Natural History Museum
Art and culture

London’s architecture through the ages

April 26, 2022

The Romans, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and Julia Barfield may have lived in different eras, but they’ve all had an impact on London’s skyline. Swoop between the capital’s skyscrapers to discover the architects who’ve shaped the city’s horizon.

The Romans and ancient ruins

London Wall was built by the Romans around AD 190 to protect what was then known as ‘Londinium’. Although constructed around the same time, Billingsgate Roman House & Baths near the Tower of London was only discovered in 1848. The complex is still easily missed, hidden beneath an office building. Join a guided tour to discover how the Romans preferred to spa; explore their pool and cool, warm and hot bathing areas the frigidarium, tepidarium and caldarium. Combine this with a visit to London Mithraeum, the Roman Temple of Mithras dating back to AD 240, only uncovered after the Blitz. 

London Wall, London EC3N 4DJ
Billingsgate Roman House & Baths, 101 Lower Thames Street, London EC3R 6DL
Temple of Mithras, 12 Walbrook, London EC4N 8AA

London Wall statue
Tower of London

Gundulf, The Tower of London

After the Norman invasion of 1066, William the Conqueror commissioned the Norman monk, Gundulf, to oversee the construction of a fort along the River Thames. Using stone from Caen in France, it took masons 20 years to complete, while Gundulf went on to build Rochester Castle in Kent. In the 1200s, during King Henry III’s reign, the 27m/89ft high walls of the fort were whitewashed and the fort was aptly named the ‘White Tower’. Henry III and Edward I subsequently added walls and the complex morphed into the Tower of London, a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1988. 

Tower of London, London EC3N 4AB

Alfred Waterhouse, Natural History Museum

In 1864, a competition was held asking architects to submit plans for a building to display The British Museum’s expanding natural history collection. The Royal Albert Hall architect Francis Fowke won, and after his death the following year, Alfred Waterhouse an architect of town halls in northern England was appointed. Inspired by the natural world, his designs featured flowers on 162 gilded panels in the main hall and columns outlined with owls and bats, carved from terracotta, as it was quicker to mould than stone. The Natural History Museum, now an architectural icon, opened in 1881.

Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7 5BD

Blue Whale Hintze Hall 4 Credit Trustees of NHM
Courtesy of Trustees of NHM
Tate modern interior
Courtesy of Jakob Leugermann

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and Herzog & De Meuron, Tate Modern

After making his name working on Liverpool Cathedral and Battersea Power Station, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was commissioned to lead on the Bankside Power Station, which opened in 1963. Decommissioned in 1981, the electricity generating station lay empty for 16 years – until Herzog & De Meuron were commissioned to convert it into the world-renowned gallery, Tate Modern. Keen to retain the original features, the Swiss architectural firm kept its steel beams, brick walls and vertical windows. The architects also boldly left empty the 152m/499ft long turbine hall, large enough to fit seven London buses. The gallery opened in 2000.

Bankside, London SE1 9TG

David Marks and Julia Barfield, London Eye

At 135m/443ft high, the London Eye was the world’s tallest Ferris wheel when it opened on the South Bank in 2000, with the turning of the wheel representing the change from one millennium to the next. The accolade lasted until 2006 (Ain Dubai is now the tallest), yet it remains one of the world’s most recognisable wheels. The London Eye was designed by David Marks and Julia Barfield of Marks Barfield Architects, the duo behind Waterloo Millennium Pier. Enjoy a loop in one of its 32 capsules; on clear days you can see 40km/25 miles beyond the city.

Riverside Building, County Hall, London SE1 7PB

London eye on sunny day

We love the stories behind London’s monuments and personalities. Find out more on a walking tour of Mayfair’s Blue Plaques and see its fine statues.

Header image courtesy of Trustees of NHM

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