For a man of the 17th century, Sir Christopher Wren developed his engaging and irreverent style by observing the world around him. Wren ignored the educated elite and allowed his senses to inform his complex ideas. Empirical evidence informed all of his pursuits and ignited his curiosity, which could also be said of my pivot from the art world to that of technology.
The secret of architectural excellence is to translate the proportions of a dachshund into bricks, mortar and marble.Sir Christopher Wren
Who is Sir Christopher Wren?
Sir Christopher Wren (1623-1723) was a jack-of-all-trades. Considered one of the most highly acclaimed architects in English history, Wren pursued a number of scientific and technical careers with equal prowess. A mathematical prodigy, an accomplished astronomer, a skillful anatomist, and a founder of The Royal Society. Wren’s work ignored the prevailing ‘tyranny of the intellect’ and embraced critical thinking, logic and reason.
Mathematical demonstrations … are the only truths that can sink into the Mind of Man, void of all UncertaintySir Christopher Wren
His success as an architect stems his diverse range of expertise. He excelled at mathematics from a very early age and explored physiology during his formative years. One factor that stands out clearly from these early years is Wren’s disposition to approach scientific problems by visual means. His physiological diagrams that have survived are beautifully drawn, and his astronomical models and instruments are equally sophisticated.
As an empiricist and an autodidact, Wren applied his understanding of astronomy, optics, cosmology, mechanics, microscopy, surveying, medicine and meteorology to the construction of buildings and monuments. Wren innovated classical forms by re-configuring individual elements of classical architecture.
Void of emotions, he methodically applied what he knew to understand what he did not.
Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London
St. Paul’s, which took nearly 35 years to build, is Wren’s masterpiece. The English were accustomed to cathedrals built on the medieval Latin-cross plan with a long nave; the Great Model design of Saint Paul’s, which was much criticized, departed from this tradition and seemed to the Protestant English to be too Continental for their Catholic society. In the face of such opposition, Wren prepared a new design based on the Latin cross with a dome over the crossing and a classical portico entrance.
This compromise, known as the Warrant Design, was accepted in 1675, but as the building progressed Wren made many changes which reflected his increasing knowledge of French and Italian baroque architecture gained from books and engravings. The finished Cathedral deviates from the Warrant Design; the building synthesizes many stylistic influences and represents Wren’s uniquely organic style. With its impressive dome, impressive scale, and dramatic grandeur, St. Paul’s is fundamentally a baroque building, but it is English Protestant baroque in its restraint and disciplined gravity.