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David Watkin

(b Goring on Thames, Oxon, Sept 10, 1753; d London, Jan 20, 1837).

English architect and collector. Soane has long been recognized as the most original architect in Britain, and possibly in Europe, around 1800. Intent on returning to first principles, he developed a personal language of strange and often bizarre poetry that found no real imitators and, although steeped in the Classical tradition, he reduced the orders to a system of incised lines that are a parallel to the fundamentalist doctrines of the Abbé Marc-Antoine Laugier. At the same time he bathed his interiors in light from hidden sources in a manner that, while ultimately Baroque, may owe something to Piranesi.

Born in modest circumstances as the son of a bricklayer, Soane was trained for four years from 1768 by the inventive architect George Dance (ii) before working in the office of Henry Holland from 1772 to 1777. Later in his career Soane developed his architectural ideas in close but informal association with Dance, his ‘revered master’, with whom he shared a preoccupation with toplighting and a concern to create what Dance called ‘unshackled’ architecture. In ...