Architecture: St. Martin in the Fields

I have been looking to incorporate my love of architecture into my wanderings and I figure that I can analyze some of my favorite structures and concepts in a new architecture series of writings. Some of the places I have seen in person and others are on my list to go to. I am starting with my favorite style of architecture, Baroque. I use a lot of architectural language, and if at any time you are unsure of what something is, a quick google search should do the trick. Enjoy my wanderings in architecture:

Located in the Northeast corner of London’s historic Trafalgar Square stands the stoic church of Saint Martin in the Fields. The church was designed by James Gibbs and completed in 1726. Referring to the architectural plan, in is a basilica format with a central nave, and pair of side aisles with entrances near the westwerk and then connecting to a transept, which does not seem as pronounces as it sometimes it in some basilica plans. Eight pillars support the roof of the church, and also by four pilasters and entablatures, which support the ceilings over the aisles. The vaulting of the nave is elaborately ornamented with stuccowork, and the sacrarium commences with a semi-circle and terminates in a recess. The stucco was also renovated to be more pronounced and then the gilding was also more revealed in order to achieve the vision Gibbs had for the ceiling, which was an ellipse form instead of the barrel-vaulted aisles. The gold ornamentation was meant to divide the celestial world from the terrestrial world. Off the transept there are flanking stairwells that lead down below the structure into a crypt space, which was also used as a library and now a café; these staircases were brought out in a renovation to make more room for a performance space and were able to adjust from a congregation style to a performance style space which also made the transept space adjustable as well; the original design from Gibbs was kept, just renovated.

St. Martin in the Fields

Moving to the exterior details it has a temple front, complete with a Corinthian portico that leads into the central nave. The tower and steeple lies on the main axis; it starts with a square base, and then moves through a series of octagons to then finish with the pointed steeple at the top. There is a three-part entrance in the front with a set of eight massive Corinthian columns all raised up from the ground level by entrance stairs. There is a certain aspect of repetition in the design where the rectangle forms of the doorways and the space between the columns, all the way up to the archways in the tower; they all connect. The materials used are concrete for the outer shell and foundation. Stucco is used for the ornamented detailing on the interior of the building within the vaulted ceilings that connect more to the current baroque period of architecture, which is when the site was built. Gibbs wanted the placement of the building to be a bit hidden and then revealing, as you looked down the street in the medieval period. However, the renovations made to the square made the central space flow right up into the church, which is not necessarily how Gibbs wanted the building to be displayed. It was meant to be seen from a side view with the spire and then the portico protruding outwards as you approached to see a silhouette view of the building. The exposure of the square rendered this original view Gibbs wanted to achieve.

James Gibbs is this master of an architect who really rose up from his recognition of his work in London by the elite and royal family. St. Martin in the Fields is used as a royal sacred site among its many other uses and Gibbs retained his known name from building other structures throughout England, Cambridge, and other residential commissions. Gibbs drew from his experience and training in Rome, while still looking at the design of the Baroque period. He was able to incorporate style and form from many structures he interacted with in his training while creating his own style of structure and design.

Saint Marin in the Fields is the pinnacle design for American churches and religious structure. With the paired down emphasis on the basilica form and then the tower with the steeple to top it off, this is the design that is most associated of when you think of church in the American culture. It is classic and revives the form and function that brings the design to the forefront of the original meaning of a place of worship It has a processional space which is associated with the catholic religion among many others as well as a representation for the Holy Trinity by having an association with the number three which correlates to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Currently, St Martin-in-the-Fields provides a broad, diverse and exciting education program, which provides opportunities for people to grow in their understanding of the Christian faith and what it means to be part of the faith today. This church lays out all these elements very clearly and is then transferred over to the new world and is still used throughout the religious structure design today.

As I reflect on this work of architecture, I am looking at several different perspectives. The building as a strict piece of architect, the meaning and what the building does to serve the great population who inhabits it from time to time, and the historical significance that surrounds why the structure was built in the first place. I think that they structure in itself is stunning. I enjoy the similarities with Palladio, and even going all the way back to the Pantheon. It is very fitting, and with the baroque influences of stucco ornamentation on the inside it creates this light and then ancient appearance to the structure. It is a subdued grandiose sort of structure, which I think is fitting for the purpose that it serves to the community such as people who need shelter or people who are there to enjoy a musical composition. It is fitting enough to fulfill both ranges of its purpose. It is also making a statement for the time period it is built in to the fact that it is a forward thinking building yet it also reflects on what architects have learned and what can be accomplished when form and functions are combined to create a foundation for new design. Being an influencer for many American churches and congregation spaces, it is definitely original for being the first and lays a foundation of standards for the structures to follow, and therefore it is successful in making an impact on future architectural design.


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