Sir Christopher Wren
Sir Christopher Wren was born under the rule of Charles I. During the year 1632 this child prodigy was born. He was born with the gifts of mathematics. He then learned to do many things with mathematics. Wren became a professor of astronomy, experimented in scientist, and was in the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge. Everyone must start somewhere, and that somewhere was the Westminister School. Wren then moved onto Oxford where he received his degree and also received the title the miracle of youth (Whinney 8) from his close friend John Evelyn. Evelyn thought it was amazing that Wren could use his brilliance for science instead of the arts. Most people in that time who where considered brilliant were people of the art profession. John would soon see how Wren used his architecture as art.
There is no true reason why Wren turned to architecture. He was truly admired for his works of art. He would watch modern architecture being built with an undisturbed eye. It was like a high school band watching Mozart. Sir Christopher once sat and watched the Louvre being built. In one of his few letters he writes:
I would have given my skin for it, but the old reserved Italian gave me but a few Minutes View: it was five little designs in Paper, for which he hath received as many thousand Pistoles: I had only time to copy it in my Fancy and Memory: I shall be able by Discourse, and a Crayon, to give you a tolerable Account of it. (Whinney 26).
At about the time Sir Christopher Wren was making a name for himself, Saint Pauls Church of London was in need of restoration. Wren then drew up quite a few sets of plans, until he collaborated a couple to have a final set. Wren s plans were almost extreme in idea; he wanted to make the inside nave look like the outside. Sir Christopher also wanted the nave vault to be saucers or domes. Wren then came up with a trend-setting idea that would revolutionize architecture. He would enlarge the crossing by cutting out the piers and by this creating a dome. Christopher was not only concerned with structural problems but also with the way the church was to look. The basic concept contained two main ideas a great central space and a tall dome (Whinney 36). Wren decided that Saint Pauls Church of London was to have a Latin cross plan. The beauty of the Ely Cathedral gave this idea to him. Ely Cathedral is the only medieval building in England to have these characteristics. Sir Christopher s uncle just happened to be the head of the church. Wren s uncles pull probably helped get him the job.
On September 2, 1666, a fire broke out, destroying the city of London and rendering Sir Christopher Wren s new plans useless. London had become as Troy did before, a memory of destruction. All was lost in the smoke that lasted for two days. The fire not only left thirty thousand families, and eighty-seven pastors and priest, homeless and hungry, but left the already homeless and hungry with no where to pray for someplace to live. Later in the month Sir Christopher gave the King his plans for the city. They contained a new city with streets and avenues instead of alleys. Wren was out to make London modern. He was rejected for heading the design. Wren would not leave London with out his markings. He was appointed to build fifty churches, including Saint Pauls.
The rest of the city still had to be decided. A commission was appointed by the king to deal with the position of London. Wren was one of three to collaborate in the effort. Hugh May and Roger Pratt were the other two designers. The city itself also appointed three architects to accompany Wren, May, and Pratt. Wren had one of four proposed plans for the new city, and of course, he was the most imaginative of them all.
A coal tax brought in enough money to help rebuild London s churches. While they were creating new income, as much money as possible had to be spared for the New Saint Pauls Cathedral. Wren was now the Surveyor-General and chief member of the construction. Since such a great number of churches were demolished, not all of them could be rebuilt. Due to the problems only the fifty-two that Wren was given were built. St Clement Danes, St James , Piccadilly, Soho, and St Anne s were all of great importance and would all be built to the out sides of the city to prevent the same damage to reoccur. Public funds would pay for the fabrics, but the fittings would have to find a donor like a city company.
Saint Pauls Cathedral was a beautiful church constructed of Classical, Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance features. The church was the first to have the untouched idea of three domes. The outside one is constructed by timber covered lead. The interior dome is made of light brick. The inner dome shaped like a cone is hidden between the two and is only used for strength. In every church except St Clemet Danes, which had an unusual site, wren placed his altar flat against the east wall (Whinney 49). Saint Pauls Cathedral consists of two equal levels. The church also has double columns and statuary. The dome very much represents Bramante s design of Tempietto at San Pietro. During the period of building, the church went threw many builders, mason men, contractors, a king, but only one architect. King James II wanted chapels to be added on each side of the domes. It is said he wanted the chapels added to try and restore Catholicism in England. By 1694, all of the masonry work had been completed. Fittings had not been placed and there was still a long haul ahead. Parliament declared the work finished in 1711. No other building of this magnitude was ever constructed during the life of one architect.
Saint Pauls is an absolute brilliant work of art. There are so many small pieces that make this building beautiful. On the south transept, there is a phoenix. There are children or angels carved on every doorway and above every window. The circular stairwell has beauty in itself. The texture of everything is rich with warmth. The twin clock towers add to the awesome church. This was his best work, but not his only work.
Wren also designed the Trinity College Library, Cambridge. He developed new ideas such as dropping the bookshelves so that the readers could enjoy the beautiful light through the windows. Sir Christopher went through a lot of trouble with the interior. Even today, you can see some of the original tables, stools, and book-rest in the library. He advised marble flooring for the center hallway so that footsteps would not make as much noise. The finishing of the library was slow but well worth the time.
Wren s most French design of all has to be the Palace at Winchester. It was constructed under King Charles II. The Palace was begun in 1683. After two years of construction, it was brought to a halt. The king had died, and there was no longer any need for it. As years were to come, it would be altered and eventually be damaged by a fire.
Sir Christopher also designed many other works of art. In 1670 a Doric Column was built to remember the great fire. The Royal Hospital at Chelsea was founded by the king in 1682. The church was built in a block style. The hospital was to house five hundred patients. It was Wren s first large-scale experiment with brick (Whinney 147). The hospital is not impressive but still has the Wren name attached to it. The Kingston Palace was built for William III and Mary II. Hampton Court Palace was to be transformed for the same Queen, Mary II. The Hampton Court Palace is one of my favorites to look at overhead. The structure is magnificent and beautiful with the gardens behind.
I once wanted to become an architect. Then I came to college and took a class called College Algebra. This class help teach me that math is not my angle in life. Even though I will not be an architect, I can appreciate architect s works. Sir Christopher wren is an architect that I look at with all my respect. The man made things beautiful. He constructed huge buildings in a short amount of time. No one did as much in such a short amount of time. He has inspired many young architects in this world and will continue to do so forever. Wren could bring all aspects of art into a single structure. From the sculptures to the textures, he designed things right, without flaw. Anyone who can create beauty out of dust is truly a worldly inspiration.
Fiero, Gloria K. The Hmanistic Tradition. London: McGraw-Hill, 1998.
Whinney, Margaret. Christopher Wren. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971.