Past Exhibitions

John Soane and the Wooden Bridges of Switzerland

Architecture and the Culture of Technology from Palladio to the Grubenmanns:
An exhibition at Sir John Soane's Museum from 14 February to19 April 2003

In 1778 John Soane, then a young student of architecture, embarked on a tour of Italy which was to bring him into contact with the revelatory architectural splendours of Rome. He was to encounter other delights on his journey home, however, and it was in Switzerland that Soane saw a number of remarkable wooden bridges which became etched on his memory. These bridges fascinated Soane, and he was later to hold them up in his Royal Academy lectures as exemplars of inventive construction.

The Swiss wooden bridges, built in the 1760s and 70s by architects such as the Grubenmann brothers, were widely acknowledged as masterpieces of engineering, and, by the time of Soane's visit, they had become famous throughout Europe. They achieved impossible spans through a combination of lightness and strength, and were often hugely complex in design. This exhibition will look at the how and why these bridges exerted such a strong hold on Soane's imagination, and trace their influence on his career as an architect and teacher of architecture. It will also take a detailed look at the development of wooden bridge construction since antiquity. The Soane Gallery will house material from Soane's own collection, including several beautifully executed lecture drawings illustrating the Swiss bridges and their antecedents, together with architectural books and other drawings on loan from museums in Italy. The showstoppers, however, will be three stunning wooden models attributed to the Swiss architect Hans Ulrich Grubenmann and dating from the mid 18th century. The largest of these models will be housed in the South Drawing Room becoming a magnificent temporary addition to Soane's collection.

This exhibition is the first in a series examining the work of Soane his contemporaries to mark the 250th anniversary of the architect's birth. Other subjects in 2003 will be John Flaxman, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger.

Catalogue available from Museum shop