This website seeks to document and illustrate the broad spectrum of classical buildings that grace a culturally and economically unique urban area; the City of London. The stylistic focus, classicism, arises from local conditions. The City’s architectural whole is greatly enhanced by the tens upon tens of classical 19th and early 20th century edifices that normally do not feature in monographs and barely figure in surveys of architectural history. They account for a substantial portion of the City’s streetscape and it could be said that they constitute a sort of vernacular architecture of finance and commerce.
I am not inclined to enter the academic debate about the definition of ‘classical’ or the distinction between ‘authenticity’ and ‘revival’ in architecture. However, given enthusiastic late-Victorian and Edwardian experimentation with eclecticism, there is a risk of casting too wide a net over nearly all pre-war City buildings. I have therefore stuck to a definition of classicism derived from James Stevens Curl and Henry Hope Reed:
- architectural arrangement that shows a classical underlying composition (axial symmetry, hierarchy of elements, relief of mass through ornament, regular proportion and scale);
- decorative and architectural details clearly derived from the Greco-Roman antique ‘orders’ and the framing of voids and borders via classically-profiled mouldings and devices.
That is a liberal definition, covering anything from the most archaeologically accurate Greek revival to the most profuse Baroque. Nonetheless, the succession of buildings documented here are unified not only geographically and culturally but also by the use of a fairly standardised use of a common ‘vocabulary’. That classical architectural language has informed Western architectural discourse for the better part of two and a half millennia.
I have specifically excluded from this site the many fine baroque churches that adorn the City. Their architecture and history is already well documented in recent bibliography. The only other classical City building to be excluded is the Bank of England, but I will post on such landmarks as the Mansion House, Royal Exchange and several of the livery halls.