Wren and Nash had a go at imposing classical masterplans on London but they failed spectacularly, argues Ben Flatman
George Saumarez Smith argues that “classicism is at the core of London’s identity”, but London (and Westminster) are built on mediaeval foundations, and defy association with any one style. The Great Wen’s most rapid periods of expansion were driven by Victorian engineering and the London Underground and are more closely associated with the gothic revival and the suburban semi than classicism.
There have of course been periodic attempts to tame London’s unruly nature. Saumarez Smith points to Wren’s churches as proof of the city’s classical identity, but in truth they are only fragments of a much larger, and failed, plan to obliterate all trace of mediaeval London. Had Wren’s unrealised vision for rebuilding after the Great Fire been realised, it would have erased the Square Mile as we know it and superimposed a classically inspired web of piazzas and uncharacteristically straight avenues. The unruly commercial instincts of London’s landowners, who started rapidly rebuilding on their old plots, stopped Wren’s plans in their tracks.
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