St Pauls Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral, designed by the architect Sir Christopher Wren, is an Anglican cathedral and one of London’s most iconic buildings. It is located on top of Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London. Its famous lead-covered dome is one of the world’s largest, and at 111 m (365 ft), it was the tallest building in London from its completion in 1710 until 1967.
The current cathedral is the fifth building on the site of Ludgate Hill, the original church having been founded in 604 AD. The fourth, Old St. Paul’s was a huge Gothic cathedral built by the Normans and regarded as one of the masterpieces of medieval Europe, with a tower and spire reaching a height of 489 ft. It was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666, following which, a decision was taken to build a new cathedral from scratch.
St. Paul’s is one of the most significant buildings in terms of national identity, with propaganda images showing it remaining unscathed having become synonymous with the wartime Blitz. It has also been the location for the funerals of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Winston Churchill; as well as the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.
St. Paul’s was one of more than fifty church commissions that Christopher Wren received in the aftermath of the Great Fire. He was tasked with creating a cathedral that was a fitting replacement of the Old St. Paul’s, and a suitable place of worship.
Wren was inspired by contemporary Renaissance trends in Italian architecture, and designed the cathedral in a restrained Baroque style, attempting to combine the traditions of English medieval cathedrals with the classical style of Inigo Jones, and French buildings by Mansart. The cathedral, in particular the dome, is heavily influenced by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
He designed the showpiece west façade to be fronted by a wide flight of steps, a double-storey portico and two Baroque towers.
St. Paul’s is unusual among cathedrals in that it has a crypt which extends under the entire building rather than just under the eastern end. The crypt has a structural purpose, as massive piers spread the weight of the structure’s slimmer piers, necessary due to London’s relatively weak clay soil.
The most notable feature is the dome. To ensure the dome appeared visually satisfying when viewed both externally and internally, Wren designed a double-shelled dome, with the the inner and outer domes using catenary curves rather than hemispheres. Between the two shells, a brick cone supports the timbers of the outer, lead-covered dome, and the ornate stone lantern that rises above it. The cone and inner dome are 18 inches thick and supported by wrought iron chains to prevent spreading and cracking.
The construction of the cathedral took more than 40 years, and was ‘topped out’ in 1708 by Christopher Wren Jr who placed the final stone on the lantern, watched by his father below.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Building of the week series.
- Cathedral of Brasilia.
- Classical orders in architecture.
- Eiffel Tower.
- Edinburgh Castle.
- Florence Cathedral.
- Palace of Westminster.
- Pendentive dome.
- Sagrada Familia.
- St. Basil’s Cathedral.
- St Peters Basilica.
- Taj Mahal.
- Types of dome.
- Unusual building design of the week.
 External resources
- St Pauls - Official site
Featured articles and news
What is systems thinking and how could it help infrastructure professionals deliver better results?
Read about the newly-completed fourth tallest building in the world.
Read Designing Buildings Wiki's review of Imagine Moscow - an exhibition looking at the utopian projects of the early-USSR.
What are the various different types of alternative dispute resolution for construction?
3-point plan released for how government can safeguard infrastructure post-Brexit.
Thomas Heatherwick's Pier 55 is halted due to judge ruling on wildlife protection.
Have a look at our article explaining contract claims in construction.
Studio Libeskind reveal designs for a new skyscraper with a living facade in Toulouse.
A mega-dome, a cenotaph for Newton, a bubble over New York - some of the most famous projects that were never realised.
One of the oldest and finest examples of Byzantine and Islamic architecture, the Dome of the Rock.
Have a look at our article explaining thermal comfort in buildings.