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Architect's museum in London.

Architect's museum in London

Pilgrimage sites are usually places of religious significance, but for those who admire fine architecture, even a house can become a shrine. In London, one man's residence rates as especially hallowed ground: it's number 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, designed by architect Sir John Soane for himself at the beginning of the 19th century--and now a densely packed jewel box of a museum.

Sir John Soane's Museum is really the middle house of three built by Soane, and it connects with buildings extending behind the other two. The structure is essentially as Soane left it when he died in 1837, housing his own richly varied collections of paintings and ancient sculpture. Even his furniture and dishware remain in place, giving the pleasantly eerie impression that he may reappear shortly.

Well known in his day for designing an addition to the Bank of England and other public buildings, Soane adapted the decorative language of classical architecture--columns, pilasters, domes--to his own uses. According to one architectural historian, Soane was more adventurous in his use of structure and lighting and more flexible in his handling of proportion than any other European architect of his day. Like his American contemporary Thomas Jefferson, who filled Monticello with gadgets, Soane was an architectural inventor. For example, to display as many paintings as possible in the cramped, roughly 12- by 13-foot Picture Room, soane designed a system of hinged wall panels that allowed paintings to be hung one behind the other. The collection here includes William Hogarth's famous satiric series A Rake's Progress, and 18th-century prints of ancient Roman temples by G.B. Piranesi.

Elsewhere, Soane used mirrors, views into courtyards, and hidden sources of daylighting to draw the eye beyond the enclosing walls and turn each room into a theatrical setting.

The so-called Dome--a three-story light well encrusted with Soane's immense collection of ancient architectural fragments--forms a visual surprise at the back of the house. Such spatial inventiveness seems especially appealing today, when architects and homeowners are attempting to pack more usefulness and architectural interst into smaller spaces. Wooden architectural models--for many of Soane's own buildings--and marble urns and busts are scattered throughout the house. There is even an Egyptian sarcophagus, located in a basement room aptly called the Crypt.

Hours are 10 to 5 Tuesdays through Saturdays; admission is free. Take the Underground (Victoria or Central line) to Holborn Station. Walk south along Kingsway two very short blocks, then go left on tiny Remnant Street to Lincoln's Inn. The museum is in the middle of the block, facing south to the square. Telephone (01) 405-2107 if you'd like an appointment to see the collections of manuscripts and architectural drawings.
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Title Annotation:Sir John Soane's Museum
Date:Nov 1, 1986
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