Welcome to Wren 300
Throughout 2023 there will be a range of different events with wide appeal to celebrate the legacy of Sir Christopher Wren.
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Wren the Scholar
Wren was born in Wiltshire in 1632 and graduated from Wadham College, Oxford with an MA. Although Wren formally studied Aristotle and Latin, due to the influence of John Wilkins, Wren developed a keen interest in mathematics and the natural sciences, which included astronomy. Wren was associating with mathematicians, physicians, and astronomers that would be part of the nucleus of the Royal Society. Wren, due to his detailed observations was appointed chair of astronomy at Gresham College, London in August 1657.
Wren the Mathematician
In 1658 Wren partially solved two of Pascal’s mathematical problems concerning differential curves, which led to Pascal commending Wren’s ability. In 1660 Wren attended the inauguration of the Royal Society, a year later after being elected to the Savillian chair of astronomy at Oxford, Wren was approached unofficially, to give advice on the old St. Paul’s cathedral. At the time architecture was considered a gentleman’s ‘hobby’ not a serious professional pursuit. However, Wren was beginning to study architecture no doubt influenced by his surroundings at Oxford and with his mathematically inclined mind.
Wren the Architect
Such was his reputation for architectural understanding that in 1663 Wren received his first commission, to design a chapel for Pembroke College, Cambridge. July 1664 the foundations for his radical U-shaped Sheldonian theatre were started, it’s inauguration taking place in 1669. Between June 1665 and March 1666 Wren visited Paris, a city at the forefront of contemporary modern design, which coincidently also brought the benefit of avoiding plague ridden London, it was arguably a factor in Wren’s growing love of architecture.
The Great Fire of London though was arguably the event that was the catalyst to raising Christopher Wren to the position of one of England’s great architects. The requirement to rebuild not only over fifty churches but also the ruined St. Paul’s cathedral, necessitated Charles II appointing Wren Surveyor of the King’s Work’s in 1669. The new St. Paul’s would contain Wren’s radical proposed dome supported by four pillars that is so identifiable to us today and fills the observer with admiration. The church of St. Mary-le-Bow in the City of London is an outstanding example of Wren’s church designs with additional input at the time from Robert Hooke.
Away from religious buildings where Wren understood the technical and liturgical challenges, Wren obtained secular commissions in 1669 for the New Custom House and in 1670 the ceremonial entrance to the City of London, Temple Bar. Wren was also responsible for the final design of the Monument that commemorated that tragic fire of 1666.
The 1670’s and through into 1690’s was arguably a time of Wren’s architectural ascendency, with his elegant library at Trinity College, Cambridge, the well lit and ventilated Chelsea Hospital, the ‘classical landscape’ of the Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich and his designs at Hampton Court, to list some notable examples.
Sir Christopher Wren was a man of his time, a man of principle, fully embracing an age of restoration and a new analytical way of thinking whilst retaining his beliefs. He felt architecture should benefit the nation and the individual, his work is a continuing source of inspiration to aspiring architects today.
Wren 300 is operated by The Georgian Group, London, United Kingdom. Registered Charity Number: 209934.