Smirke, Sir Robert

views updated May 29 2018

Smirke, Sir Robert (1780–1867). English architect. He trained briefly with Soane (with whom he quarrelled) and the younger Dance before travelling in France, Greece, Italy, and Sicily (1801–5), publishing Specimens of Continental Architecture (1806) after his return in 1805. He set up in practice in London, and found favour with the Establishment. Among his first works were the castellated Lowther Castle, Westmd. (1806–11), and Eastnor Castle (also castellated), Herefs. (1812–20), but he made his reputation with Covent Garden Theatre, London (1808–9—destroyed, but rebuilt 1856–8 by E. M. Barry), the first public building in the capital to have a pure Greek Doric portico. Thereafter he became an important protagonist of the Greek Revival. In 1813, with Nash and Soane, he was appointed as one of the three Architects to the Office of Works, and he gained several important London commissions including the General Post Office, St Martin's Le Grand (1824–9—demolished), the Custom House (1825–7—a rebuilding after the failure of the foundations of Laing's building), King's College, The Strand (1830–5), and his master-piece, the prestigious British Museum, Bloomsbury (1823–46). He also designed the Royal College of Physicians (now Canada House), Trafalgar Square (1822–5—remodelled 1925), and the Oxford and Cambridge Club, Pall Mall (1835–8—with his brother Sydney).

He built or altered around 30 country-houses, and designed 8 county-halls, including those at Bristol, Carlisle, Gloucester, Hereford, Lincoln, Maidstone, Perth, and Shrewsbury, all buildings of some personality and presence, but it is as a Greek Revivalist that he produced his best work. The British Museum is one of the greatest buildings in that style in England, with its noble Greek Ionic Order, the capitals based on those of the Temple of Athena Polias, Priene (338 BC and later), and the bases on those of the Temple of Dionysus, Teos (c.130 BC), and King's Library (arguably the finest Neo-Classical interior in England). Greek Revival was admirably suited to Smirke's taste for geometrical simplicity and rationalism: a tendency to simplify further and create crisply cubical compositions was apparent at his Kinmount, Dumfriesshire (1812), The Homend, Stretton Grandison, Herefs. (1814–21), and Worthy House, Hants. (1816). One of his best buildings was the mausoleum and church at Milton, West Markham, Notts. (1831–2), for the 4th Duke of Newcastle. He was innovative in construction, pioneering concrete foundations, fireproof hollow-clay vaults, and the use of iron in architecture. Among his successful pupils and assistants were William Burn, C. R. Cockerell, Henry Roberts, Lewis Vulliamy, and his own brother, Sydney Smirke. Although a conventional designer, his office was regarded as the most progressive of its time, certainly in the 1820s and early 1830s.


Architectural History, vi (1963), 91–102;
Arkansas, cxlii/847 (Sept. 1967), 208–10;
Colvin (1995);
Crook (1972, 1972a);
Crook & and Port (1973);
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
Summerson (ed.) (2003);
Jane Turner (1996);
Trans. Newcomen Society, xxxviii (1965–6), 5–22

Smirke, Robert

views updated May 21 2018

Smirke, Robert (1781–1867) English neo-classical architect, one of the chief promoters of the Greek revival in British architecture. Smirke's most famous building is the British Museum, London (begun 1823), with its impressive Ionic façade. He also built the Covent Garden Theatre (1808–09).