University College London, the Wilkins Portico

University College London, the Wilkins Portico The main building, by William Wilkins, in partnership with J.P. Gandy-Deering, was completed in 1827. Reginald Turnor describes it as "half-brother to the National Gallery" (32). The dome had to be recast by T.L. Donaldson in 1848. Photograph and text by Jacqueline Banerjee.

University College London, in Bloomsbury

The founding colleges of the University of London were both designed by leading Greek Revivalists. This Grade I listed main building of University College, with its Corinthian portico, was the work of William Wilkins (1778-1839), assisted by the less well-known J. P. Gandy-Deering. Amongst Wilkins's earlier achievements was the major public school Haileybury College. According to Reginald Turnor, he was "less safe in design" than the King's College architect Robert Smirke (32), but it is hard to judge from this project, because he was hampered by lack of funds. He had originally intended "a much grander urban presence for the university, with porticoed wings and a domed great hall projecting forward onto Gower Street" (Liscombe). One omission was deliberate, however: there was never any intention of building a chapel. "A chapel was conspicuous by its absence," write Negley Harte and John North( 43), adding that "Pugin "regarded the architecture of the College as pagan"(47).

Though the main part of the building was ready in 1828, it would be many more years before University College took on its present aspect — witness the inscription over the main door. Over the years, there have been other criticisms of it besides Pugin's ideological one. The steps up to the entrance and the vast dome (recast in 1848) are imposing but perhaps impractical, and it does seem difficult to make full use of the echoing space at the front of the building. On the other hand, the high ceiling of the dome makes a wonderful canopy for the Flaxman Gallery. In general, according to R. Windsor Liscombe, Wilkins's work "anticipates the gentrified social and academic values which elevated the status of architecture to that of a profession within the Victorian period." Wilkins would go on to design the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

Sources

Harte, Negley, and John North. The World of University College, 1828-2004. 3rd ed. London: University College, 2004.

Liscombe, R. Windsor. "Wilkins., William (1778-1839). The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Viewed 8 October 2007.

Turnor, Reginald. Nineteenth Century Architecture in Britain. London: Batsford, 1950.

Weinreb, Ben, and Christopher Hibbert, eds. The London Encyclopedia. London: Macmillan, 1992.


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Last modified 9 October 2007