domingo, 11 de diciembre de 2011

St. Paul's Cathedral, London

The cathedral of London, dedicated to Paul the apostle, was originally built in ca 886, at the top of the Ludgate hill, which is the highest point in the city of London.

The episcopal see was actually founded as early as 604, but it is unclear if and where the original cathedral was built. The area within the still existing Roman walls was not inhabited at that point, as the Anglo-Saxon Lundenwic was located further west.

The church on Ludgate hill was destroyed in 962 due to fire. It is assumed that the church was built in wood. The next cathedral was begun in 962, possibly in stone. However, this structure also succumbed to fire, in 1087.

A Norman style cathedral was begun shortly after the fire, and it is this structure, though heavily modified, which was destroyed in the famous fire of 1666. The new church was completed in 1314. In the meantime, work was delayed by another fire in 1135.

The choir, added in the 1250s, was in the gothic style. The nave and transepts however, were Romanesque and initially built with a timber roof.

Once completed, the cathedral attained a full length of 178 metres. The central spire reached the height of 149 metres in the years 1444 to 1561. Always vulnerable to lightening strikes, no further efforts to rebuild the spire were to take place after that year.

Inigo Jones, the man credited as the first English architect to introduce classical architecture to Britain, produced a proposal for a re-design of the cathedral’s west front in 1620.

The cathedral had been in bad shape since Elizabethan times, but funds were not immediately available. In 1634, however, Jones was appointed surveyor of a commission to repair St. Paul’s.

Jones restored the gothic choir without alterations, but encased the rest of the structure in rusticated masonry. The biggest change was at the west front, where Jones added a 10-column wide portico capped by statues, no pediment. The model for this was probably Palladio’s drawings of the Roman temple of the Sun and Moon, now believed to have been dedicated to Venus and Rome. The right tower originally belonged to the adjacent church of St. Gregory by St. Paul’s. The left tower was added for symmetry, and both were encased in masonry as the rest of the cathedral.

Jones travelled to Italy and became a follower of Andrea Palladio. At the same time, he got the opportunity to study Roman ruins directly. What is noteworthy in the case of Jones is that he rejected modern architectural trends (mannerism/baroque) in favour of a relatively pure classical style, approximating ancient Roman models. This tendency had a profound impact on 18th century English architecture and also decided the basic theme for Christopher Wren’s cathedral.

Jones’ restoration work was interrupted by the civil war and the church received further rough treatment during the conflict by the parliamentary forces. In 1663, a new commission was set up to undertake the restoration. Three individual assessments were solicited, including one by Christopher Wren.

The weakest point of the structure was the central tower. Wren, therefore, proposed to tear it down and replace it with a tall dome over the crossing.  The design of the dome seems to have been inspired by Bramante’s proposed dome for St. Peter’s, known to Wren through drawings. There are also some signs of French influence. Paris is the only foreign city Wren visited. The strange looking pineapple thing on top seems to have been part of the effort to maintain height. The rest of the structure was to be encased in masonry, “after the good Roman manner”, on the same lines as Jones’ project. Wren’s proposal was agreed in principle in August 1666. Only six days later, the great fire of London began to burn.

In 1668, the cathedral was naturally in a more perilous state than ever. However, the hope in that year was still to retain the nave. Wren was initially, therefore, only instructed to demolish the choir and central tower. Only after parts of the nave collapsed in April were the authorities persuaded to build an entirely new church.

Wren produced several drawings in the period leading up to the Great Model in 1673. He seems to have experimented with two basic outlines: One scheme, which Wren gradually rejected, kept the outline of the old church and was fairly similar to the 1666 proposal, with a domed space above the crossing and the rest of the church in Roman masonry. Wren also seems to have wanted to keep the west front portico by Jones. The second scheme introduced the Greek cross plan, and is what Wren eventually came to favour. Designs for this usually have a new portico in the west, with a pediment this time, and a large dome over the central space. The precedent for this outline comes from Bramante’s and/or Michelangelo’s plans for St. Peter’s Basilica, especially the latter. Interestingly, Wren who was familiar with French architecture looked to Roman models for his grand temple. Most likely, this is due to the influence of Jones and architectural treatises, though Wren would also have witnessed a shift to classical lines in Paris (ex: the Collonnade of the Louvre).

Wren produced several drawings but the Great Model shows the project at its most mature stage.   The exterior and interior has a Corinthian order, as does the portico, and the large dome resembles Sangallo’s design for St. Peter’s. Unlike previous drawings, there is a domed vestibule in the west, which gives the model the outward appearance of being directional. The pediments at the transepts are broken by arches, adding a touch of mannerism. The model was made by the joiner William Cleere.

However, the Greek plan was rejected by church authorities. In the warrant design that Wren produced and got approved in 1675, he, therefore, reverted to a directional Latin Cross plan. The warrant design appears to be an attempt to reconcile classical elements with the outline of what an English public might expect of a cathedral: more height for the body of the building and an imposing tower and spire.

The result looked very strange, and Wren began to revise his plans as soon construction began. However, the concept of combining classical features with patterns borrowed from gothic churches remained.

The first change was to reintroduce the dome. However, this caused some difficulties, because it had too be tall enough to meet the expectations for a London landmark, yet not so large as to overwhelm the relatively small body of the building itself. It can be seen from the Great Model how this might look awkward.

The solution was to raise the second storey introduced in the warrant design and build a screen wall around the entirety of the structure. This also had the added advantage of hiding away flying buttresses. This is why the external walls of St. Paul’s do not recede inwards at the level of the clerestory. The west front portico was elevated to two levels and towers were introduced to hide the sham wall. Difficulties with lighting the interior through two external walls seem to have been effectively overcome.

It was also around 1675 that Wren redesigned the transept elevations, with huge circular porticos. To this would later be added broken pediments and pilasters decorated with strips of garlands, showing signs of both French and Italian baroque architecture.

The penultimate design of 1675 conforms approximately to the finished result. However, two elements were still in development, the western towers and the dome.

In 1683, Wren seems to have experimented with French designs, resembling closely the domes of Mansart and Lemercier. However, by the time construction of the dome began in 1700, he had switched to what is essentially Bramante’s Tempietto on a massive scale.  Wren filled in every fourth inter-columnation with an empty niche to retain harmony. The difference this produces can be seen by comparing with the Pantheon in Paris where no such expedient is used.

The dome has three shells, one semi-circular seen from the interior (in brickwork), one cone-shaped to support the weight of the lantern (also in brickwork), and one outer wood and lead structure to give the external silhouette.

For the towers, Wren moved in the opposite direction, away from the classical simplicity of Bramante towards a baroque complexity similar in style to Borromini.

The cathedral was structurally complete in 1709. Some of the later work was done without the authorisation of Wren. He was dismissed from his post in 1718 in a Churchill-like vote of no confidence.

viernes, 9 de diciembre de 2011

YMCA, Tottenham Court Road, London

This image aims to visualise a rebuilding in Tottenham Court Road (112 Great Russell Street). I believe the present YMCA structure was built in 1976. The previous building was completed in 1912.

jueves, 8 de diciembre de 2011

Johanneskirken, Oslo

Johanneskirken was a church in central Oslo, built on the city's oldest surviving square: Christiania Torv. It was built in 1875 and demolished in 1930. The church had issues with poor foundations since the beginning and was closed for safety reasons. The plot was used by a petrol station for much of the 20th century, but it was replaced with a post-modern business complex in 1996. The plot also contained a church in the period between 1639 to 1686, which at the time was the city's cathedral. The architect for Johanneskirken was Georg Bull. 

The image above is an attempt to visualise how the church might look if it was still standing today. 

For more information about historic Oslo, buy my book, Det Tapte Kristiania, here.

jueves, 27 de octubre de 2011

Sangallo's St. Peter's, Rome

St Peter’s basilica was still a demolition site when Bramante passed away in 1514. The architect had had been relieved from his duties the year before when his patron Pope Julius died. Since then, the project had passed through a number of hands: Raphael, Fra Giocondo and Baldassare Peruzzi. However, it was the powerful Florentine family of architects and engineers, da Sangallo, which would finally be entrusted with the future development of the project.

In fact, the pope’s chief architect had originally been a member of the family. At the time that Bramante’s project was chosen, Giuliano da Sangallo had been so confident of winning the commission that he prematurely moved his entire family to Rome. He was called back a decade later in 1514, but only lived long enough to see 18 months on the job.

However, as Raphael died in 1520 at the age of 37 and as Peruzzi eventually fell off after the sack of Rome in 1527, his nephew Antonio da Sangallo the younger gradually became the new capo maestro.

In 1539, Pope Paul III commissioned a wood model, which can still be seen in the Vatican Museum today. It shows the direction of Sangallo’s ideas and also sums up many of the turnabouts in the project, which had occurred over the last three decades since the original inception. For instance, whether to choose a Greek or a Latin cross plan was a point every new architect seemed destined to reverse.
Sangallo produced something of a hybrid, though its outward appearance is clearly directional. With the dominant front towers, the facade appears more like a classical take on a gothic cathedral than an Italian basilica. The choice, however, is not too surprising as the northern solution gives back the sense of monumental scale, which may have been lost by making the dome recede from the west front.

On all sides of the structure da Sangallo placed a series of arches between engaged columns supporting an entablature, a concept that had been used in on modern buildings in modified form by Bramante and Alberti, but which is ultimately derived from the Coliseum or Theatre Marcellus. The round ambulatory structure at the transepts shows the debt to this source most clearly.

As such, especially when contrasted with the later amendments by Michelangelo, da Sangallo appears as a late high renaissance rather than mannerist artist. At the same time as Michelangelo was developing the double order, da Sangallo stuck with a more orthodox formula. The same contrast can be seen in the Farnese palace, which was also later modified by Michelangelo. As projected by da Sangallo, the building would have been a classically conscious and correct rendition of a Florentine palazzo. Subtly though it appears, Michelangelo turned to contrast where da Sangallo sought regularity and harmony.

Despite this, Sangallo’s St. Peter’s appears cluttered in style and structurally complex. Ironically, it was Michelangelo’s project, with gigantic double order pilasters, which gave the structure, what in hindsight seems to qualify as the most convincingly classical solution.

Antonio da Sangallo the younger died in Florence in 1546 and the project passed to a reluctant Michelangelo.

domingo, 25 de septiembre de 2011

New Gaiety Theatre, Aldwych, London

The Gaiety Theatre was originally established in 1864 as the Strand Musick Hall. The first building was demolished in 1903 to make way for the Edwardian re-development of Aldwych-Kingsway and to accommodate the widening of the Strand. The New Gaiety Theatre opened the same year. The theatre closed in 1939 and never reopened. It was demolished in 1956, due to structural damage received from the war, attempts at refurbishment were abandoned. A new luxury hotel is currently being constructed on the plot, The Silken hotel.

As with most of the earliest buildings of Aldwych-Kingsway, the theatre was built in a rather fanciful interpretation of the French Beaux-Arts style.

domingo, 11 de septiembre de 2011

Louvre: The Sun King Palace (Part I)

The completion of the cour carrée was begun during the reign of the sun king, Louis XIV, only to be abruptly abandoned, as the royal court moved to Versailles.

Some of the facades were partially completed, but the wings were mostly empty shells, and some were not even roofed. Not until Napoleon I were the works initiated during this time actually finished, 150 years after they were begun.

Even during the course of construction, development proceeded in fits and starts. Officially the royal architect was Louis le Vau, and as such he was the natural successor to Lemercier. However, none of the work by le Vau has been allowed to leave its individual mark.

The prestigious outer façade of the eastern wing was designed by committee, of which le Vau was member. However, the design has generally been accredited to Claude Perrault. This is significant for several reasons, because le Vau initially began his work by following the pattern set by Lescot and Lemercier. Perrault’s project, on the other hand, broke with that pattern. What is more, it was the design principle of Perrault that was adopted at the end of the day, not only for the eastern wing but also the southern and northern wings. The work by le Vau on these wings was, thereby, largely obliterated. It is Perrault’s facades, completed by Napoleon’s architects Percier and Fontaine that we see today.

That being said, the Seine was briefly dominated by the ideas of Louis le Vau. The Collège des Quatre Nations, now l'Institut Français, is perhaps his finest achievement, and faces the Louvre directly from across the Seine over the pedestrian bridge le Pont des Arts. Before Perrault’s work was allowed to supersede his, the façade of the institute stood opposite the Louvre façade completed by le Vau from across the river. 

As Lemercier had done with outer façade of the western wing, le Vau placed a domed pavilion at the centre. He then completed the wing, exactly as Lemercier had, by copying the facades of Lescot. To maintain symmetry, he had little choice as Lescot had already built the south-facing Pavillon du Roi and the western portion of the wing.

However, there was one respect in which he did differ from Lescot and Lemercier. Unlike the central pavilion of Lemercier’s west-facing outer façade, which was quite plain (The ostentatious décor of pavilion, today named Sully, facing the Cour de Napoleon is the result of later modifications by the architects of Napoleon III, Lefuel and Visconti), le Vau placed double-ordered engaged corinthian columns across the ground and first floors. These were topped by statues in the manner often employed by le Vau elsewhere, such as at the garden front of Vaux-le-vicomte. The attic floor and the dome rose above in much the same way as Lemercier’s dome.

In introducing orders on the Louvre’s outer façade, le Vau established a new precedent. It seems safe to assume that the purpose was to tie the façade of the institute from across the river to that of the Louvre, as a piece of concerted urban planning. We know that le Vau planned a bridge to link the two, though the current bridge has nothing to do with him.

Le Vau also completed the courtyard façades of the southern wing and built both the outer and inner facades of the northern wing and the inner façade of the eastern wing. However, in this le Vau simply copied Lescot and Lemercier, and the attic floors were later removed to fit with the hidden roofline of Perrault’s new wings. Initially, that solution was begun on the eastern wing but was extended to both the north and south wings by Napoleon. As for the central pavilion facing Rue de Rivoli to the north, it was begun by Perrault and completed by Percier and Fontaine.    

Le Vau also made substantial changes to the Tuileries palace, which was linked to the Louvre by the grande galerie, built under Henri IV. The palace was burnt to the ground after the fall of Napoleon III. He also enlarged the petite galerie following a destructive fire there.   

lunes, 15 de agosto de 2011

The Louvre in Paris: Lemercier & the Pavillon de l'Horloge

After the death of Henri II in 1559, the development of the Louvre took a new direction, and it wasn't until 1625 that work on the original courtyard resumed. 

In the meantime, in 1564, the widow of Henri II, Catherine de Medici, decided to build an entirely new palace to the west of the Louvre, which became known as the Tuileries palace. This prompted a new plan to unite the two buildings into one coherent mega-complex. The Petite Galerie, a small wing protruding from the Louvre courtyard down to the river was linked to the 300-metre long Grande Galerie, which effectively created a corridor between the palaces along the river. This was completed during the reign of Henri IV in the period 1589-1610.  

After the king was assassinated, however, building ceased and little happened in the early reign of Louis XIII. In order to resume the grand project, it had been decided to quadruple the size of the courtyard. 
The next phase, therefore, returned the focus back on the oldest parts of the Louvre, which still featured half-demolished medieval wings from Lescot's time.  

The architect chosen for the job was Jacques Lemercier. In order to enlarge the courtyard, Lemercier first placed a large pavilion at the top of the western, and original, wing by Lescot, and then copied Lescot's design for the continuation of the wing, for the sake of symmetry.   

The western wing of the enlarged courtyard was thus complete. At the north-west corner, Lemercier again continued the design of Lescot with respect to the corner pavilion. The principle of sober exterior and richly decorated courtyard was likewise continued. Work was also begun on the northern wing but did not proceed very far during Lemercier's time. 

As such, the original design by Lemercier is the pavilion de l'Horloge, so-called because of a clock that was later inserted. The rest of the work by him is effectively a continuation of the scheme by Lescot. The pavilion, however, is a highly significant contribution and one of the most recognizable features of the palace as it stands today. 

As did Lescot, Lemercier articulated the pavilion by the use of half-columns as opposed to pilasters, at the two lower floors. This is further emphasized by the triumphal arch-theme of the ground-floor passageway, continued somewhat in the floor above. The outer half-columns are coupled to give the sense of strength and balance. However, the chief means Lemercier used to control the total composition and highlight the prominence of the central pavilion, as opposed to Lescot's smaller pavilions, is height. The highest floor of the new pavilion rises above the old roofline and is capped with a dome-like structure, the first of its kind, along with tall chimneys. The tallest floor is also decorated with caryatids instead of columns, presumably because no order can supersede the composite, which already had been used by Lescot at a floor below. The use of caryatids is also likely a reference to Lescot's Salle des Caryatides inside the Lescot wing. The pediment is triangular, but incorporates within it one segmental and another triangular pediment. Similar motifs can be found in mannerist architecture in Italy, as for example with Michelangelo's Porta Pia in Rome. The chapel, which Lemercier built inside the pavilion is no longer in existence. 

In accordance with Lescot's sober exterior, no columns or pilasters are used on the new pavilion by Lemercier either, and only the windows of the first floor have pediments. Instead quoins are used to emphasize the pavilion and passageway. The central pediment below the dome appears to be rather simple. The appearance of this facade, including the pavilion, was altered in the 19th century. The pavilion has also since been renamed Pavilion de Sully. 

sábado, 25 de junio de 2011

Peace & Pilgrimage in Bhutan

The word Amankora combines the Sanskrit for peace with the Bhutanese for pilgrimage. That is exactly what you will find in the first luxury hotel to appear in Bthutan. You will also find out why Amankora has featured in such places as the Condé Nast Hot List.

The six nature-linked lodges are nestled in a stunning Himalayan valley. The 72 suites feature natural rammed-earth walls, gently sloping roofs and wood-panelled interiors.
They are furnished with king-size beds, traditional bukhari (wood-burning stoves) and large terrazzo-clad baths. You will enjoy views, either of the fabulous courtyard, the nearby Wangdicholing Palace and monastery, or to the expanses of rice fields and pine forest in the valley. Amankora has everything you need to relax, from a yoga suite to extensive spa facilities.

Bhutan is the sole surviving Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom. With peaks of 7000 metres in the north to low lying plains in the south, the country offers some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. To experience the best of what Bhutan has to offer, Amankora can tailor journeys that include a combination of its lodges located in the valleys of Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey and Bumthang. The rich topography affords visitors an opportunity for unique journeys of discovery, in an eco-system sustained by centuries of Buddhist philosophy and traditions.

To find out more visit Carte Blanche Travel and book your journey today, by phone +44 (0) 20 7376 1950 or email:

Windows to Paradise, Los Cabos, Mexico

Where the Sea of Cortés meets the Pacific, you will find one of the most intriguing holiday destinations in the entire world. Los Cabos at the tip of Baja California in Mexico is a Mecca for big game fishing, world-class golf, scuba diving, snorkelling and kayaking. You will find quiet coves and inlets, you will have the opportunity to go horseback on pristine beaches and to relax and rejuvenate in high-end spas.

Los Cabos has over 30 miles of beach and some of the best golf courses in all of North America. 

In the middle of all this wonder, you will find the glamorous resort of Las Ventanas al Paraiso. Perched between desert sands and deep blue sea, this famous resort has all you need to combine a dream destination with a personal experience of a lifetime. 

The resort has 61 suites, private Jacuzzis, dedicated butler services, rooftop terraces and telescopes for exploring the wonderfully clear constellations in the Mexican sky. In addition, there is and endless array of activities on offer, ranging from whale watching and diving, to cookery classes and tequila lessons.

Don’t miss out! Book your perfect holiday right now!
Contact Carte Blanche Travel for further information. Call +44 (0) 20 7376 1950 or email us at

viernes, 24 de junio de 2011


The Safari Houses circuit in Zambia makes for one of the most epic experiences that Africa can offer. Don’t miss out: a safari in style is waiting for you at the heart of the continent.

The Luangwa Safari House, Chongwe River House and Tangala House are now jointly offering a 9-night combo at special rates.

It is an excellent opportunity to explore the famed Zambezi River. The area is renowned throughout Africa for its magnificent herds of wild elephant and is an ideal safari base. Properties come fully staffed with a guide, house manager and private chef, who will all help you tailor your private safari and your perfect personal experience. It is a fantastic spot to see the great predators of the continent and it is an excellent choice for family or a group of friends.  

All three of the destinations lie at the banks of rivers, frequented by hippos, giraffes and elephants and the sites offer breath-taking views of the mountainous horizon. What is more, the Tangala House lies only 15 km upstream from the spectacular Victoria Falls.

Even the lodgings are attractions in their own right. Luangwa Safari House and Chongwe River House were designed by architect Neil Rocher, resulting in innovative solutions with traditional materials. In the middle of the bush, these fantastic creations are truly a sight to behold. 

Don’t miss out on an opportunity of a lifetime! Make your booking today. The rate for the entire 9-night combo is only US$6695 per adult

Contact Carte Blanche Travel by telephone: +44 (0) 20 7376 1950 or by email:

jueves, 23 de junio de 2011

Great experiences of a lifetime: Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro

Among the truly great experiences in life, few can beat standing atop the “Mountain of Greatness.” Mount Kilimanjaro is not only the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, it is the highest peak of Africa and, best of all, it is the most accessible to walk of all the great mountains on this planet. 

To help make the dream come to true, Carte Blanche Travel is proud to present Tortilis Camp. At the foot of the majestic peak, Tortilis is the perfect base camp.  And to make it even more perfect, the camp lays right at the heart of the famous Amboseli National Park. The park is home to thousands of Africa’s greatest animals and is considered the best place on the continent to observe free-ranging elephants.  It is also home to a spectacular diversity of birdlife.

Tortilis Camp is multi-award winning ecotourism lodge, collecting accolades from the likes of Condé Nast Traveller. It offers some of the most stunning sights in Africa: The falling sunset across the peaks of Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru in Tanzania is unrivalled by any other place. The food is unbeatable too: Chefs use home-grown ingredients and dish together the very best of safari dining. All construction is of local natural materials and thatched roofs. The tents are large and spacious, with king or twin beds and elegant en suite bathrooms. The main lounge, bar and dining area is exquisitely built with local skill.

Don’t miss out on the dream! See Carte Blanche Travel for further details and contact us on telephone: +44 (0) 20 7376 1950 or by email:, and make your booking today! 

Unexplored travel paradise in the Quirimbas archipelago, Mozambique

Ibo Island Lodge is currently running a number of incredible special offers.

Ever imagined a dhow safari, hopping from one tropical island to another on some of the most pristine beaches in entire world? Have you ever dreamt of beach picnics, sunset cruises or tucking into seafood lunches under a Bedouin tent on a small sandy island?

Then you are in luck. That is exactly what is on offer at Ibo Island lodge. It is a completely different type of African safari, and it is delightfully off the beaten track.

The Quirimbas archipelago in northern Mozambique is home to some of the most magical spots in the Indian Ocean. It is a nominated world heritage site and is perfect for families, couples and honeymooners, or anyone looking for that bit of extra oomph and exclusive air.   

You will be housed in magnificent 100-year old mansions with wide verandas, individually designed rooms and a rooftop restaurant, all set amidst fine tropical gardens.

Enjoy snorkelling, scuba-diving, deep-sea fishing, kayaking, sunset dhow cruises, massages or take part in historical guided walks, interactive cultural & community projects, silversmith workshops or bird watching with a professional ornithologist. The list of activities is endless. 

For a rich, yet affordable, and historic travel experience, book your memorable journey today!

Several options are open for island hopping, either by dhow or kayak, or in combination.  To find out more, contact Carte Blanche Travel by telephone: +44 (0) 20 7376 1950 or by email:

See also for more information

This is what the press has to say:

"Quite unlike anywhere I've ever visited." - Nick Maes, The Guardian

"I can't think of another place in Africa remotely like air of romantic dilapidation that Zanzibar possessed until it was lost among crowds of bikini-clad Italians & fumes from 1,000 mopeds. Here we had the streets almost to ourselves" - Kate Humble, The Independent

miércoles, 22 de junio de 2011

Bramante's St. Peter's, Rome

One of the most prominent names in all of High Renaissance Italy and the most ambitious of all building projects in all of the 16th century; and yet, all we have of Bramante’s St Peter’s Basilica is an engraving on a coin and a floor plan. Physically, all that was built in Bramante’s time were the central piers, which ultimately proved to be spectacularly inadequate for the task and had to be enlarged and strengthened by successive generations.

Bramante, in his time, produced some of the most enduring features of modern European architecture. His iconic Tempietto, though symbolic rather than practical in nature, was copied widely in the 17th and 18th centuries. The palazzo Caprini, also known as Raphael’s House, set the blueprint for classical urban buildings across all of Europe and his Cortile de Belvedere marked the standard for successive courtyards. 

Raphael’s House has since been demolished and the Cortile has been cut in half by the intrusion of a later wing. The largest of all his projects was finished over a 100 years after his death and to a design he would scarcely have recognized. Yet, the embryo of what the most important basilica in Catholic Christendom would come to look like still begins with Bramante and his project.

The first thing to note on the basis of the plan is that Bramante and the then-current pope Julius II sought a centrally planned building with the shape of a Greek cross.  This was known long before the plan was ever found and is very much in accordance with Italian renaissance ideas.  Leonardo da Vinci, who Bramante would have met in Milan, built no churches but made extensive sketches on the theme, and considered it a perfect type. His ideas were circulated widely but they were generally not in favour by the clergy. In fact, the only church in this period to be completed on the central principle is Santa Maria della Consolazione in Todi.  

It has been suggested that the central plan is indicative of the humanistic spirit of renaissance thought and has been interpreted as a shift in philosophy from the celestial to the aspirations of this world. However, there is little to suggest that either Bramante or the pope, no matter their leanings towards ancient models, were in any way thinking along those lines. Instead, it is likely that Bramante saw the central plan as appropriate for a martyrium, i.e. a giant shrine to commemorate the supposed site of St. Peter’s tomb. Similarly, the Tempietto marks the spot of St. Peter’s crucifixion. 

Given this relationship with the Tempietto, one could expect St. Peter’s Basilica to follow a similar line. However, judging by the engraving, that is not exactly what we find. Neither does the most admired of Roman structures, the Pantheon, with the exception of the dome, seem to provide more than a superficial resemblance.

Like Alberti’s San Sebastiano in Mantua, the classical language is almost entirely shorn of columns and expressed for the most part in flat pediments and occasionally in simple pilasters. The western front is preceded by a small domed chapel, similar to those by Brunelleschi in Florence. This chapel is flanked by two towers, bringing into play the possible influence of North European church architecture. Above rises a mighty hemi-spherical dome, presumably influenced by the Pantheon, but with a drum ringed with a columnar peristyle, much like the Tempietto. Chapels at the four corners of the structure are also crowned with small domes.

The multiplication of domes and the towers may suggest an attempt to surpass Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, which in the preceding century had fallen to the Turks. However, it is doubtful whether Bramante had any meaningful knowledge about this building. In any case, the minarets of the church on the Bosphorus were only added later, by the Turks. The possible connection is, nonetheless, an intriguing one. It is also possible that Bramante saw late-Roman churches as models.

Nothing like Bramante’s St. Peter’s was ever built but his designs did have an influence on contemporary buildings. For a sense of how the basilica might have looked like under Bramante’s guidance, the church of San Bagio in Montepulciano offers instructive clues. Only one of the towers was actually built in this case but if you can imagine a similar structure on a larger scale, with a heftier dome, with domed chapels at the corner and a domed chapel at the front gate, then suddenly, Bramante’s St. Peter’s nearly comes alive. 

Fantastic Cape Combo Offer

A fantastic new combination offer puts South Africa and the Cape at the top of the list for spectacular yet affordable holidays in 2011.


Partners of Carte Blanche Travel; Le Quartier Français, Kurland and Kwandwe Private Game Reserve have joined together to offer a perfect itinerary, tailored to an African experience of a lifetime. The combination is ideal for couples, families and honeymooners alike.  

With bookings for at least 2 of the 3 properties, families can save on free nights while children under 12 stay for absolutely free.

Stay 3 nights and pay for two at the Le Quartier Français, or stay 4 nights and pay for 3 at Kurland or Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, and experience an African journey you will not be soon to forget.

Le Quartier Français is situated right at the heart of the famous Franschoek wine valley and offers the ideal spot for a wine and food safari. Surrounded by breathtaking views and majestic mountains, the valley is also home to the finest of international cuisine that South Africa can offer. Celebrating the Huguenots who settled to grow vines on these slopes over 300 years ago, Le Quartier Français offers organised wine tasting and a kitchen consistently rated for high excellence.  Children will undoubtedly also feel right in the element, with opportunities to visit lion parks, go carting or visit Monkeytown, to name but a few of the many available activities. 

For a relaxing beach holiday, the destination is Kurland. Situated within a massive estate of immense beauty, Kurland also overlooks the coast and Plettenberg Bay. The beauty of the bay is legendary, the awestruck Portuguese explorers of the 16th century knew it simply as Bahia Formosa, or beautiful bay. With only 12 suites, each with a unique design, Kurland has an established reputation as a supreme gem off the beaten track. Activities are endless, including hot air balloon tours, scuba diving, a visit to the many animal sanctuaries in the vicinity, and much more. 

For the dream of any wildlife enthusiast, there is Kwandwe Private Game Reserve. The three safari lodges offer the highest standards of sophistication at the doorstep of some of Africa’s greatest animals, including the big five. It is the perfect start or end to a journey along the breathtakingly beautiful Garden Route, the legendary stretch of the south-eastern coast of South Africa that no visitor to the country ever forgets.

For more information, visit Carte Blanche Travel or contact directly on Telephone:
+44 (0)20 7376 1950 or by email:

The offer is valid from 1 July 2011 – 19 December 2012, subject to availability, excluding the periods: 19 Dec 2011 – 5 Jan 2012 & 2 April 2012 – 16 April 2012

miércoles, 1 de junio de 2011

Inigo Jones: Banqueting House, Whitehall, London

Great Britain was perhaps the last of the significant western powers to embrace classical architecture. Yet, by the mid-18th century, Britain had become Europe’s most committed and dogmatic classicist. Indeed, the country came arguably to lead the way for most of that century in what was later to culminate in the neo-classical movement across the continent.

To understand how this transformation was possible, one name is inescapable: Inigo Jones. To understand how Jones became so revolutionary, two things should serve to illustrate the case.

Firstly, British architecture in the 16th century was insulated and relatively conservative. 
Before Jones came on the scene in the early 17th century, British architects still built castle-like structures, onto which classical elements were added for the most part as features of exotic décor.
At the beginning of the 16th century, France had led the way in this trend of importing classical novelties like pilasters by tacking them onto essentially medieval structures. Britain initially followed suit. Yet when France moved on to a more mature national classicism by the mid-century, Britain stayed the original course, and continued do so throughout the century, and initially into the next. 
The classical elements that found its way to England were, in any case, second-hand only, and had to be filtered through French and Dutch models 

Inigo Jones was the first English architect to bypass the influence of these two countries entirely and go straight to the source of contemporary classicism: Italy. The result was a giant leapfrog, but it also undermined the national vernacular. 
Secondly, Jones was important in another respect, which made his significance not simply exclusive to the trajectory of British architecture, but which potentially sowed the first buds of neo-classicism. He found himself at odds not only with French and Dutch deviations from the classical model, but also with that of contemporary Italy itself.

He expressly condemned the innovations of Michelangelo, and approved only of the works of Palladio that conformed or seemed to conform to ancient Roman models. He, thus, introduced a puritan version of classicism, which had room for modern innovation, but which put a premium on recreating the spirit of Roman works.

The most reliable guide to Roman building in Jones’ time was the Four Books of architecture by Andrea Palladio. Jones may also have had opportunity to study Roman ruins directly during his tour of Italy. The link to Palladio is important and has always been recognized as such. When the example of Jones re-emerged in the shape of the Burlington school in the 18th century, the subsequent style came to be known as English Palladianism.

Indeed, when we look at the original plans for Jones’ chief design, The Banqueting House, we find that he proceeded from a Palladian model.     

The building is two-storied, the windows are capped by pediments, triangular and segmental, and the design of the elevation is separated by simple verticals and horizontals: pilasters or half-columns and entablatures. In the original drawings, the elevations look as if copied directly from Palladio’s book. They feature a central pediment, of a kind that Palladio often used. However, the decision of Jones to break the entablature and push it forward above the columns seems to have convinced him that the central pediment had to go. The top of the building that was actually built was, therefore, crowned with a flat balustrade instead, and the sloping roof was thus hidden. In the old designs, you can even see where Jones had started to fill in the breaks under the central pediment. But his lines are feint as if wavering, as if he had seen in the process of sketching that the combination would not work very well. The swags in the top-storey also make an entry at this point.

The result is a work where all the elements are borrowed from Palladio, but the manner in which they are assembled can be said to be original. The original windows were mullioned, not sash, and the building was later refaced with Portland stone. The original provision had called for Portland, but for some reason Jones had to make do with lesser types of stone. Apart from that though, the building stands as it did during Jones’ time.

Whether Jones intended the hall as part of a larger palace to be extended later is not clear. Later drawings of a very large Whitehall palace have been attributed to Jones. In addition, the sides of the building reveal exposed brickwork, possibly done intentionally with a view to expand the structure. 

In any case, the impact on British architecture was immense, though a modified vernacular tradition continued to thrive for most of the century. The most important English architect of all time, Christopher Wren, was not averse to borrowing elements from modern baroque architecture, from both France and the Netherlands. However he seems to have borrowed a preference for the Roman from Inigo Jones. The Burlington school went even further in their puritan approach and made no secret of who was the idol of their ‘restoration.’ To the extent that this led the way to neo-classicism, the conclusion follows that the importance of Inigo Jones is even more important than what he is generally given credit for.

The church of St Paul at Covent Garden goes much further than Palladio ever went in re-creating what was assumed to be ancient Roman design principles. Palladio recreated Roman models on paper, but what he actually built made no pretension of being anything but modern, despite the heavy use of column and porticos.  Jones was the first to attempt to cross that line, the line into neo-classicism. He was also perhaps the first to think a classical portico, a Tuscan one in this case, would work on a church. In this he was using an order associated with an archaic form, perhaps in a deliberate way, to suggest that the reformed Anglican church embodied the primaeval and true teachings of Christ.
That it is one of the first attempts at archeological re-creation was, therefore, potentially charged with a great deal of symbolism.

With the groundbreaking work of Jones, Britain could move from the insular tradition inherited from the age of the Tudors to a style, which in the 18th century, French visitors found to be a pure copy of the Roman, or Italian as they labelled it. This criticism is not fair in all respects, but it did remain true that Britons had become the most enthusiastic followers of Roman classicism. By the turn to the 19th century, virtually all of Europe had followed a similar path, and flirted with Greek as well as Roman prototypes.     


jueves, 19 de mayo de 2011

The Louvre in Paris: Lescot's Courtyard Palace

Nothing remains of the exterior of Lescot’s Louvre.
The general features, including the corner pavilion, were copied faithfully in the 17th century, both by Lemercier and Le Vau in the extensions they made. However, with the remodelling of the southern façade by Perrault, and the completion of the Grand Louvre project by Viconti and Lefuel, the exterior features of Lescot’s project were lost.

As may be recalled, Lescot finished only less than half of his original plans for a royal urban palace. The northern and eastern wings were still medieval by the time he died in 1578. However, the western and southern wings showed Lescot’s intent. They were joined by a massive corner pavilion, which became known as the pavilion du roi. Presumably, the design of this pavilion was supposed to be copied at the four junctions of the courtyard palace.

Unlike the exuberant design of the courtyard façade, the exterior facades were austere. The windows of the first floor were capped by triangular pediments, but the design was otherwise quite plain.

The design of the pavilion followed the same pattern at the lower floors, but the top storey had low relief carvings and was capped by a pediment, which also featured reliefs, and a French sloping roof. Stone quoins were inserted at the corners. 

The design seems to have been a bit top-heavy, but it is possible that the pavilion was primarily meant to be enjoyed directly from the garden below, as opposed from across the river.      

The austerity of the outer façade was likely meant to represent the masculine and impenetrable qualities of the monarchy. As with Florentine palaces, the courtyard represented private enjoyment, the exterior was meant to denote strength. 

Baroque Oslo

The differences between the towns of Christiania in the 18th century as opposed to the 17th century were hardly transformative. Growth and change was overall modest in scope. In the 17th century the population had hovered around 3000 souls, by the end of the 18th century, it still struggled to surpass 10 000.

However, a number of events and trends did mark one century off from the other.  Two destructive events in particular shaped the city in the 18th century: The fire of 1686 and the Swedish invasion of 1716.

It was hardly an auspicious start to the century. Yet, the 18th century laid the foundations for the capital status and the explosive growth, which was to take place in the 19th century. It established the timber barons, which would make Christiania a significant economic hub and a viable future choice as the nation’s capital.

The fire in 1686 was important in several important respects. It laid waste to much of the upper city, where illegal timber construction had been a persistent problem. It also damaged the cathedral, which was subsequently demolished.

However, the most crucial impact of the fire was that it precipitated the decision to give up the city’s outer defences and to reorient all defensive capabilities to the fortress. This resulted in two key implications.

First of all, the city, now without walls, could expand. A new square and cathedral was established just outside the old city gate, on top of a natural lake that previously had served as a moat, but which now was to be filled in. A string of new houses began creeping out of the city towards the river Aker in the northeast, as if the city was seeking back to its old medieval roots across the bay. Indeed, the bay itself soon began to shrink. As harbour activity filled in the waters with sawdust, new land could be claimed and the harbour was eventually pushed three blocks east.

It also meant, however, that the fortress would need more space in order to be defended effectively. City blocks that were too near could be used as cover by attacking armies and were demolished on that very basis. The old square, thereby, lost much of its original layout. It also lost, as previously noted, it’s church.

The Swedish invasion of 1716 was repulsed, and though the Swedish king amassed new forces to finish the job, the second army never reached the city.
However, damage from the invasion was magnified by the fact that the city had no outer defences. Consequently, the city was caught between the invading Swedes on one hand and defensive cannon fire from the fortress on the other. Much of the damage was, therefore, caused by friendly fire. The city hall, for instance, was reduced to a shell, and never held the function of city hall again.

In terms of buildings, some differences can be noted in the style of the 18th as opposed to the preceding century. Half-timbered houses continued to be the most prevalent building-type, though the timber was often hid behind plaster.  However, in brick buildings, the Dutch character of the 17th century fell out of favour and many stepped gables were altered to modern standards. The result was classical in inspiration, but the application of classical elements was modest and cautious.

The town had no porticoes and hardly any pilasters. Oftentimes, the only distinguishing features of Christiania town houses were tall roofs and plain rows of sash windows. Some bay windows continued to be built and some survived from older times. The most ambitious town houses, however, relied on relatively simple features: ornamental doorways or plain triangular pediments.

The city hall was moved to a house at the corner of what is now called Queen Street. Originally, the house faced the harbour, had stepped gables and, though it was built as a private residence, was crowned with an imposing tower. The building still has a courtyard front blocked off from the street by a screen. The tower may have been destroyed in 1716. In either case, the building as it now appears is roughly of the 18th century idiom. It is classical only in a symmetric streamlined sense, and the gables have been eliminated entirely.

The other major public landmark, the new cathedral of 1697, is also relatively plain and the tower is a short stump compared to its predecessor. The interior, however, is said to have acquired a respectable baroque interior thanks to gifts bestowed by prominent citizens. The church is still the cathedral of Oslo, though it was altered extensively in the mid 19th century.         

Other examples of the new style, and generally the most interesting, are all private residences. Few of these, however, remain today. Still, a few exceptions can be found: The building that would later house the military academy was remodelled in 1761 and has survived on a corner on Queen Street. The building known as Treschowgården was built on reclaimed land in 1710. At the corner of the new square, on which the cathedral was built, stands a house from 1700. Several other buildings from the 17th century that bear 18th century alterations still exist also. Calmeyergården is a notable example.

Colletgården, perhaps the most impressive of the baroque palais of the period was demolished in the 1930s, despite being listed for preservation. However, It was rebuilt in the Norwegian folk museum and can still be seen there today.

Its main features are all centred: The doorframe capped by a segmental pediment, the quoin-like pilasters and the triangular pediment.  The asymmetrical bay window of the secondary façade was left over from the previous design.   

For more information about historic Oslo, buy my book, Det Tapte Kristiania, here.