Last week, we took you on a whirlwind tour of five London architectural projects that never came to fruition – you can see the list here. But London’s history contains so many, many more, so today we’re back to show you a further five.
6. The Imperial Monument Halls and Tower
A gothic complex, designed as an extension to Westminster Abbey in 1904, was proposed as an imperial monument matching the splendour of St Paul’s Cathedral (obviously ignoring its diminutive neighbour over the road!). Reeking of megalomania and at 167 metres, it would have loomed over Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square, making Elizabeth Tower look like a match stick in comparison. It was never funded and most likely unbuildable at the time, but one can wonder what could’ve been, how it would’ve changed the dynamics of that part of London.
7. Wren’s City of London
A grand plan that was never realised. Image Credit: Wellcome Trust
The Great Fire of London began in Pudding Lane on 2 September 1666. It rapidly spread and by the time the vast conflagration was extinguished four days later, it had destroyed seven eighths of the city. The timber framed houses and narrow streets had allowed the fire to burn unabated. The next step was getting the city back on its feet.
Architect Sir Christopher Wren sprang at the chance to submit plans for the rebuild of the fallen city. Inspired by the grand street plan of Paris and the classical buildings of Continental Europe, Wren’s plan for London reimagined the capital with wide, straight boulevards set out on a grid and linked by majestic pizzas. He also proposed that the ramshackle quays and warehouses lining the Thames were to be swept away and replaced with a promenade. It would certainly have been one of the greatest cities in Europe.
Unfortunately business won in the end, as the desire was to rebuild as quickly as possible and get the City moving again. Land and business owners impeded any plans too radical. The City rose from the ashes rebuilt entirely on its ancient medieval street pattern, much to the grievance of anyone who hops on a bus in the Square Mile today.
8.Wren’s Greek Cross Design for St Paul’s Cathedral
Plans that were too modern for London. Heard that before! Image Credit: JaT
The original St Paul’s Cathedral was one of the biggest losses during the Great Fire of London, but like the Square Mile, its destruction gave Sir Christopher Wren a blank canvas to create a new religious landmark for London. After a number of unsuccessful proposals he produced a “Greek Cross” design, in a classical Italianate Renaissance style. It was, at the time a remarkably modern and innovative design, a far cry from the Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals preferred in Anglican church design. It prompted the clergy to object, forcing a disappointed Wren to return to the drawing board. Still, what he finally produced wasn’t so bad, was it!
9. Battersea Power Station Eco Dome and Chimney
Rejected. Put that in your pipe and smoke it! Image Credit: Steve Cadman
Whoever proposed this probably had a few too many hits on a similarly shaped, but smaller object. That man was Rafael Vinoly, architect of the car melting Walkie Talkie tower. The proposal would have included a 300 metre high tower and an “eco dome” as a way of revitalising the “temple of power” and its surrounding area. The power station would once again have generated electricity, albeit through renewable sources. It was to be consigned to the ever-growing pile of proposals for the power station, as unsurprisingly it was rejected for being too tall and upstaging its neighbour.
10. London Replanned Report
Sir Edwin Lutyens, president of the Royal Academy, devised a plan to rebuild London after the war in a report titled ‘London Replanned’, released in 1942. It included grand plans for the rebuilding of Piccadilly Circus, the British Museum and other places, including a new V & A museum. Naturally, his ideas were of its time, many involving that new fangled contraption known as a motor car and crushing ring roads and motorways through densely packed London. His plans attempted to sanitise London with utopian beliefs, to wipe clean the soot and clear the rubble from a degraded city. Nevertheless, the plan including may interesting proposals, some which were implemented, such as new green spaces, including Burgess Park in Elephant and Castle. Some never realised, such as a “processional way” running from Buckingham Palace to Victoria Station. Sadly, instead of arriving in the city like kings and queens, we are forced to scurry like rats through unappealing concrete streets.
The replanning of Hyde Park Corner on a grander scale than the current sad and traffic choked roundabout was another notable proposal. Other proposals included an expanded St George’s Circus with a park in the middle, and a “Southwark Circus” in the middle of Borough High Street, with London Bridge Station moved south. As proposed by Wren, this report recommended that the wharves and warehouses lining the river around St Paul’s were to be replaced with open spaces and grand riverside views. It took another 60 years for the plans to be partially realised with the construction of the Millennium Bridge.
It’s hard to say how different London would be if these and many other unrealised proposals had gone ahead. A Great Crystal Way would’ve gone someway towards solving congestion problems, but as modern flyovers and motorways have shown, it would likely been running at capacity today. Paxton’s previous design, The Crystal Palace, burned down in a 1936 fire and was never rebuilt. If it had survived it would surely be a World Heritage Site today. Wren’s plan for London would today be one of Europe’s greatest cities, but would likely have been flattened during WWII and it’s doubtful that post war planners would’ve been anymore sympathetic. Maybe we’re all better off being happy with what we have, as London is always a city of imperfections; This is why we love our great capital and no amount of development will ever sweep this away.
Want to know more about architecture in London today? Please take a look at our Modern Architecture Tour.