When thinking about Royal families, kings and queens, princes and princesses, what is the first city that comes to your mind?! Well if it involves Luxurious palaces and cathedrals, royal guards on horses. Then it is London that you’re thinking about!
Although the modern city is regarded as a 20th-century city, its origins actually date back to the Romans and their settlement “Londonium” from which we get the name “London”. With this location on River Thames, the city had strategic importance in the whole area. And throughout history, it had many rises and falls till it became the capital of the United Kingdom, the biggest city in England, and one of the most powerful cities of our modern world.
And now ladies and gents, we give you London’s Architectural landmarks that you should never miss!
Big Ben and Westminster Palace
The most famous of London’s Architectural landmarks is the northern clock tower of Westminster Palace, also known as “Big Ben”. The palace’s origins date back to the year 1016 in the medieval era. But it was demolished because of a fire and rebuilt in the 1800s by “Charles Barry” and “Augustus Pugin”. The palace and the tower are in Neo-Gothic style, with its vertical lines extending to the sky, pointed towers and arches, pinnacles, and fine details. And now it is the house of the British parliament.
Speaking of Gothic architecture, this is one of its marvelous buildings, and actually, Westminster palace was named after it. The construction of the present one began in the 13th century, though there was a church in the same place prior to it. And since then it has been the main church for the royal family, where coronations and royal weddings take place.
Full of fine details and ornaments, both facades are marvelous. Big rose windows, flying buttresses, trefoil openings, towers, statues, and the unique recessed pointed arches in the entrance, they all show us how gothic architecture is supposed to be.
Buckingham Palace and Victoria memorial
Built in 1703 by English architect and gentleman “William Winde” as a house for a duke, it was then bought by the king and became the residence of the British monarchs to this day. The facade is in the neo-classic style, famous for the use of pediments, segmental arches, symmetry, and the use of the orders of the classical columns. And outside the palace in the square, you can find “Victoria memorial” dedicated to Queen Victoria. It has marble statues of different types, copper statues, a fountain, and with the amazing gilded statue of the winged victory at the top. It is absolutely magnificent!
This 1800s Tower Bridge is a very famous London Icon as well, to the extent that people call it “London Bridge” although that’s the name of a different one. It is a combined structure bridge, a bascule bridge to allow river traffic to pass, and a suspension bridge as well. The center towers are on piers, in the Gothic Revivalism style, with a sense of nostalgia for London’s past.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
At the highest point of the city, there lies one of the biggest churches in England, St. Paul’s Cathedral. The design was by Sir. Christopher Wren who rebuilt more than 50 city churches in London after the great fire in the 17th century. The cathedral dominated the skyline of London for more than 300 years and is an iconic figure to this day. The cathedral is in Baroque style with its huge dome and luxurious ornaments. It is a working church till now and has hosted important events such as the funeral of Winston Churchill and many royal weddings.
You cannot go to London and not visit the first national museum in the world, The British Museum. It was established in the 18th century and then expanded according to the design of Robert Smirke in 1823. The façade is in Classical revivalism style, resembling that of the Greek architecture of temples. This is obvious in the use of pediments, Greek orders, and ratios. It was during the time of the British Empire. As a result of that, it includes about 8 million pieces displaying human history from its early beginnings and from different cultures. And it has expanded over 250 years to be one of the largest museums worldwide.
London’s Architectural landmarks are not all old, now we move to more recent ones. “London Eye” or “The Millennium Eye” was opened to the public in the year 2000. The design is by Julia Barfield and David Marks and is the most visited landmark in the UK, and the largest observation wheel in Europe. It lies on the south bank of the River Thames and gives you an amazing panoramic view of London city from above. The design resembles a huge bicycle wheel; as tensioned steel cables support the rim of the Eye.
30 St Mary Axe (Swiss Re)
The famous Sir Norman Foster building, and informally known as “The Gherkin” as it resembles the small cucumber. It is a commercial skyscraper completed 2003-2004 and is very prominent in the skyline of London city. And other than being Iconic with its unique façade and shape, it uses sustainable and power-saving technologies to be environmentally friendly. This allows it to operate with half the power needed by a similar skyscraper.
London City Hall
Also by Sir Norman Foster, its inauguration was in 2002, and it hosts “The Greater London Authority” (GLA). With its bulbous shape, it was supposed to be energy efficient. But because of the all-glass facades, the energy consumption in the building is fairly high. And the use of glass for the facades refers to transparency with the public. Despite that the form of the building received a lot of criticism, it remains one of London’s most iconic buildings.
It is the tallest building in the UK and the 6th in Europe. The design is by the famous Italian architect “Renzo Piano” and inaugurated in 2012. The Architect designed the building to be a shard of glass emerging from the River Thames. The source of inspiration was the Railways of London and the spires of the Gothic architecture. The glass on the building’s façade is designed and oriented to reflect the sky and sun so that the building’s appearance changes throughout the day.
It is one of the largest modern and contemporary art museums in the world. It contains art pieces from 1900 to the present day. The building is a reused power station, along with the “Switch House” that was built as an extension. The “Switch House” uses the same brick style, but with a contemporary deconstruction form, and for any architecture lover it is a delight to look at.
The Millennium Bridge
Initially opened in 2000 –but then closed for modifications till 2002- is a pedestrian suspension bridge connecting the two sides of River Thames. It is a very popular touristic attraction. This design was by Arup Group, Foster and Partners, and Sir Anthony Caro. And it won the design competition in 1996, by the concept of the blade of light.
London is a city like no other. It is a Metropolitan city bringing together cultures and people from all over the world, and likewise in its architecture. What we mentioned here is just a fractal of London’s Architectural landmarks that you’ll find there! The Medieval, the classical, and modern architecture all come together in one place, in “Londonium” the city of the kings.
If you are interested in the architecture of cities around the world, check more of our Cities articles. Here on Linesmag!