George Saumarez Smith is wrong – classical London is nothing but a thin veneer

Ben Flatman

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.

This content is available to Registered users

You are not currently logged in.

LOGIN or REGISTER to access this story

LOGIN or REGISTER for free access on selected stories and sign up for email alerts.

Take out a subscription to BD and you will get immediate access to:

  • Up to the minute architecture news from around the UK
  • Reviews of the latest buildings from all corners of the world
  • Our monthly digital edition including stunning photos, building and technical studies
  • Full access to all our online archives
  • PLUS you will receive a print copy of WA100 when it is published in January

Get access to premium content subscribe today