Every month architects and industry insiders share their recommendations for the best exhibitions and events to visit in London.
350 years ago this month, a spark from a baker’s oven in Pudding Lane started a conflagration that destroyed much of the City of London. The fire burned for four terrible days. By 5th September, three quarters of the City was in ashes, six people were dead and over 80,000 homeless.
Years of rebuilding ensued, with the population housed in temporary accommodation in Islington and Highgate. Sir Christopher Wren proposed his new design for the City, as did others, who saw an opportunity to reconstruct on a new pattern that would sweep away the winding lanes and wooden houses of the past, replacing them with wide boulevards and buildings made of more fire resistant materials. The King appointed 22 fire judges to determine how the ruins of the City should be apportioned to those who laid claim to land and buildings. The decisions of these men set the scene for a rebuilding that saw the old medieval streets reinstated, allowing the City to quickly get back on its feet, and London rose again from the ashes to become the extraordinary world city we know today.
While Wren’s ambitious plans to rebuild the city were rejected, St Paul’s Cathedral stands as the best known of the 52 churches he designed following the Great Fire. The anniversary gives a wonderful opportunity to revisit the Cathedral and explore it anew, with a programme of special talks and tours. I’m particularly looking forward to a thought-provoking series of Sunday Sermons throughout September which looks at how cities around the world have copied with contemporary catastrophe and crisis.
From St Paul’s to The Gherkin, the City is constantly evolving. Dominoes by Station House Opera is a moving sculpture made from breeze blocks, which will trace a path of falling dominoes for 6km through the City’s streets, buildings and open spaces on Saturday 3rd September as part of our London’s Burning festival from Tuesday 30th August - Sunday 4th September. Starting at The Monument and finishing at Paternoster Square, St Giles Church at The Barbican and St Mary’s Axe, the sculpture gives people the chance to rediscover the City.
The modern City has arisen from the ashes of the events of 1666 and now stands one of the most significant financial centres in the world. While fire is less of a threat today, the danger of a rise in river water and flooding represents a real concern. The UK premiere of Holoscenes by LA-based Early Morning Opera is a mesmerizing reminder of this threat to the modern city. Whether the Thames Barrier is up to the job remains to be seen, but I was interested to see that you can visit this structure and a host of buildings old and new, including many of the City Guilds rebuilt after the Fire, as part of the wonderful Open House London 2016 season.
The Gherkin, also on the Open House list, won the RIBA Stirling Prize for Architecture in 2004. This year’s RIBA shortlist gives us an insight into what great architecture looks like in 2016. The winner will be announced next month, but in the meantime you can hear the shortlisted architects talk about the stories behind their buildings, the things that inspire them and what it would mean to win the prize.
Finally, our friends The Museum of London recently announced that architects Stanton Williams and Asif Khan have won the international competition to design the new Museum of London at West Smithfield. The Museum, which has been based in the London Wall on the edge of the Brutalist Barbican centre since 1976, is a treasure trove of London history and is currently marking the Great Fire with their acclaimed exhibition, Fire! Fire!
Helen Marriage is the Director of creative arts company Artichoke, which is producing London’s Burning, 30th August – 4th September, as part of the city-wide season of events marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London.