Barry and Pugin: Architect and Designer
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Barry and Pugin: Architect and Designer

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The Palace of Westminster is the architectural success we know today because of two people: Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin. Following the great fire of 1834, a competition was announced to decide who would be the architect of the rebuilt Palace of Westminster. It was to be the greatest architectural commission of the 19th century. Anyone might submit an entry, provided it was in the Gothic or Elizabethan style.

Pugin was invited to act as draughtsman for two of the competitors, Charles Barry and James Gillespie Graham; but he made no entry of his own. The successful entrant was Barry, a noted exponent of the Italian style. He won because of the clarity of his plan (which is still one of the greatest virtues of the building) and because of the exquisite and minute drawings which accompanied it. These drawings were by Pugin, whose contribution was thus crucial from the very start. In 1844 Barry invited him to provide designs for woodwork for the entire interior detail. This remained his chief preoccupation until his death in 1852.

During this time Pugin poured out countless designs for the interior of the building, the realisations of which still grace the rooms of the Palace of Westminster today. His designs for furniture in the House of Lords include octagonal tables, x-frame chairs, and most ornate of all - the throne. In the late 1830's Pugin enlisted the help of various manufacturers to realise his creations. These he coaxed, encouraged and made into ideal interpreters of his fertile inventions. His various designs for wallpaper have provided the inspiration for many twentieth century designers - in particular the Rose and Portcullis design shown here. In fact, Barry adopted the portcullis as his personal identifying mark for the Palace competition. Pugin used this and the Tudor rose extensively in the decoration of the whole building. Ceramic tiles were made by Minton, and examples of these can be seen all over the Palace. These from the Undercroft Chapel and St Stephen's Hall are fine examples. The firm of Hardman produced metalwork and stained glass - for example these windows from St Stephen's Hall, and the impressive brass gates in the Peers' Lobby. Pugin also used the firm of Crace for decorative painting and gilding. The Thames Bank workshops, under the direction of John Thomas, were employed for stone carvings on the outside of the building - notably the lion and unicorn outside St Stephen's Entrance.

But in all this, the architect, and the guiding spirit, was Barry. It was he who conceived the brilliantly workable plan we know today, which incorporates and enhances the medieval survivals such as Westminster Hall. The building functions as a complex place of work for both houses of Parliament and their ancillary workers, and above all is a magnificently-sustained and integrated design.

Barry, who was perhaps more naturally a classiciser, could never have carried through unaided a building so brilliantly in the Gothic idiom. It has, in the past, been dismissed as a classical building with a veneer of Gothic detail.

But this does it a disfavour. The design is a careful balancing act between symmetry and asymmetry. Certainly Pugin, who was an uncompromising judge thought highly of it:

A very remarkable design: the plan is most ingenious and comprehensive, and the elevations are treated in a very effective and original manner.
- Pugin.

The secret of the building's success lies in the collaboration of these two completely different men, and in the fusion of their two utterly different views.

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