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Influential Design: St Paul’s Cathedral, London

St Paul’s Cathedral is the most iconic structure in London. The structure was constructed after the Great Fire of London in 1666. The Cathedral is a reflection of early modern, progressive, and knowledge-driven designs of the century. At some point, the building faced the risk of collapsing during the early period of the 20th century. This is now a minor issue in the long history of St Paul’s Cathedral. Sir Christopher Wren, an architect was responsible for designing the St Paul’s Cathedral. Ludgate Hill hosts the Cathedral. The building’s dome, which has attained global recognition, remains the largest in the world. The dome is almost 112 meters tall. This research essay argues for the significance and influence of the design.

The architect started the actual work in 1669. However, it was not until 10 years later that Wren completed the design for the Cathedral. In addition, the construction of the building also took additional 40 years. These two periods show how the building set the record in design and construction periods. Since its completion, St Paul’s Cathedral has become the most important historical landmark with an integral role in the city as the most visible structure in London’s skyline, an important location for tourists and a worship center, and most recently has become a central location for anticapitalist protesters.

There are some remarkable architectural features of design, which make St Paul’s Cathedral an influential design in architectural history. Of interest to note is that Wren had encountered many challenges during the design. The Cathedral had to replace the old church destroyed by fire, the design had to meet specifications for worship places and serve as an attraction of the city. Thus, the architect had to show the church’s preferences and account for the royal tastes. In addition, it had to include the Medieval tradition of England that included a form of worship. Wren used the English Baroque style to design the Cathedral. The most prominent dome dominates “the Cathedral’s exterior, and it is over 365 feet”. The dome is the most excellent in Europe, the perfect globally and simply magnificent and lacks any equal. It is the most significant element of the Cathedral’s exterior.

Wren could have borrowed the idea of the dome from other churches he had visited but added prominent features to it. It is the height and footing, which set the Cathedral apart from other domes. The style of the dome is a continuous arcade instead of projecting columns and alternating windows. After every four open spaces of the dome, there is a recess to enhance diversity and visual appeal. The continuous arcade offers strength and buttresses the inner part of the dome and the cone that holds the lantern. The Stone Gallery is decorated with alternating windows of different shapes, which result in an element of lightness. The dome dominates above and displays grooved lead plaster to match the design of pillars. The wells offer additional light to enter through the building and illuminate its interior parts. The lantern originates from the center of the building, and it is notable because of the square design rather than the normal circular expected. The Golden Gallery is an equally remarkable part of the lantern because it offers support to another small dome just across the golden ball.

The west front of St Paul’s Cathedral reveals another architectural feature. It was difficult to design for an extremely large Cathedral. The major obstacle was how to use the front to join the major central part with other lower sections in a manner that would appeal to viewers. Wren managed to design the west front by using large brackets to connect the center and the sides. Other architects who worked with Mansart had used the same approach at Val-de-Grâce. Wren had to include towers in the structure of the Cathedral by building an entrance and introducing a large stretching screen façade across the entrance but used large rocks to depict the area at the center.

The walls of St Paul’s Cathedral also depict the influential nature of the design. The ashlar (stone slab for facing) masonry is well displayed alongside a decorative railing. It also has strong-paired pillars with slender and ornate support at the lower parts and additional parts at the top. At the upper part of the story, the wall is a facade to serve the double role of providing support to the pillars of the vault and complementing the visual effect of the Cathedral.

The Interior of the building shows strong central pillars in every bay. The square domed entrance at the center forms the west portico enclosed with three chapels. The arcade that separates the nave is tall and has strong pillars emerging above the column. Wren designed rectangular-shaped bay and vault sections, but cleverly introduced a roof with domes and encircled the windows with crescent-shaped designs. The decoration is lavish to reflect the values of the church.

Apses (the rounded projections) are also remarkable architectural designs. They cover the choir and the entire height of the major arches with the areas of the choir and central places within the Cathedral. To match the vault, the designers prominently use mosaic decoration. It is imperative to note that other sections of the Cathedral were destroyed during the war in 1940 and therefore the current alter and portable canopy are not original parts of the Cathedral.

Other features of the design also make the structure stand out among the greatest architectural works. For instance, stone and wood sculptures and metal works enhanced with mosaics and other elegant fittings provide remarkable influential features of the building.

One can observe the overall sweep of architectural history in the works of modern scholars who have strived to explain the link between monumental structures and various aspects of dwelling. Today, the Cathedral is the most famous piece of architectural work in Britain and important heritage. In addition, it remains the most famous place of worship, the largest Protestant Cathedral, and with the biggest dome globally. Many scholars have considered the building as the greatest Baroque structure in Europe. For over 250 years, the Cathedral was the tallest building in the City of London.

Bibliography

Campbell, James. Building St Paul’s. London: Thames & Hudson, 2007.

Fletcher, Banister. A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method. London: Athlone Press, 1961.

Hollis, Leo. The phoenix : St. Paul’s Cathedral and the men who made modern London. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008.

Ingersoll, Richard, and Spiro Kostof. World Architecture: A Cross-Cultural History. London: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Tinniswood, Adrian. His Invention so Fertile: A Life of Christopher Wren. London: Oxford Press, 2001.

St. Paul's Cathedral, City of London
Figure 1: St. Paul’s Cathedral, City of London
Old St. Paul's Cathedral
Figure 2: Old St. Paul’s Cathedral

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