Background on architecture – Christopher Wren


I choose to research into the work by Christopher Wren, He is one of the most established architectures; known for the design of many London churches/Cathedrals, including St Paul’s cathedral. Wrens interest in architecture devolved from his study of physics and engineering.

In 1664 and 1665 he was commissioned to design the sheldonian theatre in oxford and a chapel. In 1665 Wren visited Paris, it was here that he was strongly influenced by French and Italian baroque style. After that in 1666 the great fire of London destroyed much of the medieval city, Wren designed 51 new city churches as well as the infamous St Pauls cathedral, which is the only great cathedral of the early modern era to have been redesigned and completed by a single architect.

Wrens original design for the cathedral was rejected by the church as being too modern. The second design was a domed church in the shape of a Greek cross- this was again rejected. It was then he designed a traditional English church with a long nave spire, however when building it he got rid of the three bays in the nave, did away with the spire, enlarged the dome and raised the aisle walls, The key element from his work was the overwhelming symmetry.

From the book St Pauls Cathedral by Vaughan Hart I read that through their use of linear perspective, architects harnessed the idea of spatial infinity which was central to the emerging conception of the universe. Wren said that there were two causes, not types of beauty. The first cause, based on geometry, included the property of symmetry. Whilst the second was based of familiarity. From the temple court Wren concluded that ‘certainly no enclosure looks so gracefully as the circular: tis the circle that equally bounds the eye, and is everywhere uniform to itself…’.The cathedrals design clearly followed Wrens hierarchy of geometric beauty as ‘geometrical figures are naturally more beautiful than other irregular of geometrical figures, the square and the circle are most beautiful; next the parallelogram and the oval’

The main internal space of the cathedral is that under the central dome which extends the full width of the nave and aisles. The dome is supported on pendonives rising between eight arches spanning the nave, choir, transepts and aisles. The dome was painted by Sir James Thornhill, it shows eight scenes from the life of St Paul set in illusionistic architecture which continues the forms of the eight niches of the drum. The upper space is lit by the light wells in the outer dome and openings in the brick cone.

St Pauls has been the subject of many photographs, most notably the iconic image of the dome surrounded by smoke during the blitz ( see figure 1) The stairs of the south-west tower has appeared in several films such as Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban and Sherlock Holmes.


figure 1


Interior of the dome

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