Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios are proudly “adopting” Sir John Soane’s model, Ceiling of the Court of Common Pleas, The Law Courts, London, as part of the “Adopt a Model” project run by the Sir John Soane’s Museum. This popular scheme allows donors to become linked, through their chosen model, to this much loved house-museum and to help raise the profile of the collection of models as exhibits and educational tools. The scheme runs concurrently with the restoration of the long lost Model Room, originally created by Soane in 1834 and due to reopen later this year.
Models were an important medium in Soane’s design process and PR. Soane used models to test ideas and present designs to clients for their approval. He also used models for prestige and pedagogy: presenting his work alongside masterpieces of Antiquity and demonstrating his designs to his RA students. Some rooms of the museum can be seen as inhabitable models that tested ideas used in larger projects.
Any one of the models, offered from Soane’s collection, merit “adoption”. Many prestiguous models were beyond our budget, requiring donations of up to £50,000. Why do we feel exhibit M1179 is a wise choice and worthy of adoption? The model of Ceiling of the Court of Common Pleas stood out for several reasons:
Firstly, the ceiling model symbolises the essence of Soane: His mastery of top-lit spaces. The square void in the modelled ceiling admits daylight from an imagined lantern above.
Secondly, it’s distinctive appearance: The shallow relief mounted in a large square picture frame is unusual in form and ambiguous in category, almost two-dimensional with a layer of pattern and structure and the simple square void in the middle.
Thirdly, the quality of model construction: Soane’s cast plaster relief is an exemplary model making method still occasionally used in our own in-house model-making workshop. Fine plaster is also the medium of the exquisite Antiquity models by Fouquet, which stand out in Soane’s collection.
Another reason to adopt the ceiling model is it’s value as a record of part of the 1826 Law Courts building, demolished in 1883. Most of Soane’s built work was destroyed by the Victorians and the collection of models and drawings are an important record of Soane’s brilliant solutions. Soane’s design for the Law Courts created seven courts within a tight site adjacent to Westminster Hall. Five of the courts nested between the existing flying buttresses of the hall and used the hall space as a vast common foyer. Soane used his experience with the dense plan of the Bank of England to inform his design of the courts and cleverly utilised top-light from clerestoreys and lanterns to light the courts and circulation spaces. The Court of Common Pleas is the central space modelled with curved benches.
Each court had a distinctive appearance, although the above view of the Court of the King’s Bench shows a ceiling design similar to the Court of Common Pleas.
Finally, the Law Court models represent the troubled humanity of Soane, who, at the age of 71, was recently bereaved and was losing his sight. Despite signing-off his Palladian designs with the judges and politicians of Westminster, Soane was publicly humiliated by the same politicians in 1824, when they forced him to demolish and redesign the elevations in Gothic revival style, a style Soane despised. The facades had to be rebuilt several feet within the previous footprint, thus the tight site became tighter still. The ingenious internal architecture was ignored by his critics and the Law Courts design was unjustly dismissed. Soane was wounded by the events and wrote several volumes in defence of his design.
“Many of the most serious disappointments that attend those who build would be avoided if models were previously made of the edifices proposed to be raised. No building, at least none of considerable size or consequence, should be begun until a correct and detailed model of all its parts has been made.” Sir John Soane