Sir Christopher Wren
Or: If You Build It, Eventually It'll Get Listed
Sir Christopher Wren's contributions to many an English city's skyline are numerous; he was the architect of the 17th Century, and earned for himself one of the most famous names in the field.
Of course, he dabbled in other disciplines as well, including astronomy, optics, and mathematics--all related, and all making him a damnably clever fellow.
Modern times know him best as the architect of St Paul's Cathedral, that unmistakable shape looming over the Thames in London.
A Tumultous Childhood
As with many a future genius, Wren was a weak and frail child, small of stature if large in brain. He had private tutors for a few years, demonstrating high aptitudes in science and drawing.
He also got chummy as a kid with Charles I's son, the future Charles II. Fine for later, but a bit dodgy just now.
The College Years
Wren remains at Oxford
for four more years. In his time there, he conducts experiments
, completing drawings of the brain
and devising a blood transfusion
system (which he demonstrates dog
, and methods of defence
A Renaissance Man if ever there was one.
Back to London
Following his departure from Oxford, Wren heads back to London, taking up a professorship in his current favorite subject: astronomy.
And Then Back to Oxford
Let's face it: Oxford has better punting. That, and a career opportunity.
Wren comes back to his alma mater in 1662, with the title, 'Savilian Professor of Astronomy'. He keeps the post for eleven years, his work in astronomy eliciting praise from such giants as Sir Isaac Newton, who ranked his work among the most important of the time.
I Thought You Said This Guy Was An Architect
I did--bear in mind, at his point he's only thirty years old. Plenty of time to start a new career, even while holding on to the old one.
In 1663, Wren's awakening interest in architecture is spurred on during a visit to Rome, whereat he studies in-depth the ruined Theatre of Marcellus.
He takes the inspiration home and in the same year, is commissioned by his uncle to design the chapel at Pembrooke College, Cambridge.
He also submits his design for the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford to the Royal Society. The plans are the first of his to include that so well-known feature, the dome. Construction begins months later.
Rather a big year, coming right out of the gate into two major projects.
Burn, baby, burn.
In 1666, the Fire of London takes out a chunk of the city, and gives Wren the architectural opportunity of a lifetime. He is appointed Commissioner for Rebuilding the City of London, and replans the whole thing. Over several years, Wren supervises the reconstruction of over sixty buildings, leaving few areas of London without his touch.
He earns himself a few new titles over the next two years as well: Surveyor of St Paul's Cathedral and Surveyor-General of the King's Works, both in 1669. He earns the title of husband the same year by marrying Faith Coghill.
In 1670 alone, he is the architect of the following, all still wanting redoing after the blaze:
A lot to set your mind to. The man was particularly prolific
The feather in his cap, as far as popular opinion is concerned, though Wren himself was not too, too much in love with the design ultimately accepted. He had been working on the restoration of the cathedral since 1663, and so naturally drew the duty of its redesign following the fire.
After picking up a knighthood
the previous year, Wren came back with a second
design in 1674
, the first having been rejected
by the London City Council
for being insufficiently grand
. Number two was based on Greek
designs, which naturally didn't sit well with the Christian clergy
. They sent him quite literally back to the drawing board
In 1675, the disgruntled Wren produced a winner (something about the rule of threes here): a Latin Cross design with a whopping great dome. Wren modified the design here and there over the 35 years of construction, but the final result isn't too far from the original building plans.
While construction was ongoing, Wren received further commissions, including:
The monument to the Fire of London is also his--if you tip it over, the top is supposed to land at the fire's point of origin.
What Goes Up...
Surprisingly, Wren actually lived long enough to see St. Paul's completed in 1711, though not quite long enough to finish up Westminster Abbey.
He possessed himself of a nasty chill in 1723 while on his way back to London, and in those days a chill was enough to kill you.
Wren was buried in St Paul's in March.
Wren worked on numerous other projects throughout England during his lifetime, and was well thought of by nearly all he encountered.
The blueprint of the one the world's most well-known cities is his work, you know it even if you don't know him.
As per his epiteth, recalled to me by QXZ:
Lector, Si Monumentum Requiris, Circumspice.
'Reader, if you need his monument, look around.'