A Phoenix From the Ashes: How the Great Fire of London Sparked an Architectural Revolution

By |2019-09-08T15:08:21+00:00September 6th, 2019|Culture|

The following is an excerpt of an article by Jake Scott. This features in our fifth print issue, available from the 15th September.

Find out how to get your own copy of the issue here.

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Significantly, none of the plans were plausible, due to property rights that prevented the full-scale re-design; now this might seem backward and emblematic of a situation dictated by wealth and business, but the truth is that, as Steen Eiler Rasmussen commented in London: The Unique City, it was but one of many ‘numerous expressions of the failure of Absolutism in England’. This, any student of history will know, was one of the most salient topics in post-Interregnum England. It was only twenty years before John Locke’s seminal Letter Concerning Toleration.

Instead, the result was what Apollo magazine has described as a ‘beautiful compromise’ – a perfect conservative response, by retaining the structure and layout of the old, while employing and utilising the new. The old streets were kept, but they were widened, with the heights of the houses and buildings restricted (based largely on their location, but also setting the point of reference for Léon Krier’s important gradation, and five-storey rules); the materials used for the walls and external cladding were stone (many of which can still be found in London’s west now); and the old method of fire-prevention (firebreaks) as well as other obstacles were removed. All of this was, of course, aimed towards avoiding another tragedy in the same manner: the wider streets would be able to stop flames jumping across streets; the flame-retardant bricks would put out any stray sparks; and the removal of obstacles would mean those caught in the midst of the conflagration would be able to escape.

This style is still emulated today; the wide walks of the terraced housing streets (championed by the charity CreateStreets) have become iconic in the capital city, and the beautiful brickwork pleases the eyes of many tourists who, in their visits to London, spurn the glass monoliths in favour of the intricate, humanised streets. Though the post-1945 constructions in the capital have been characterised largely by the domination of the old winding streets with arrogant, fast-traffic lanes, and narcissistic modernist glass constructs, the 1947 architects Charles Holden and William Holford did their best to respect the original layout of the city.

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Read the rest of this article in the print issue, information on which can be found HERE.

Photo by SMUDailyCampus on Flickr.

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