The greatest British architect of all time was born in East Knoyle, Wiltshire, in 1632, the son of the rector of Knoyle. Christopher Wren attended Westminster School and Wadham College, Oxford, where he graduated with a masters degree in 1651. At this stage Wren was a pure scientist (by the standards of the time) focusing on astronomy, physics, and anatomy. He experimented with submarine design, road paving, and design of telescopes. At the tender age of 25 he was offered the Chair of Astronomy at Gresham College, London.
In 1660 Wren was one of the founding members of the Society of Experimental Philosophy. In 1662, under the patronage of Charles II, this body became known as the Royal Society.
It was not until 1663 that Wren tried his hand at architecture, and his first commission was literally the result of nepotism. His uncle, then Bishop of Ely, got him the job of designingPembroke CollegeChapel at Cambridge University. Next was theSheldonian Theatrein Oxford, based on the classical design of the Roman Theatre of Marcellus. This was the work that made Wrens reputation as an architect.
In 1666 Wrens plan for the reconstruction of St. Pauls Cathedral in London was accepted. Just six days later the Great Fire of London took matters out of Wrens hands by destroying the cathedral completely. Within days of the fire Wren presented a plan to Charles for rebuilding the entire city of London along classical lines, with broad tree-lined avenues cutting through the former warren of twisting streets and alleys.
Such a drastic renovation was not surprisingly rejected, but Wren was appointed to be one of the architectural commissioners overseeing the rebuilding of the city. In this capacity Wren designed and supervised the rebuilding of 51 city churches over the next 46 years. Each church was different, though all were classical in style. Wren evolved a uniquely British wedding cake style of steeple based on classical Roman temples. Part of Wrens success was due to his personal involvement in the work under his supervision. He insisted on the finest materials and a very high standard of workmanship.
was Wrens masterpiece. He submitted several designs – the Great Model of 1673 was his favourite, but the huge domed structure was rejected by the commissioners as too Catholic. Undeterred, Wren made a new plan which toned down the dome and topped it with a steeple. The royal warrant approving this design allowed for variations, rather ornamental than essential. Wren exploited this loophole to perfection, gradually and surreptitiously slipping in many of his Great Model ideas without advertising the fact. By the time anyone realised what he had done, it was too late to change.
Wren did far more than churches. He was responsible for Tom Tower at Christs Church, Oxford, the library at Trinity College, and the Royal Hospital at Chelsea. He also enlarged and remodeled Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace, and the Naval Hospital at Greenwich. He is rightly regarded as the most influential British architect of all time.
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