(b. 1632, East Knoyle, d. 1723, London)
English architect. An eminent English architect, scientist and mathematician, he was the leader of the English Baroque School and the architect of Saint Paul's Cathedral in London.
Christopher Wren was born in East Knoyle, Wiltshire, where his father was rector. His father later moved to Windsor and Wren was educated at Westminster School and then Oxford University. He showed an early talent for mathematics and enjoyed inventing things, including an instrument for writing in the dark and a pneumatic machine. In 1657, Wren was appointed professor of astronomy at Gresham College in London and four years later, professor of astronomy at Oxford. In 1662, he was one of the founding members of the Royal Society, along with other mathematicians, scientists and scholars, many of whom were his friends.
Wren's interest in architecture developed from his study of physics and engineering. In 1664 and 1665, Wren was commissioned to design the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford and a chapel for Pembroke College, Cambridge and from then on, architecture was his main focus. In 1665, Wren visited Paris, where he was strongly influenced by French and Italian Baroque styles.
In 1666, the Great Fire of London destroyed much of the medieval city, providing a huge opportunity for Wren. He produced ambitious plans for rebuilding the whole area but they were rejected, partly because property owners insisted on keeping the sites of their destroyed buildings. Wren did design 51 new city churches, as well as the new St Paul's Cathedral. In 1669, he was appointed surveyor of the royal works which effectively gave him control of all government building in the country. He was knighted in 1673.
In 1675, Wren was commissioned to design the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. In 1682, he received another royal commission, to design a hospital in Chelsea for retired soldiers, and in 1696 a hospital for sailors in Greenwich. Other buildings include Trinity College Library in Cambridge (1677-92), and the façade of Hampton Court Palace (1689-94). Wren often worked with the same team of craftsmen, including master plasterer John Groves and wood carver Grinling Gibbons
At his death Wren was 90. He had far outlived the age to which his genius belonged. Even the men he had trained and who owed much to his original and inspiring leadership were no longer young. The Baroque school they had created was already under fire from a new generation that brushed Wren's reputation aside and looked back beyond him to Inigo Jones. Architects of the 18th century could not forget Wren, but they could not forgive those elements in his work that seemed to them unclassical. The churches left the strongest mark on subsequent architecture. In France, where English architecture rarely made much impression, St. Paul's Cathedral could not be easily ignored, and the Church of Sainte-Genevieve (now the Panthéon) in Paris, begun about 1757, rises to a drum and dome similar to St. Paul's. Nobody with a dome to build could ignore Wren's, and there are myriad versions of it, from St. Isaac's Cathedral (dome constructed 1840-42; completed 1858) in St. Petersburg to the U.S. Capitol at Washington, D.C. (dome built 1855-63).
It was only in the 20th century that Wren's work ceased to be a potent and sometimes controversial factor in English architectural design.