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The Changing Face of Architecture in London - Essential Living

The Changing Face of Architecture in London

Blog Architecture

Like every great European capital city, London is blessed with strikingly diverse architecture – everything from Georgian churches and Victorian train stations to brutalist art centres and neo-futuristic skyscrapers.

Christ Church, Spitalfields (1729)

Christ Church sits right on the border of Spitalfields and the City, diagonally opposite Old Spitalfields Market. Despite the church being one of the oldest buildings in the area, its 200-ft spire soars high above most of the surrounding buildings.

It was built as part of the New Churches in London and Westminster Act of 1710, the aim of which was to provide more places of worship for the city’s ever-expanding population. The plan was to build 50 new churches all across the city, but in the end only 12 were. The architect Nicholas Hawksmoor designed 6 of these himself, with Christ Church being the tallest and most ambitious of the bunch.

Its construction began in 1714 and took 15 years (largely due to the logistical limitations of the time), so it was not until 1729 that the church was consecrated and opened to the public.

Next time you’re in the area, stop by Christ Church and take a minute to appreciate it. You’ll struggle to find a finer sight, especially on a blue-sky day.

The Royal Albert Hall (1871)

Having been London’s premier concert venue for almost 150 years, the Royal Albert Hall is one of the most cherished buildings in the whole city. It hosts hundreds of high-profile performances each year – from the BBC Proms and Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals to gigs by the likes of Adele.

The idea for this grand, amphitheatre-inspired venue was conceived shortly after Prince Albert and Sir Henry Cole’s Great Exhibition of 1851. Their event was held in Hyde Park’s Crystal Palace, and because it was so successful Albert believed it would be beneficial to build a number of permanent exhibition facilities across London – of which the ‘Central Hall of Arts and Sciences’ would be one. However, he died in 1861, six years before his vision came to fruition.

Then, in 1867, when work finally started on the Hall, his widow (Queen Victoria) changed the name to the ‘Royal Albert Hall’ in his memory.

Battersea Power Station (1935)

Battersea Power Station is a quintessential example of the Art Deco architectural style – right up there with the Chrysler Building in New York and the Daily Express Building in Manchester.

The Station is split into 2 almost-identical sides – ‘A’ and ‘B’ – which were built separately. Construction of Station A began in 1929 and finished in 1935, and it remained that way until the end of World War II, when construction of Station B finally began.

Battersea Power Station generated electricity throughout the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, but the high operating costs and technological advancements meant that it was no longer practical by the early ’70s. Station A was decommissioned in 1975, and Station B followed in 1983.

Thankfully, it became a Grade II listed building in 1980, which was updated to Grade II* status in 2007.

Given its futuristic and somewhat dystopian appearance, the Station has been used as a filming location for countless films and TV shows – most notably Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), Children of Men (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), and several episodes of Doctor Who. Its most famous appearance, however, is probably on the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1977 album Animals.

Trellick Tower (1972)

Brutalist architecture is definitely an acquired taste, so you will probably have an opinion on Trellick Tower one way or the other. This imposing apartment block was designed in the mid-1960s by Hungarian-born architect Ernő Goldfinger, and has 217 flats spread across its 31 floors.

Like Battersea Power Station, it has a distinctly dystopian look – arguably even more so, given its grey concrete facade and the way it resembles a spaceshuttle launchpad.

Despite its opinion-dividing aesthetics, Trellick Tower has become one of London’s architectural landmarks, and certainly one of its most famous high-rises. It is said to have (partly) inspired J.G. Ballard’s nightmarish 1975 novel High-Rise (which was adapted into a very successful film in 2015).

The Shard (2012)

Standing at 1,016 feet, The Shard is London’s tallest building by a long way – even taller than the Eiffel Tower.

It contains offices, shops, hotels, apartments, and restaurants – a “vertical city”, according to the official website.

The Shard project spans as far back as 1998, when entrepreneur Irvine Sellar bought Southwark Towers – a 1970s office block – with the intention of demolishing it and putting a new “world-class building” in its place. In 2000, Sellar flew to Berlin for a lunch meeting with renowned architect Renzo Piano, during which the latter reportedly voiced his distaste for bulky high-rises, before flipping over his menu and sketching a Neo-Futuristic shard-like structure on the back of it.

Southwark Towers was demolished in 2008, which allowed for the construction of The Shard to begin in March 2009. Almost exactly 3 years later, it was complete, and is now widely considered the new benchmark for modern skyscraper design.

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