Building a Dialogue: The Architect As Client

To coincide with our current exhibition Building a Dialogue: The Architect and the Client, our curatorial team will examine the themes and objects in the show through a series of blog posts. In this post, Tom Drysdale, Drawings Cataloguer, will consider the architect as client.

Perhaps Soane’s most famous building is his house at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields – better known today as Sir John Soane’s Museum. Here, Soane acted as his own client, which enabled him to work towards his own particular brief. Free from the constraints of the demands of a conventional patron, Soane was able to execute some of his most experimental and unorthodox designs. The iconic façade of No. 13 is a case in point. The projecting, Portland stone front features typically Soanean ‘scored’ lines that act as minimal ornamentation, while also showcasing items from Soane’s collection – four medieval plinths from the north front of Westminster Hall – and a link to the classical past in the two female caryatids that stand sentry over the Fields.


Soane Office, design for the façade of No. 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, 27 July 1812. (SM P275 verso, layer viii (verso))


On display for the first time is the earliest known surviving design for the façade. This drawing is one of twelve that were discovered in the back of a framed painting in 2014 in the course of our on-going restoration project. This amazing discovery is even more significant for the fact that the drawing shows a unique stage of the design with six caryatids, referencing the porch of the Erechtheion in Athens. Consequently the drawing adds a new insight into the design of Soane’s home and provides further evidence for the unusual occurrence of the architect as his own client.


Sir John Soane, No. 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, 1808-12. (Photograph by Martin Charles)

Building a Dialogue: The Architect and the Client is on display at the Soane Gallery until 9 May 2015. Entry is free.

Posted on 23 March 2015 in Looking at Drawings
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