric remains are known from archaeology of the River Thames.[6] It is likely that the course of Watling Street follows a more ancient pathway. Ancient Welsh legend claims the city of the Trinovantes – dedicated to the god Lud (Caer Llud) – was founded by the followers of Brân the Blessed, whose severed head is said to be buried under the White Tower facing the continent.[7]

Roman London (60–500 CE)[edit]

The urban plan of Londinium continues to inform the development of London over 2000 years later.

Londinium was initially founded as a military trading port, while the first capital of the province was at Camulodunum. But after the Boudican Revolt of 61, when both cities were razed to the ground, the capital was removed to London, which rapidly grew to pre-eminence with the establishment of a Forum and a provincial Praetorium. The city was originally laid out to a classical plan like many other cities in Britannia and throughout Europe, in a roughly rectangular form with the south side formed by the River Thames, and divided into blocks of insulae.[8] Two east–west streets (now Cheapside and Lower Thames Street) led from Newgate and Ludgate to form the cardo, presumably leading to a lost gate (or gates) at the present location of the Tower of London with the road to Canterbury and Dover. An extension of Watling Street formed the decumanus maximus, crossing the river from Billingsgate over the ancient London Bridge to Southwark and the south coast road beyond. The Forum was located at the current site of Leadenhall Market, and is said to have been the largest building north of the Alps in ancient times; remains can still be visited in the basement of some of the market shops.[9]

The rectangular walled and gridded city was soon extended to the west over the River Walbrook, north towards marshy Moorfields and east to the area later known as Minories,[10] where a Romano-British tomb sculpture of an eagle was found in 2013, suggesting the site lay outside the city boundary in the early second century.[11] A significant portion of the amphitheatre remains beneath the London Guildhall square and a Roman bathing complex is accessible in the basement of 100 Lower Thames Street.[12] The square Castrum was located at the north-east of the city at the Barbican, close to the Museum of London where significant sections of the Roman London Wall remain. For centuries afterward, distances from London were reckoned from the London Stone, claimed in the past to be a fragment of ancient masonry from the ancient Thames-side Governor's Palace, though this cannot now be verified.[13] Late Roman private houses of leading Christians are thought to have been the foundation of the earliest churches; mosaic remains in the crypt at All Hallows by the Tower and may also have been present at St Pauls Cathedral – its[clarification needed] growing significance over centuries has distorted the once-straight strada on which the site[which?] once stood.

The Middle Ages: Norman, Gothic and Tudor architecture (1066–1603)[edit]

Panorama of London in 1616 by Claes Jansz. Visscher. Old London Bridge (1209) complete with its own street of houses can be seen on the right with Southwark Cathedral next to its southern gatehouse. Old St Paul's Cathedral without its spire (which was destroyed by lightning in the 16th century) dominates the skyline alongside the city churches. Note the large amount of shipping on the river; the Thames was an important means of transportation within the medieval city, as well as providing access to international trade.

Little remains of London's medieval architecture due to the city's near-complete destruction in The Great Fire of 1666 but a few scattered survivors as well as other records provide a vivid picture of the city in this period. In the medieval period, the city lay predominantly within the boundaries of the city walls originally built by the Romans – the area now known as The City of London – with Westminster being a separate much smaller settlement to the west. Some aristocratic houses were constructed along the Strand which connected the two settlements. There was also some development on the south bank of the Thames at Southwark with the famous London Bridge connecting the district to the rest of London as well as being the gateway to the South East of England. The earliest record of London bridge dates from the 10th century, a structure probably built of wood, but the most famous incarnation of this bridge was constructed between 1176 and 1209. This was a stone bridge 900 ft wide and consisting of 19 arches, complete with its own street of shops, houses, a chapel and a drawbridge in the centre to allow large boat traffic pass through.[14] The River Thames was an important means of transportation within the city, as well as providing access to overseas trade by sea, with many wharfs and quays built along the north bank of the river.

Norman and Gothic Architecture[edit]

The Tower of London
The White Tower (1080) the romanesque central keep of the tower of London complex.
An aerial view of The Tower of London complex, which reached its current form c.14th century

Many of medieval London's most significant structures were initially constructed by the Normans, who recognised the importance of architecture as a means of demonstrating their power and of subordinating the native Saxon population after their conquest of England. The Norman conquest was a major turning point in the history of English architecture as they brought with them a new European Romanesque style and a greater architectural ambition than their Saxon predecessors. Almost immediately after their conquest of England the Normans built several fortresses along the River Thames in the centre of the London to consolidate their power, the most notable of which being Baynard's Castle which was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and the Tower of London which still survives today.[15] The White Tower, the central keep of the Tower of London complex, was completed in the 1080s and built in a Romanesque style. Also of note within The White Tower is the chapel of St John's, one of the oldest and least altered Romanesque churches in all of England.[16] The only other surviving Romanesque church in central London is St Bartholomew-the-Great in Smithfield, the remains of a former much larger priory church.

Another significant London structure initially constructed by the Normans is Westminster Hall. Completed in 1097 in the reign of William II as a royal residence, the hall become the foundation of the Palace of Westminster, a complex which gradually expanded throughout the Middle Ages. The hall was largely rebuilt in the reign of Richard II and became the largest such hall in medieval Europe. It is notable for its exceptionally wide span hammerbeam roof added in the 14th century, widely considered to be a marvel of medieval engineering.[17] Miraculously Westminster Hall still survives today having escaped the fire of 1834 which destroyed the majority of the medieval Palace of Westminster; it was then incorporated into Barry and Pugin's neo-gothic Palace of Westminster who admired its authentic gothic style. Other surviving examples of medieval halls in London can be found in the form of Guildhall (1440) which once served as London's city hall (it was greatly altered after the great fire) and the Old Hall of Lincoln's Inn (1492).

Westminster Abbey
(left) Twin Towers of the west front, c.18th century.
(centre) North portal c.14th century.
(right) Chapter house c.14th century

The Normans also began the construction of Old St Paul's Cathedral on Ludgate Hill, replacing a primitive Saxon timber framed building.[18] By the time of its completion in the 14th century the cathedral included elements of Gothic architecture alongside the Romanesque nave constructed by the Normans. The cathedral was one of the largest and tallest churches in medieval Europe; at one point it was crowned by an exceptionally tall spire similar to that of Salisbury Cathedral which was about 158 m (520 ft) high, although this was destroyed after being hit by lightning in the 16th century.[19] The cathedral was latterly completely destroyed in the Great Fire of London of 1666 and replaced by Christopher Wren's surviving baroque cathedral which retained the medieval cathedral's Latin cross layout.

London's other most significant church Westminster Abbey was first constructed in the reign of Edward the Confessor in the romanesque style but was subsequently rebuilt in the gothic style in the 13th century in the reign of Henry III; this produced the building which largely survives today. The sophisticated gothic architecture of the abbey is reminiscent of French Cathedrals like that of Reims rather than the English Gothic of the period, leading to much speculation as to whether the master mason was French.[20] The most significant later addition to the abbey was the Henry VII Chapel built in the late 15th to early 16th century, an exceptional example of late English Gothic architecture notable for its highly ornate fan vaulted ceiling. The twin-towered west front of the abbey was added in the 18th century to the designs of Nicholas Hawksmoor in a faithful Neo-Gothic style intended to be in keeping with the rest of the medieval building. Other significant gothic churches surviving from the Middle Ages include Southwark Cathedral, a former priory that was the first gothic church in London built between 1220 and 1420, as well as a handful of city churches that miraculously survived the great fire like St Andrew Undershaft, St Helen's Bishopsgate, St Olave's Hart Street and St Sepulchre-without-Newgate.

Tudor Architecture[edit]

Hampton Court Palace (1515–1540) residence of Cardinal Wolsey then Henry VIII,

A significant proportion of London's surviving architecture from the Middle Ages dates from the Tudor period. The Tudor period was a period of rapid expansion for London, both economically as a result of growing overseas trade and in terms of population which grew dramatically from roughly 50,000 in 1500 to 250,000 in 1600. As a result of this population boom the city sprawled considerably and by the end of the 16th century the majority of London's population lived outside the city walls for the first time.[21] Henry VII and Henry VIII also commissioned a substantial number of royal works including the extension and construction of several palaces, these included the massive Whitehall Palace that stretched all the way from Westminster Hall to what is now Trafalgar Square, the extravagant Nonsuch Palace in Greenwich and St James's Palace which survives today. By far the most substantial surviving Tudor palace in Greater London is Hampton Court Palace, originally built for Cardinal Wolsey and then later becoming a residence of Henry VIII. Greatly extended by Christopher Wren in the late 17th century, the palace still retains most of its original Tudor architecture with its original 16th-century great hall, chapel, astronomical clock and gatehouses; it is often regarded as the finest example of Tudor Architecture in England.[21] Henry VIII also greatly influenced the current form of central London by establishing the hunting grounds of Hyde Park, Green Park and St James's Park giving London its exceptionally green city centre which survives to this day.

Staple Inn (late 16th century) London's last surviving Inn of Chancery and a very rare surviving example of Tudor architecture in central London.

One of the significant developments of Tudor architecture was the use of red brick, particularly in large houses and palaces. Examples of this can be seen in the form of the Tudor gatehouse of Lambeth Palace (1495) the London residence of The Archbishop of Canterbury, Lincoln's Inn (1521) and St James's Palace (1536). Tudor architecture however is most closely associated with its distinctive vernacular houses which were typically timber framed and filled with wattle and daub giving the houses a black and white 'checkerboard' appearance. Most commercial and domestic buildings in London before the great fire resembled this from. Only a tiny handful of such buildings survive to this day including Staple Inn; an Inn of Chancery dating back to the Tudor period, 41 Cloth Fair; central London's oldest house started in 1597 and Prince Henry's Room; a timber-framed jettied townhouse built in 1610. Although the vast majority of such structures were destroyed in the Great Fire of London many timber-framed houses did, in fact, survive until as late as the late 19th and early 20th centuries but were demolished to make way for new development.[22] A famous example of this is the demolition of Wych Street in the Edwardian period to make way for Kingsway, a new road built between the Strand and High Holborn.

Stuart London: Inigo Jones and the Rise of Classicism (1603–1666)[edit]

Banqueting house (1622) by Inigo Jones was one of London's first classical buildings.

The early Stuart period – the period before the outbreak of the English Civil War – is significant in the history of London's architecture as it saw the late arrival of the classical style, a century after the style's initial reemergence in Italy in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. The pre-eminent architect in this architectural milestone was Inigo Jones, who was appointed Surveyor of the King's Works in 1615. Having travelled around Italy and owning a copy of I quattro libri dell'architettura by Andrea Palladio, Jones was one of the first English architects to be firmly influenced by classical architecture, both of classical antiquity and the revival of the style epitomised by the work of Italian architect Andrea Palladio his strongest influence. His first completed major work in inner London was Banqueting House, Whitehall (1622), an extension to the mostly medieval Palace of Whitehall, with a Palladian portland stone facade and a fine painted ceiling by the famous Flemish painter Rubens. As the first truly classical building in London – a then primitive predominantly timber-framed medieval city – it is an extremely significant building in the history of London's Architecture, described by Eric de Mare as.

"an architectural innovation that must have startled Londoners with its sophisticated Palladian Masonry, for its main façades containing rhythmical rows of tall windows, carved decorations and classical pilasters, all in mathematically, carefully proportioned precision, must have seemed to them like a stage set than a building."[19]

St Paul's, Covent Garden (1633) Inigo Jones, London's first classical church and the centre piece of Jones's Covent Garden piazza.

Another royal commission Queen's House, Greenwich was completed in 1633 and again shows Jones's purist Palladian style that did not mirror the exuberant Baroque which was then fashionable in mainland Europe. But perhaps Jones' most significant architectural commission was the redevelopment of Covent Garden in West London. In 1630 Jones was commissioned by the Earl of Bedford to redevelop the area in the west of the city with fine houses to attract wealthy tenants. Between 1630 and 1633 Jones designed and constructed London's first modern square; a classical style piazza lined with colonnaded terraced houses and the Church of St Paul on the Western side; the first church in London built in a classical style notable for its monumental tuscan portico. The piazza became a blueprint for the fashionable squares built across the West End of London in the Georgian era and the Church of St Paul was an architectural blueprint for the baroque city churches built by Wren after the Great Fire of London. The outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642 greatly interrupted building activity in England and after the parliamentarian victory Jones was heavily fined due to his close connections to Charles I. He later died in poverty in 1652.[23] His London works the Banqueting House, Queen's House, St Paul's Covent Garden and Queen's Chapel all survive to this day. Lindsey House (1640) on Lincolns Inn Fields, a very early Palladian townhouse, is also possibly by Jones. Despite his short architectural career and few surviving works, Jones's introduction of classical architecture to England is one of the great milestones of English architectural history.

Baroque London: The Great Fire and Christopher Wren's Reconstruction (1666–1714)[edit]

Christopher Wren's rejected classical style plan for the reconstruction of London with an entirely new street plan, piazzas and wide boulevards. Despite this plan's rejection, London was still greatly modernised in its reconstruction.

The Great Fire of London of 1666 destroyed almost 90% of the largely medieval city, including a total of 13,500 houses, 87 parish churches, 44 Company Halls, the Royal Exchange, the Custom House, Old St Paul's Cathedral, the Bridewell Palace and other City prisons, the General Letter Office, and the three western city gates; Ludgate, Newgate, and Aldersgate.[24] Although the Great Fire is considered to be a cataclysmic event in the history of London, the enormous destruction it caused also presented a historic opportunity to completely replan and modernise the somewhat primitive, predominantly medieval city in its subsequent reconstruction. Radical classical style reconstruction plans were quickly drawn up by architects such as Christopher Wren which proposed to completely discard the city's chaotic medieval street plan in favour of a rationalised grid system with wide boulevards, piazzas and a uniform classical style for all new buildings. However, due to a shortage of labour necessary to complete such grandiose plans, complications with redistributing and compensating property that had been lost in the fire, as well as the intense urgency of rebuilding the city as quickly as possible, it was thus decided to rebuild the city around the original medieval street plan.[25] Despite the rejection of a classical style replanning of the city, London nonetheless witnessed a radical architectural transformation in its subsequent reconstruction. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the new city compared to its predecessor was its architectural uniformity. In 1667 Charles II specified that all new houses were to be built to a uniform height and plot size, as well all being built of brick rather than wood to reduce fire hazard. As a result, the chaotic streets of overhanging timber-framed houses of medieval and Stuart London were replaced with neat rows of uniformly proportioned brick terraces. A good surviving example of the kind of simple brick terraces built immediately after the fire can be found at King's Bench Walk in the Inner Temple, becoming a blue print for the Georgian terraced house.

St Paul's Cathedral and The City Churches[edit]

The 365ft (111 m) high dome of St Paul's Cathedral completed in 1710. It was London's tallest building until 1962.
The great west front of St Paul's Cathedral which utilises a double corinthian order, a feature often associated with French neoclassicism.

But undoubtedly the most striking architectural achievement of the new city was the reconstruction of St Paul's Cathedral and the City Churches by Christopher Wren, the preeminent architect of the English Baroque movement. Much like his masterplan for the reconstruction of the city, Wren's original design for the new St Paul's Cathedral was also rejected and a compromise design had to be reached as a result. Inspired by St Peter's Basillica in Rome, Wren originally wanted to build a domed baroque style cathedral built in a Greek cross layout, but this design was rejected by the church as a result of the excessive papist connotations of this very Southern European design.[26] In an act of compromise, the design that was eventually built is a hybrid design which utilises baroque ornamentation and a great dome but built on the Latin cross layout of the former gothic cathedral. Largely as a result of the awkward incorporation of a Latin cross layout in a baroque design, the overall composition of the cathedral is considered to be inferior to most comparable baroque cathedrals of the same period, however, the 111-metre-high dome completed in 1710 is widely considered to be one of the greatest ever built, and has since become one of London's most enduring landmarks; it was also London's tallest building from 1710 until 1962.[26] The main west facade with its double corinthian order and fine baroque towers is another successful feature of the exterior, with a great imposing scale when viewed up Ludgate Hill.

The tower of St Mary-le-Bow (1683) Christopher Wren, one of the finest of the City Churches.

The 51 city churches (25 of which survive today) designed by Wren and his team are also of great architectural significance. Stylistically they are very eclectic and inventive designs, that were often built on very small and limiting sites. The towers of the churches are the most architecturally notable and inventive feature of the church exteriors. Perhaps the most notable examples are the unusual tiered spire of St Bride's Fleet Street the tallest of the city churches and the famous tower of St-Mary-le-bow, an inventive mixture of classicism and gothic. Stylistically most of the churches are not purely baroque in their style, the most notable exception being St Stephen's Walbrook with its fine domed interior.[27] Many of the churches such as St Peter Upon Cornhill showcase a strong influence from Dutch classicism and Palladianism, whereas others like St Mary Aldermary are purely neo-gothic recreations of the former medieval churches, complete with a fan vaulted ceiling harking back to the perpendicular gothic of the late Middle Ages. Despite the architectural merit of these individual buildings, perhaps the most significant achievement of Wren's reconstruction of St Paul's and the city churches was their overall interaction as an ensemble. Observing Canaletto's views of the City of London painted in 1750, one can see how St Paul's and the City Churches soar prominently above the rest of the city as a result of the tightly restricted height of all new domestic and commercial buildings in the city. The result is a highly picturesque skyline whose beauty astounded visitors to the newly reconstructed city.[25] And so paradoxically, the great catastrophe that was the Great Fire of London can be considered in hindsight to have given a great new lease of life to London, as it gave a much-needed opportunity drastically improve and modernise the city. In the words of the architectural historian Dr Simon Thurley:

"This apparent catastrophe [...] was in reality one of the best things that ever happened to London. [...] The Great Fire of London enabled a new start - a new type of mass housing, handsome paved streets populated with modern churches and public buildings. There was a new Royal Exchange, a new Cathedral, a rebuilt Guildhall. London now was cleaner, more modern and more uniform that any other city in Europe [...] and it remained so until the mid 19th century."[25]

Later Architectural Commissions: Royal Hospital Chelsea, Old Royal Naval College and The Commissioners Churches[edit]

Christ Church, Spitalfields (1729) showcasing the unusual style of Nicholas Hawksmoor

But the reconstruction of London was not the only significant architectural commission of this period. Christopher Wren, very much the preeminent architect of this period, was tasked with the design of two new military hospitals; the first being the Royal Hospital Chelsea for army veterans completed in 1692, and the latter of which being the Greenwich Hospital (latterly known as the Old Royal Naval College) completed in 1712. Royal Chelsea Hospital is one of Wren's more restrained works, with its red brick facades resembling long residential terraces. It nonetheless has a fine chapel and great hall with decorative interiors. In contrast Old Royal Naval College with its ornate Painted Hall, St Paul's Chapel and symmetrical east and west wings that frame Queens House by Inigo Jones is widely considered to be the crowning glory of the English Baroque movement. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the site is described as "the finest and most dramatically sited architectural ensemble and landscape ensemble in the British Isles."[28]

Other fine examples of English Baroque in London can be found in the form of the Commissioner's Churches, 12 highly original churches that were built in response to a 1710 act of Parliament requesting the building of 50 new churches in London (the further 38 were not completed). The majority of these churches were designed by Wren's former assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor who made significant contributions to the design of the City Churches and Old Royal Naval College. Hawksmoor is well known for his highly eccentric and idiosyncratic style that draws upon influences in Greek, Roman, Egyptian and even medieval architecture. Perhaps the most lauded and best known of these churches is Christ Church, Spitalfields (1729) which showcases Hawksmoor's trademark blend of baroque and gothic, as well his tendency to create buildings with an imposing sense of monumentality. Other Commissioner's Churches such as St Mary-le-Strand by James Gibbs and St John's Smith Square by Thomas Archer are also superlative examples of late English Baroque Architecture showing a much stronger European influence than the designs of Wren or Hawksmoor whilst still maintaining a distinctly English sensibility.

The Old Royal Naval College by Christopher Wren (1712) and Queens House (1635) by Inigo Jones viewed from the River Thames.

Georgian architecture (1714–1811)[edit]

The Architectural Association at 33–39 Bedford Square (1780) is an excellent example of Georgian terraced housing.

The Georgian era (1714–1830) was one of great economic and colonial expansion, seeing Britain emerge as a global trading power with London as its epicentre. This great rise in prestige and wealth is reflected in London's significant growth in size and population in the 18th century. The city sprawled significantly, with substantial new development in areas in the west of the city such as Bloomsbury, Marylebone, Mayfair and Kensington, as well as in London's Satellite villages like Hampstead, Islington, Hackney and Dulwich[21]. This development was centred around the construction of terraces and fashionable new squares like Grosvenor Square, Portman Square and Bedford Square, which became the new home of the burgeoning middle classes that emerged from Britain's new mercantile economy.[29] As well as this, with the construction of new bridges across the Thames at Westminster (1750) and Blackfriars (1769), the first new bridges since the early Middle Ages, the city began to spread significantly south of river. The style colloquially known as 'Georgian' refers to the British interpretation of 18th-century neoclassical architecture, with stylistic routes that lay firmly in Palladian architecture, particularly in the writings of Scottish architect Colen Campell. Often described as the 'father of the Georgian style', Campell's highly influential book Vitruvius Britannicus set the stylistic tone for English architecture for the rest of the 18th century.[30] This more restrained style was a reaction against the exuberant Baroque of the late 17th century, with a strict emphasis on plain unadorned brickwork, geometrical harmony and restrained classically inspired ornament. Despite this reactionary motive, Georgian architects nonetheless took great influence from Christopher Wren and other English Baroque architects. A precursor to the more unobtrusive Georgian style can be seen in the simple plain terraces built after the Great Fire of London at 4 King's Bench Walk in Temple or the plain brick facades of Royal Chelsea Hospital, both by Wren. Key architects of the Georgian period who built substantial works in London include James Gibbs, Robert Adam, William Kent and William Chambers.

The Georgian Terraced House[edit]

The front door of 10 Downing Street (1734), a classic example of a Georgian porch.

Residential houses of this era in London are distinctive for their sunken basement built on brick arch foundations, rusticated base storey, taller piano nobile reception floor and attic storey. They are generally built from buff (pale yellow) London Stock Brick to golden section proportions, often generously spanning triple bay frontages with 'implied' columns or pilasters and carefully proportioned and very large off-white sash windows, slate mansard roofs above an Attic pediment. They were grouped in formal garden squares, crescents and terraces with wide pavements supported on brick vaults on wide, straight public streets, often with private access to romantically landscaped gardens. Later encroachment of commercial properties has significantly reduced the apparent width of historic streets in many parts of London, where the original plans were comparable to in size or in excess of those found in Continental urban planning.[31] The area of Spitalfields in East London has many extant early Georgian properties with some unusual continental features;[32] Soho – particularly Meard Street[33] and Westminster also preserve a large number of properties at an early stage of development of the style.

Spencer House (1756) John Vardy, the grandest surviving aristocratic townhouse from the Georgian period.

A typical house was designed to accommodate a single family, with front and back rooms on each floor and a partial-width rear 'closet' wing projection. The ground floor was reserved for business, the tall piano nobile for formal entertaining, and upper storeys with family bedrooms all accessed from a stair positioned on the side party[clarification needed]. Servants were accommodated in the below-ground kitchen and in attic rooms in the roof. Each of the distinctions in function was subtly indicated in the decorative scheme of the façade by the sequential height of openings, projecting cornices and restrained decorative mouldings such as round-headed arches and rustication at the base and diminishing columns, sculptural capitals, balustrades and friezes expressing the top.

Features include:

  • A tall panelled front door with an arched fanlight often flanked by columns and covered by a pedimented canopy is reached up a short walkway which extends from the street, arching over the basement cavity and protected from burglary by a run of wrought iron security railings.
  • Sash windows which allow the window to be held open on corded lead weights to ventilate the room. Developed in Holland and first seen in the Royal Palaces, they became common in Georgian times; previously casement windows had been the norm. The sash box joinery and ovolo or astragal moulded window frames were designed to be as slim and unobtrusive as achievable, using the largest available sheets of glass in either a "6 over 6" or "6 over 9" pattern. Since the 1980s, these are often now painted in brilliant white; however this modern colour did not exist in the period: originally they were painted ivory off-white, pale yellow or other darker colours of the period.
  • Window openings in the proportion of 1:2 or the golden section; the windows were headed by the Dutch style flat arch often made from gauged brickwork in the finest properties.
  • The roof is often hidden by a parapet above an attic frieze. This was initially to reduce the spread of fire; however, in much of London, parapets were added to Georgian houses for aesthetic reasons alone. From the street, the building appears to have a flat roof, but from the rear one can see that there is a double pitched 'butterfly' roof.
  • Elevational classical adornments such as rustication, pilasters, columns, medallions, friezes, cornices and false pediments often formed in timber, stucco or natural stone are obvious indicators of wealth and status; however, much care and restraint was exercised to avoid the excessive flamboyance of continental architecture, with a marked preference for severe simplicity, honesty of means and sparseness of ornament in line with Protestant and neo-Palladian thinking, best exemplified by the work of Scottish Enlightenment architect Robert Adams – a philosophy extended to interior furnishing by the Thomas Chippendale furniture.
  • Suburban buildings are usually constructed from London stock brick, in a yellowish buff colour (which often appears grey – see 10 Downing Street). More prestigious houses are rendered with stucco or built from imported natural stone.
  • Chimney breasts were located in shared party walls, with gable parapets projecting above the roof line. The great number of chimney pots on London properties indicates the relative wealth of the inhabitants, serving fireplaces in every room.
    The Western facade of Somerset House (1776) William Chambers

The Georgian Townhouse[edit]

But Georgian houses in London did not just come in the form of simple terraces. Many much more sumptuous homes known as townhouses were built as city residences for the nobility and gentry as opposed to their country house or stately home. The grandest of the London townhouses were stand-alone buildings like Spencer House but some were terraced buildings such as Chandos House. In the Georgian period many of these grand houses once lined Piccadilly and Park Lane but the majority of these were demolished as they went out of fashion in the late 19th and early 20th century, including the famous Devonshire House on Piccadilly. The few that do survive to this day include Spencer House, Burlington House, Apsley House, Chandos House, Cambridge House, Melbourne House, Marlborough House and Lancaster House. As well as this in the Greater London area a number of fine stately homes from the Georgian period can be found. These include the Palladian villa Chiswick House with its famous landscape gardens by William Kent and Syon House with its lavish interiors by Robert Adam.

Georgian Church and Civic Architecture[edit]

An array of notable civic, commercial and religious structures were also built in the Georgian period. Churches of the Georgian period were still very heavily influenced by the work of Sir Christopher Wren who had pioneered the use of classical architecture in church design in England with his City Churches. But with the declining popularity of the Baroque style, Georgian church design took a more restrained Palladian approach than Wren. Arguably the most famous church of the period is St Martin-in-the-Fields (1722) by James Gibbs. Often described as the archetypal church of the Georgian period, St Martin-in-the-Fields is a simple neoclassical 'temple church' with restrained Palladian ornament on its exterior and a tall spire that evokes memories of Wren's City Churches. Its format was much copied across England and abroad. St Peter, Vere Street (1722) also by James Gibbs is a further indicator of the increasing simplicity of church design in the 18th century.

Palladianism also dominated civic architecture in the Georgian period in London. This is exemplified by William Kent's Horse Guards on Whitehall (1750), an essay in the austere Palladian style of mid-18th century. Arguably the most significant secular architectural commission of Georgian London was Somerset House, a collection of government offices on the Strand that was to replace a 16th-century house of the same name on the site. The resulting building was designed by William Chambers and completed in 1776. The building is built in a quadrangle with a grand courtyard in the centre. On the south side of the exterior there is a grand terrace overlooking the River Thames and at ground level a watergate that would have once faced directly onto the River Thames before the construction of the Victoria Embankment.

New bridges across the River Thames were also built in the Georgian period; the first bridges built in London since the early Middle Ages. These bridges included Westminster Bridge in 1750, Blackfriars Bridge in 1769 and Richmond Bridge in 1777; all were built in a neoclassical style. With the exception of Richmond Bridge, all of these bridges have now been replaced. These bridges were highly significant as London Bridge had been the only bridge across the river for over 500 years. Their construction greatly encouraged development south of the river.

Regency Architecture (1811–1837)[edit]

Park Crescent (1821) John Nash, a grand stucco Regency crescent marking the entrance to Regent's Park.

London has some of the finest examples from the late-Georgian phase of British architecture known as Regency. This is aesthetically distinct from early Georgian architecture, though it falls within the scope of Georgian architecture and continues the stylistic trend of Neoclassicism. Technically the Regency era only lasted between 1811 and 1820, when the Prince Regent ruled as proxy for his incapacitated father George III, but the distinctive trends in art and architecture in fashion during the Regency extended roughly into the first 40 years of the 19th century.[34] Regency is above all a very stringent form of Classicism, directly referencing Graeco-Roman architecture and structures.[35] Regency employed enhanced ornamentation like friezes with high and low relief figural or vegetative motifs, statuary, urns, and porticos, all the while keeping the clean lines and symmetry of early Georgian architecture.[36] Typically Georgian features like sash windows were retained, along with first-floor balconies, which became especially popular in the Regency period, with either delicate cast iron scrollwork or traditional balusters.[37]

Athenaeum Club (1830) by Decimus Burton, a grand neoclassical clubhouse on Pall Mall.

The most noticeable difference between early Georgian and Regency architecture is the covering of previously exposed brick façades with stucco painted in cream tones to imitate marble or natural stone.[37] John Nash was the leading proponent of Regency Classicism, and some of his finest works survive in London.[38] These include the grand residential terraces surrounding Regent's Park: Cumberland Terrace, Cambridge Terrace, Park Square, and Park Crescent.[39] Nash's heavy use of stucco on these buildings was often deceptive as much as it was aesthetic: stucco served to obscure inferior-quality construction caused by hurried building and cost-cutting measures because Nash had a financial interest in the Regent's Park developments.[40]

The designs for the other Regent's Park terraces (Cornwall, Clarence and York) were entrusted to Decimus Burton, an architect who specialised in Greek Revival.[39][41] These imposing terraces employ all the signature features of Regency Classicism: imposing, temple-like frontages covered in gleaming stucco with projecting porches, porticos with Corinthian or Ionic capitals, large pediments, and figural friezes extending along the upper part of the façades.[42] Burton's design for the Athenaeum Club (1830) on Pall Mall, whose sculptural frieze was modelled on the recently acquired Elgin Marbles in the British Museum, is another splendid example of Regency Classicism.[43]

Only steps away from the Athenaeum, Nash designed what has been called "London's finest Regency terrace", Carlton House Terrace (1829), on the site of the Prince Regent's demolished Carlton House.[44] Carlton House was demolished in 1826 after the new King, George IV, moved to Buckingham Palace, and Nash was employed to design the three-house terrace in his signature, rigidly Classical style: clad in stucco, with an imposing Corinthian portico, balconies, pediments, and Attic parapet, over a podium with squat Doric columns.[45]

The British Museum (1827) by prolific Regency architect Robert Smirke. This facade epitomises the Greek Revival style that became fashionable in the late Regency Period.

Nash's most defining association was with the Prince Regent, who was his greatest patron. The most enduring legacy of this relationship is Buckingham Palace, which was transformed from the modest Buckingham House of George III's reign into a grand Neoclassical palace to Nash's designs. Beginning in 1825, Nash extended the existing house westwards and added two flanking wings, which created an open forecourt, or Cour d'honneur, facing St. James's Park.[46] The style is remarkably similar to Nash's terraces on the edges of Regents Park, except that the Palace was built in golden-hued Bath stone instead of stucco-faced brick.[47] The front façade of the main block features a two-storey porch of Doric columns on the bottom, tall fluted Corinthian columns above, with a pediment topped by statuary and adorned in high-relief sculpture.[47] All the hallmarks of Regency Neoclassicism also appear, including an encompassing frieze with vegetative scrollwork made of Coade stone, balconies accessible from the first floor, and an attic with figural sculptures using the Elgin Marbles as their model. The west front overlooking the main garden features a bay window at its centre, with a long terrace with balustrades and large Classical urns made of Coade stone.[47] Preceding[clarification needed] the forecourt was a monumental Roman arch, modelled on the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris, which currently stands as the Marble Arch at the north-eastern corner of Hyde Park.[48] The addition of the East Wing early in the reign of Queen Victoria enclosed the forecourt and created the frontage of Buckingham Palace known ever since, but the bulk of the Palace exterior remains from Nash's Regency additions, particularly the long garden front on the west side.

Contemporaneous to Nash's building work in Regent's Park and St. James', the development of Belgravia further west offers the most uniform and extensive example of Regency architecture in London in the form of Belgrave Square, Eaton Square, Wilton Crescent and Chester Square. An ultra-exclusive housing development built on a formerly rural swathe of land on the Grosvenor Estate, building was entrusted to Thomas Cubitt and began in 1825 with Belgrave Square; the three main squares were completed and occupied by the 1840s.[49] Like Nash, Cubitt designed elegant Classical terraces,. All were covered in white-painted stucco, with the entrance to each house featuring projecting Doric porches supporting first floor balconies with tall pedimented windows, and attics resting on cornice-work in the Greek manner.[50][51]

Holy Trinity, Marylebone (1827) John Soane, a fine example of a 'Waterloo Church' and a rare extant work by Soane, famed for his now demolished Bank of England.

The Regency period also saw the construction of some of London's finest neoclassical churches, many of which were Commissioner's Churches. A Commissioners' church, also known as a Waterloo church and Million Act church, is an Anglican church built with money voted by Parliament as a result of the Church Building Acts of 1818 and 1824. The 1818 Act supplied a grant of money and established the Church Building Commission to direct its use, and in 1824 made a further grant of money. The First Parliamentary Grant for churches amounted to £1 million (equivalent to £73,550,000 in 2019), which is why the 1818 Act that provided for it is sometimes referred to in scholarly literature as the Million Pound Act. The Second Parliamentary Grant of 1824 amounted to an additional £500,000 (£44,320,000 in 2019), so the term "million" cannot apply to all the churches aided by the Commission. The Commission was founded on a wave of national triumph following the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815; hence the suggestion of the word "Waterloo" in the title. Commissioner's churches in London include All Souls, Langham Place by John Nash; the church's unusual circular tower was deliberately placed on a bend on Nash's Regents Street to create a picturesque view from Oxford Circus, the fine neoclassical St Mary's, Bryanston Square by Robert Smirke and St Luke's, Chelsea one of London's first Gothic-revival churches; an indication of the shift of a style away from neoclassicism that was to occur later in the 19th century. Other fine Regency churches include St Pancras New Church (1822) by William and Henry Inwood, possibly the most authentic Greek-revival church in London complete with a replica of the 'porch of the maidens' from the Erechtheion temple in Athens and St Marylebone Parish Church (1819) by Thomas Hardwick with its distinctive tower crowned with gilded angels.

Victorian architecture (1837−1901)[edit]

Palace of Westminster (1840-1876) Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Pugin, arguably the most iconic building of the Victorian age.
The Midland Grand Hotel, adjoining St Pancras Railway Station (1868), one of the greatest examples of Gothic Revival Architecture in London.

Buildings from the Victorian era (1837–1901) and their diverse range of forms and ornamentation are the single largest group from any architectural period in London.[52] The Victorian era saw unprecedented urbanisation and growth in London, coinciding with Britain's ascendancy in the world economy and London's global pre-eminence as the first metropolis of the modern world. As the political centre of the world's largest Empire and the trading and financial hub of the Pax Britannica, London's architecture reflects the extraordinary affluence of the period.

As London grew during the 19th century, the former compact, close proximity of different social classes in the City of London transformed into a taste for specially developed suburbs for specific classes of the population. This is reflected in the style of domestic and commercial architecture. Donald Olsen wrote in The Growth of Victorian London that "the shift from multi-purpose to single-purpose neighborhoods reflected the pervasive move towards professionalization and specialization in all aspects of nineteenth-century thought and activity."[53]

The single most pervasive style of architecture was Neo-Gothic, also called Gothic Revival, embodied by the new Palace of Westminster built to designs by Charles Barry between 1840 and 1876.[54] Gothic architecture embodied "the influence of London's past" and coincided with Romanticism, a cultural movement which glorified all things medieval, from literature and painting to music and architecture.[55] The evangelism prevalent in mid-century Britain was also a factor in favouring Gothic Revival, which referenced great English cathedrals like Ely and Salisbury.[56] The leading proponents of Gothic Revival were Augustus Pugin, entrusted with the interior design of the Palace of Westminster, and John Ruskin, a highly influential art critic.[56] Hallmarks of Gothic architecture are tracery, a form of delicate, web-like ornamentation for windows, parapets, and all external ornamentation. Symmetry of lines, pointed arches, spires, and steep roofs are other characteristics.[57] Cast iron, and from the mid-19th century mild steel, were used in Gothic revival iron structures like Blackfriars Bridge (1869) and St. Pancras railway station (1868).[58] Other significant buildings built in Gothic Revival are the Royal Courts of Justice (1882), the Midland Grand Hotel (1876) adjoining St. Pancras Station, Liverpool Street station (1875), All Saints church in Fitzrovia, and the Albert Memorial (1872) in Kensington Gardens.[57] Even the suburbs were built in derivative Gothic Revival styles, called "Wimbledon Gothic".[54]

The Royal Albert Hall (1871) an Italianate concert hall which is the centre piece of 'Albertopolis' in Kensington.
Royal Courts of Justice (1882) George Edmund Street, one of the last great flowerings of Victorian High Gothic.

Iron was not just decorative, but advancements in engineering enabled its use to build the first iron-framed structures in history. Iron beams afforded unprecedented span and height in new buildings, with the added advantage of being fireproof. The greatest embodiment of iron's possibilities was found in Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace, a 990,000-square-foot (9.2 hectare) exhibition hall made of cast iron and plate glass, which opened in 1851.[59] Before that, iron was already being used to gird the roofs of the King's Library in the British Museum, built between 1823 and 1827, the Reform Club (1837–1841), Travellers Club (1832), and the new Palace of Westminster.[60] The technological advancements pioneered with the Crystal Palace would be applied to the building of London's great railway termini in the latter half of the century: St. Pancras, Liverpool Street, Paddington, King's Cross, and Victoria.[61] King's Cross was a relative latecomer; built in 1851 to support incoming traffic for the Crystal Palace exhibition, its arched glass terminal sheds (each 71 ft. (22 m) wide) were reinforced with laminated wooden ribs which were replaced in the 1870s with cast iron.[52] London Paddington had already set the model for train stations built with iron support piers and framework, when it was completed in 1854 to the designs of the greatest of Victorian engineers, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.[62]

Victorian architecture was not confined to Gothic Revival but was diverse, using a great variety of historic styles. These included Renaissance Revival, Queen Anne Revival (popular in the late 19th century), Moorish Revival, and Neoclassicism. New styles, not based on revivals of historic architecture, were also avidly adopted, like that of the Second Empire copied from France in the 1870s.[56]

From the 1860s, terracotta began to be used as a decorative appliqué for new constructions, but it was most popular between 1880 and 1900.[63] During this period, entire buildings were covered in elaborately moulded terracotta tiles, like the Natural History Museum (1880), the rebuilt Harrods department store (1895–1905), and the Prudential Assurance Building at Holborn Bars (1885–1901).[63] Terracotta was very advantageous in that it was colourful and, because it was kiln-fired, it did not absorb the heavy air pollution of Victorian London, unlike brick and stone. As Ben Weinreb described terracotta's usage: "it found the greatest favour on the brasher, self-advertising types of building such as shops, theatres, pubs and the larger City offices."[63]

Despite the explosive growth of Victorian London and the impressive scale of much of the building that had taken place, by the 1880s and 1890s there was an increasing belief that London's urban fabric was inferior to other European cities and unsuitable for the capital of the world's largest empire. There was little coherent urban planning in London during the Victorian era, apart from major infrastructure projects like the Thames Embankment and Tower Bridge. Critics compared London to cities like Paris and Vienna, where state intervention and large scale demolition had created a more regular arrangement, with broad boulevards, panoramas and architectural uniformity. London was "visibly the bastion of private property rights", which accounted for the eclecticism of its buildings.[64]

Edwardian Architecture (1901–1914)[edit]

The Old Bailey (1902) is a notable example of the Edwardian Baroque revival that was heavily influenced by the work of Christopher Wren.

The dawn of the 20th century and the death of Queen Victoria (1901) saw a shift in architectural taste and a reaction against Victorianism. The popularity of Neoclassicism, dormant during the latter half of the 19th century, revived with the new styles of Beaux-Arts and Edwardian Baroque, also called the "Grand Manner"[65] or "Wrenaissance", for the influence that Wren's work had on this movement. Neoclassical architecture suited an "Imperial City" like London because it evoked the grandeur of the Roman Empire and was monumental in scale. Trademarks include rusticated stonework, banded columns or quoins of alternating smooth and rusticated stonework, exaggerated voussoirs for arched openings, free-standing columns or semi-engaged pilasters with either Corinthian or Ionic capitals, and domed roofs with accompanying corner domes or elaborate cupolas.[66] In adopting such styles, British architects evoked hallowed English Baroque structures like St. Paul's Cathedral and Inigo Jones' Banqueting House.[67] Municipal, government, and ecclesiastical buildings of the years 1900–1914 avidly adopted Neo-Baroque architecture for large construction works like the Old Bailey (1902), County Hall (begun in 1911), the Port of London Authority building (begun 1912),[68] the War Office (1906), and Methodist Central Hall (1911).

The most impressive commercial buildings constructed during the Edwardian era include the famous Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly (1906), Norman Shaw's Piccadilly Hotel (1905), Selfridges department store (1909), and Whiteleys department store (1911). All of these were built in variations of Neoclassicism: Beaux-Arts, Neo-Baroque, or Louis XVI. The firm of Mewès & Davis, partners who were alumni of the École des Beaux-Arts, specialised in 18th century French architecture, specifically Louis XVI. This is evident in their two most famous projects, the Ritz Hotel and Inveresk House, the headquarters of the Morning Post, on Aldwych.[69][70]

The extravagant Selfridges, Oxford Street (1909) is a rare example of the French Beaux-Arts movement in London.

The popularity of terracotta for exterior cladding waned in favour of glazed ceramic tiles known as glazed architectural terracotta (often called "faience" at the time). Outstanding examples include the Strand Palace Hotel (1909) and Regent Palace Hotel (1914), both clad in cream-coloured 'Marmo' tiles manufactured by Burmantofts Pottery; Michelin House (1911); and Debenham House (1907).[71] London Underground stations built during the Edwardian years, namely those on the Piccadilly Line and Bakerloo Line, all employ glazed tile cladding designed by Leslie Green.[72] The signature features of these stations are glazed oxblood red tiles for the station exteriors, ticket halls clad in green and white tiles, and platforms decorated in individual colour themes varying between stations.[73] Glazed tiles had the added advantages of being easy to clean and impervious to London's polluted atmosphere.

Harrods (1905), a grand Edwardian department store with a terracotta facade.

The two most important architectural accomplishments in London during the Edwardian years were the building of Kingsway and the creation of an enormous processional route stretching from Buckingham Palace to St. Paul's Cathedral. A grand parade route, a common feature of European cities was felt to be sadly lacking in London.[74] To accomplish this a group of buildings standing between The Mall and Trafalgar Square were demolished and replaced with the grand Neo-Baroque edifice of Admiralty Arch. This created one grand east–west parade route encompassing Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square via Admiralty Arch, then connecting with the newly widened Strand, and thence to Fleet Street.[64] The 82 ft (25 m) high Victoria Memorial was erected in front of Buckingham Palace (unveiled in 1911) and encircled by four ceremonial gates dedicated to the British dominions: Canada Gate, Australia Gate, South and West Africa Gates.[75] In 1913 the decaying Caen stone on the façade of Buckingham Palace, blackened by pollution and deteriorating, was replaced with a more impressive facing of Portland stone.[74][76]

The tiled facade of Russell Square Tube Station (1906) by Leslie Green. All such stations are now Grade II listed.

Kingsway, a 100-foot (30 m) wide boulevard with underground tram tunnel stretching north–south from the Strand to High Holborn, was the culmination of a slum clearance and urban regeneration project initiated by the Strand Improvement Bill of 1899.[77] This involved the clearance of a notorious Holborn slum known as Clare Market, between Covent Garden and Lincoln's Inn Fields.[78] The demolition destroyed buildings dating back to the Elizabethan era, some of the few to have survived the Great Fire of London. In its place Kingsway and Aldwych were constructed, the latter a crescent-shaped road connecting the Strand to Kingsway. The north side of the Strand was demolished, allowing the street to be widened and more impressive and architecturally sound buildings to be constructed. Lining these grand new boulevards were impressive new theatres, hotels, and diplomatic commissions in imposing Neoclassical, Portland stone-clad designs. These new buildings included the headquarters of Britain's most important imperial possessions: India House, Australia House, with South Africa House built in the 1930s opposite Trafalgar Square. There were plans to demolish two churches along the Strand, St Mary le Strand and St Clement Danes, the latter designed by Sir Christopher Wren, because they were protruding into the street and causing traffic congestion. After public outcry the Strand was instead widened to go round these churches, creating 'islands' in the middle.[77]


In the first decade of the 20th century, the use of steel to reinforce new buildings advanced tremendously.[79] Steel piers had been used in isolation to support the National Liberal Club (1886) and the rebuilt Harrods department store (1905). The extension of 1904–05 to the Savoy Hotel used steel framing for the whole construction, followed closely by the Ritz Hotel (1906); the latter gained popular reputation as the first building in London to be steel-framed.[80] The abundance of domes in the Edwardian period is also attributable to steel girders, which made large domes lighter, cheaper to build, and much easier to engineer.[66]

Selfridges on Oxford Street, modelled after American-style department stores, was the true watershed, because its size was unprecedented by British standards and far exceeded existing building regulations. To gain planning approval, Selfridge's architect Sven Bylander (the engineer responsible for the Ritz) worked closely with the London County Council (LCC) to update the LCC's woefully outdated regulations on the use of steel, dating back to 1844.[81][80] In 1907 he gained approval for his plans, and by 1909, when Selfridges opened, the LCC passed the LCC (General Powers) Act, also known as the Steel Act, which provided comprehensive guidelines for steel-framed buildings and a more streamlined process for gaining planning permission.[82][79] By this point, steel reinforcement was de rigueur in any sizable public or commercial building, as seen in the new buildings proliferating along Aldwych and Kingsway.

Art Deco & Interwar Architecture (1919–1939)[edit]

The Art Deco Broadcasting House (1932), headquarters of the BBC.

After the end of World War I, several outstanding building projects begun before 1914 were finally completed. The sombre mood and straitened financial circumstances of interwar Britain made the flamboyant Neo-Baroque style no longer suitable for new architecture. Instead, British architects turned back to the austere, clean lines of Georgian Architecture for inspiration.[84] Consequently, Neo-Georgian was the preferred style for municipal and government architecture well into the 1960s.[85] The sale and demolition of many of London's grandest aristocratic houses gave rise to some of the largest private building projects of the interwar period, built to Art Deco or Neo-Georgian designs. These include The Dorchester (Art Deco) and the Grosvenor House Hotel (Neo-Georgian) on Park Lane, both on the sites of grand London houses of the same names. Many buildings clustered around Georgian squares in central London were demolished and replaced, ironically enough, with Neo-Georgian edifices in near-identical styles but larger. Grosvenor Square, the most exclusive of London's squares, saw the demolition of original Georgian buildings in favour of the uniform Neo-Georgian townhouses which currently surround the square on the north, east and south sides.[84] In St James's Square several buildings were demolished and rebuilt in the Neo-Georgian style, the most famous of which was Norfolk House.[86]

The Art Deco Daily Express Building (1932) was one of the first glass curtain wall buildings in London.

Neo-Classical architecture remained popular for large building projects in London, but it dispensed with the heavy ornamentation and bold proportions of the Baroque. It remained the preferred style for banks, financial houses, and associations seeking to communicate prestige and authority. Perhaps the most prominent example of interwar Neoclassicism is the rebuilt Bank of England in the City of London, designed by Sir Herbert Baker and built between 1921 and 1937.[87][88] The most influential proponent of Neoclassicism in interwar Britain was Sir Edwin Lutyens. His distinctive form of Neoclassicism can be seen in London with the Cenotaph,[89] the monolithic, streamlined war memorial built of Portland stone on Whitehall; the Midland Bank building;[citation needed] and Britannic House in Finsbury Circus, both in the City of London, and the headquarters of the British Medical Association in Tavistock Square, Bloomsbury.[90] In Westminster, a fine example of interwar Neoclassicism is Devonshire House, an office building constructed between 1924 and 1926 on the site of the former London house of the Dukes of Devonshire.[91] Classicism of this style was almost exclusively executed in the ever-popular Portland stone.

Art Deco[edit]

Existing alongside the more prevalent Neo-Georgian and Neoclassical forms of architecture used in the capital in the 1920s and 1930s, Art Deco was nonetheless an extremely popular style from about 1925 to the later 1930s.[92] The true stimulus was the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, where Art Deco had been developed roughly 20 years earlier. London, alongside New York City and Paris, became an innovative and experimental ground for Art Deco architecture. This is defined by clean lines, curves, geometric patterns, bold colour, and elaborate, stylised sculptural accents.[93] Art Deco was adopted most enthusiastically by "modern" businesses and those seeking to advertise their modernity and forward-thinking attitude. These included cinemas, media headquarters, airports, swimming pools, factories, and power stations (such as Battersea Power Station). It was a flashy, luxurious style, so it was also well adapted for department stores (e.g. Simpsons of Piccadilly), theatres, hotels, and blocks of flats.[93]

The Hoover Building (1931), an iconic example of London Art Deco

Two of London's finest examples of Art Deco architecture stand on Fleet Street: the Daily Telegraph building (1928) and the Daily Express building.[92] The façade of the latter is, unusually for the time, composed entirely of glass, vitrolite and chromium, which stood out boldly amongst the stone and brick architecture of Fleet Street. The use of industrial, sleek materials like these was more common in Deco buildings in New York City than it was in London: Portland stone remained overwhelmingly the material of choice. For example, another media headquarters, the BBC's Broadcasting House on Portland Place, was built in the traditional Portland stone with outstanding figural sculptures by Eric Gill.[94] Ideal House (1929), is highly unusual in combining Art Deco with Egyptian motifs, on a façade clad in shiny black granite.[95] Another Art Deco/Egyptian synthesis is the Carreras Cigarette Factory in Mornington Crescent.[96]

The erection of ultra-modern Deco buildings often came at the expense of older architectural gems, some irreplaceable. Along the Embankment two large Deco buildings were constructed which continue to dominate London's riverfront profile. The elegant Neoclassical Adelphi Buildings, designed by Robert and John Adam and built between 1768 and 1771, were demolished to build the New Adelphi office building in the 1930s.[97] Adjacent to the Adelphi, the grand Hotel Cecil (1896) was demolished to make way for Shell Mex House (1931), a 190 ft (58 m) high Art Deco office building which features London's largest clock.[98]

The 19-storey Senate House, headquarters of the University of London, is the tallest Art Deco structure in London and was one of the tallest buildings in London when finished in 1937.[96] It elicited, and continues to elicit, much criticism because it stands so tall and obtrusive amongst the modest Georgian squares of Bloomsbury. Evelyn Waugh described it as a "vast bulk...insulting the autumnal sky", while more recent critics have called it Stalinesque or reminiscent of the Third Reich.[99][100] This association with totalitarian architecture was reinforced by the wartime rumour that Hitler wanted the Senate House for his London headquarters upon conquering Britain, and therefore ordered Luftwaffe bombers to avoid it during The Blitz.[99]

Post War and Brutalist Architecture in London (1945-1980)[edit]

Trellick Tower (1972) by Erno Goldfinger, an distinctive example of post-war Brutalist architecture.

In the Blitz, London's urban fabric and infrastructure was devastated by continuous aerial bombardment by the Luftwaffe with almost 20,000 civilians killed and more than a million houses destroyed or damaged.[101] Hundreds of thousands of citizens had been evacuated to safer areas, and the reconstruction of a habitable urban environment became a national emergency. The re-housing crisis, aligned with post-War optimism manifested in the Welfare State, afforded an opportunity and a duty for the architectural profession to rebuild the shattered capital. The internationally influential urban planner Sir Patrick Abercrombie established the 1943 County of London Plan, which set out redevelopment according to modernist principles of zoning and de-densification of historic urban areas.

The 1951 Festival of Britain, held on London's South Bank, became an important cultural landmark in sharing and disseminating optimism for future progress. The Royal Festival Hall (built 1948–1951) and the later South Bank Centre including the Hayward Gallery (1968), Queen Elizabeth Hall/Purcell Room (1967) and the Royal National Theatre (1976) remain as significant architectural and cultural legacies of the era.

Lauderdale Tower (1974) part of the Barbican Estate complex.

Accelerating pre-war trends, overcrowded urban populations were relocated to new suburban developments, allowing inner-city areas to be reconstructed. The Golden Lane Estate, followed by the Barbican by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, are regarded as casebook examples of urban reconstruction of the period in the City of London, where just 5,324 local residents had remained by the end of the war.[102]

London had also attracted a select group of important European modernists, some as refugees from Nazism, and the post-war era presented opportunities for many to express their unique visions for modernism. Important European architects of the era include Berthold Lubetkin and Ernő Goldfinger, who employed and trained architects on modernist social housing such as the Dorset Estate of 1957, Alexander Fleming House (1962–64), Balfron Tower of 1963 and Trellick Tower of 1966, as well as Keeling House by Denys Lasdun in 1957. International movements in architecture and urban planning were reflected in the new developments with separation of motor transportation and industrial and commercial uses from living areas, according to the prevailing orthodoxies of the CIAM.[103] High-rise residential developments of council housing in London were above all else influenced by Le Corbusier's Unité d'habitation (or Cité Radieuse ("Radiant City") of 1947–52.[104] The architecture of post war modernism was informed by ideals of technological progress and social progress through egalitarianism; this was expressed by humanistic repetition of forms and use of the modernist material par excellenceBéton brut[105] or 'raw concrete'. Significant council housing works in London include the Brunswick Centre (1967–72) by Patrick Hodgkinson and the Alexandra Road Estate (1972–78) by Neave Brown of the Camden Council architects department.

The British exponents of the internationalist movement were headed by Alison and Peter Smithson, originally as part of Team 10; they went on to design Robin Hood Gardens (1972) in Bow and The Economist Building[106] (1962–4) in Mayfair, regarded by architects as some of the very finest works of British New Brutalism.

Many schools, residential housing and public buildings were built over the period; however the failure of some the modernist ideals, coupled with poor quality of construction and poor maintenance by building owners, has resulted in a somewhat negative popular perception of the architecture of the era; this is, however, being transformed and expressed in the enduring value and prestige of refurbished developments such as the Barbican, Trellick Tower and Balfron Tower, regarded by many as architectural "icons" of a distant era of confidently heroic progressive social constructivism[gobbledegook] and highly sought-after places of residence.

Postmodernism, High-Tech and High-Rise Architecture (1980-Present)[edit]

Postmodern and High Tech Architecture[edit]

The SIS or MI6 Building by Terry Farrell (1996) is a distinctive example of postmodern architecture.

The late 1970s is considered to be a stylistic turning point in the history of architecture. Formed in reaction against the austere modernism which had dominated architectural design since the end of world war II, the postmodern school - which first expressed itself in the controversial book Learning from Las Vegas (1973) by Robert Venturi - was a movement that rejected minimalism by embracing irony, playfulness, pop culture and quoting historical styles in their buildings.[107] The result was an eccentric new style that couldn't be in starker contrast to the rigid post war consensus of the international style. London contains some notable examples of postmodern architecture, mostly from the 1990s. Robert Venturi's Sailsbury Wing of the National Gallery (1991) is an poignant example of postmodern historical pastiche, being built of portland stone and ironically imitating the neoclassical style of the original National Gallery in order to blend in with the older building. Two of the postmodern movement's most influential architects Terry Farrell and James Stirling were both British and many of their most significant works can be found in London. Perhaps London's best-known postmodernist building, Terry Farrell's SIS Building or MI6 Building (1996) in Vauxhall, is a highly distinctive pyramidal design that was heavily influenced by Maya and Aztec Architecture; it is the headquarters of Britain's military intelligence agency. James Stirling's No.1 Poultry (1997) has been highly commended as a masterpiece of the postmodernist style becoming grade II* listed in 2016.[108] Occupying the east corner of Bank Junction, its unusual design incorporates a pink terracotta façade containing equestrian sculptures and an unusual clock tower resembling a submarine conning tower. It controversially replaced a neo-gothic building of the 19th century.

The Great Court of The British Museum (2000) a notable example of high-tech architecture by Fosters and Partners.

A splinter movement of the postmodern movement that started to become prominent in the 1990s is the high-tech style and the similar neo-futurist style. These two styles embrace much of the eccentricity of the postmodern style in their utilisation of unusual forms and shapes, whilst also taking cues from the modernist movement in their embrace of functionality and utopianism.[109] In terms of construction there is an emphasis on the usage of glass, steel and high-tech production processes, as well as exposing the structural and utilitarian elements of the building as a means of decoration.[110] A revolutionary example of the high-tech movement can be seen in the form of The Lloyd's Building (1986) by Richard Rogers, an unusual ‘inside-out’ design in which all the building's utilities; its lifts, ducts and vents are placed on the outside rather than on the inside of the building acting as an external façade. The building is Grade I listed in recognition of its significance.[111] The pre-eminence of the high-tech style in London began to emerge in the late 1990s and became closely associated with its most prolific architect: Norman Foster and his practice Fosters and Partners. Significant high-tech works by Forster include The Great Court of The British Museum; a distinctive glass dome structure built over the central courtyard of the original 19th century building, City Hall (2002) on the South Bank with its distinctive ovular shape and the iconic skyscraper 30 St Mary Axe (2003) perhaps his most famous building. 30 St Mary Axe – often known colloquially as ‘The Gherkin’ - has been much praised around the world winning the Stirling Prize[112] as well as winning a 2006 poll as the most admired building by the world's leading architects. 30 St Mary Axe was a major turning point in high rise architecture in London with many other buildings following suit with a similar high-tech/neo-futurist style, examples include The Shard (2012), 122 Leadenhall Street (2014) 20 Fenchurch Street (2015) and 1 Blackfriars (2018).

30 St Mary Axe (2003) by Foster and Partners (often referred to as 'The Gherkin') has become one of London's most iconic high rise buildings.

Contemporary High Rise Architecture in London[edit]

The NatWest Tower (now called Tower 42) was completed in 1980, which at 183 metres (600 ft) and 42 storeys, was considered the first "skyscraper" in the City of London. Its height was controversial, being contrary to the previous height restrictions, it was the tallest building in the United Kingdom at the time and also the tallest cantilever building in the world. Following an over ten-year gap, One Canada Square was completed in 1991 at 235 metres (771 ft) and formed the centrepiece of the Canary Wharf development, which itself is part of the Isle of Dogs and can be considered the east-side of Central London. The development's main tower One Canada Square became the tallest building in the United Kingdom.

With the encouragement of Ken Livingstone who was Mayor of London from 2000 to 2008, a renewed trend for building tall was established in the 2000s. Following another over 10-year gap, 8 Canada Square and 25 Canada Square, both standing at 200 metres (660 ft), were completed at Canary Wharf in 2002. Several others of a smaller height followed at Canary Wharf including: Heron Quays, 40 Bank Street in 2003 at 153 metres (502 ft), 10 Upper Bank Street in 2003 at 151 metres (495 ft), and 25 Bank Street in 2004 at 153 metres (502 ft). In the City of London, 30 St Mary Axe, nicknamed "the Gherkin" was completed in 2003 at 180 metres (590 ft), Heron Tower in 2007 at 230 metres (750 ft), and the Broadgate Tower in 2008 at 165 metres (541 ft). Notably, some of the awards given to 30 St Mary Axe include the Emporis Skyscraper Award in 2003 and the RIBA Stirling Prize for Architecture in 2004.

(left) City Hall (2002) Fosters and Partners and (right) The Shard (2012) Renzo Piano, two notable works of high-tech and neo-futurist architecture.

Boris Johnson who was Mayor of London from 2008 to 2016 approved the construction of more skyscrapers in London. The Shard topped out in 2012 at London Bridge and at 309.6 metres (1,016 ft) remains London's tallest building. In 2014, the 225 metres (738 ft) tall 122 Leadenhall Street, nicknamed "the Cheesegrater", was completed in the City of London. In September, 2016 a refit was completed of the 111m King's Reach Tower, originally built in the 1970s, which included an 11-storey height increase to bring it up to 150 metres (490 ft) tall and it was renamed the South Bank Tower. One Blackfriars, also located on the South Bank, topped out in 2017 at 163 metres (535 ft). The Scalpel, at 190 metres (620 ft) was completed in the City of London in 2018 and it was designed to protect views of St Paul's Catherdral. Newfoundland Quay, at 220 metres (720 ft) and Landmark Pinnacle at 233 metres (764 ft) topped out in Canary Wharf in 2018 and 2019 respectively. One Park Drive at 205 metres (673 ft) and South Quay Plaza at 215 metres (705 ft) both also topped out at Canary Wharf in 2019. 22 Bishopsgate, at 278 metres (912 ft) topped out in the City of London in 2019, after being approved by the current Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in 2016.

1 Undershaft, at 290 metres (950 ft), also approved by Sadiq Khan in 2016, is planned to form the centrepiece of the City of London's skyscraper cluster. It is the tallest skyscraper currently proposed for London and will only be exceeded in height by The Shard. It will be built on the site of the aforementioned 1969 St Helen's building which will be demolished. 100 Leadenhall, at 249 metres (817 ft), and already nicknamed the "Cheesegrater 2", is also planned for the City of London. Spire London, at 235 metres (771 ft) is planned for Canary Wharf. However, construction was halted after concerns that the building only had one escape stairwell for residents on the upper floors. The tallest of the two Riverside South towers that have been planned for construction at Canary Wharf since 2008 would have exceeded that cluster's tallest building, One Canada Square, by 1 metre in height, but construction has been stalled since 2011. Construction has started on the 216 metres (709 ft) tall Consort Place (previously called Alpha Square) also at Canary Wharf.

There is another major skyscraper cluster emerging in the Vauxhall and Nine Elms districts of London. The first skyscraper to appear here was St George Wharf Tower at 181 metres (594 ft) and which was completed in 2014. The tallest tower planned for this cluster is the 200 metres (660 ft) One Nine Elms City Tower. In 2019, Sadiq Khan blocked the construction of the 290 metre tall Tulip that would have been built in the City of London. However, in January, 2020, the developers of the tower launched an appeal against Khan's decision which is to be considered at a public inquiry in the middle of the year.

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  • Marianne Butler, London Architecture, metropublications, 2006
  • Billings, Henrietta, Brutalist London Map, Blue Crow Media, 2015

External links[edit]