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Simon Hill
Written by Simon Hill 22nd May 2014

Beyond Eurovision: Europe’s architectural legacy in Britain

Love it or loathe it, this month’s Eurovision song contest is a notable annual event in Europe’s calendar, offering a night of sparkling kitsch, dubious music and garish fashion.

But while the glitter settles and Austria enjoys its yearlong claim to victory, we thought it would be timely to consider another, more enduring, European artistic form and its influence in Great Britain: architecture. So here are three notable UK buildings inspired by European architecture – and why they should be valued.

1. ‘Little Italy’: Woburn Abbey. On our doorstep in Bedfordshire, this grand stately home started its life as a monastery and by 1747 the 4th Duke of Bedfordshire commissioned leading architect Henry Flitcroft (1697 - 1769) to rebuild the West Wing.

In doing so, Flitcroft looked to the designs of Venetian architect Andrea Palladio (1508 ¬ 1580) and adopted a graceful ‘Palladian’ approach for the Abbey. This can be seen in the State Apartments, which bear an elegant symmetry, synonymous with the architectural movement.

2. ‘The French Connection’: Battersea Power Station. Much more than a London landmark, Battersea Power Station is the creation of English electrical engineer Sir Leonard Pearce, a symbol of coal-fired industry, and an icon of a seminal Pink Floyd album. So who would have thought the power station was anything but British?

It is actually the station’s interior that more conspicuously reveals its European inspiration. For many rooms are inspired by Art Deco style, which itself heralds from post-WW1 France. The main entrance hall, for example, boasts a marble floor, splendid tiling and striking geometry. The control rooms – which might otherwise be stark and regimented – have faceted glass ceilings and ornate wooden units.

Construction of Battersea Power Station began in 1929, and it still remains the largest brick building in Europe, having been most recently acquired for residential development.

3. A Tour De ‘Norse’: Greenstead Church, Essex. The oldest wooden church in the world, St Andrews, near Ongar, is a ‘Stave Built’ church where Christians have worshipped for some 1300 years.

Stave churches are famed for their timber framing and post and lintel construction – and the term ‘stave’ itself originates from ‘stafr’ in Old Norse and ‘stav’ in Norwegian. Archeological research suggests stave churches descend from the Viking era of palisades – a fence or wall made from stakes, driven into the ground, which could be topped with a roof to become a building.

Featuring 51 planks dating from 1060, St Andrews Church has been subject to Saxon, Norman and Tudor and Victorian renovations, but it is its Viking heritage that makes the church a notable example of European architecture.

What’s your favourite European-inspired architecture? Would you prefer a Mediterranean-style villa, complete with whitewashed walls and sunny climate, or a cosy Swiss chalet, set in alpine tranquility?


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