The first building of UCL was designed by William Wilkins, a Norwich man. He was awarded a travelling scholarship from Caius in 1801 and spent 3 years in the Mediterranean on a study tour of the surviving buildings of Ancient Greece, which he recorded with the help of an Italian artist Agostino Aglio, and then published as The Antiquities of Magna Graecia in 1807. His first commission was Downing College Cambridge where he put this new found expertise in the Greek style to good use.
Wilkins was at the height of a successful career, aged 48, when he was commissioned in 1826 to design the first building of the new London University. In the early 1820s Wilkins had turned to a charming Gothic revival style for his work on Kings and Corpus Christi in Cambridge. But for this commission and the concurrent building at Hyde Park corner for St Georges hospital he turned back to Classical. For a composition, similar to the later National Gallery, he chose as his centrepiece a Corinthian portico set at first floor level, surmounted by a small rather idiosyncratic dome. In both buildings, putting the portico up a floor required the creation of an elaborate, one might say tortuous, indirect stair approach, producing a massive plinth. In style he has moved on from the Greek of his youth without going as far as Rome, and this building at UCL is actually quite simple and light, without being unduly plain.
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