Robert Smirke (architect)

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Robert Smirke (1809)

Sir Robert Smirke RA (born October 1, 1780 in London , Great Britain , † April 18, 1867 in Cheltenham ) was a British architect . He designed numerous important buildings in Great Britain, particularly in London.


Robert Smirke was born the second of twelve children of the portrait painter Robert Smirke . At school he learned Latin , Greek and French . In May 1796 he began his training as an architect with John Soane and was accepted into the Royal Academy of Arts in the same year . After only a few months, Smirke left Soane due to personal differences and teamed up with the architect George Dance the Younger and the surveyor Thomas Bush. From 1801 to 1805 he went on a grand tour and deepened his architecture studies in southern Europe. In 1805 he joined the Society of Antiquaries of London and the Architects' Club . In 1806 he published Specimens of Continental Architecture , which was intended to be the first of a series of volumes, but which was never completed.

His first government-designed building was the Royal Mint . As part of further commissions, he designed the new building of the destroyed Royal Opera House and was finally appointed to the Office of Works , the royal construction office, in 1813 together with John Nash and his former teacher John Soane .

In 1819 Smirke married Laura Freston, the daughter of the clergyman Anthony Freston, who in turn was a great-nephew of the architect Matthew Brettingham . The marriage had a daughter named Laura.

Smirke was promoted to Knight Bachelor in 1832 . In 1845 he retired from active construction work. 1853 awarded him the Royal Institute of British Architects , the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture. In 1859 he left the Royal Academy and retired to Cheltenham, where he died in 1867. He left a fortune of £ 90,000  . In his life he had designed or renovated over twenty churches, fifty public and sixty private buildings.


Smirke built numerous buildings in the classical style, many of which have been preserved to this day:

  • The Royal Mint was built from 1807 to 1812. The original plans came from James Johnson, but these were modified by Smirke during execution.
  • The Covent Garden Theater , now the Royal Opera House , was designed by Smirke and built in ten months from 1808 to 1809, but was destroyed in a fire in 1857.
  • The main wing and the facade of the British Museum are probably the most famous work of Smirk. For reasons of cost, the execution was divided into several stages. The first thing that was built from 1823 to 1828 was the King's Library in the east wing. The northern part of the west wing with the Egyptian Galleries followed from 1825 to 1834. The north wing was built from 1833 to 1838, the west wing and the south front from 1842 to 1846. The most striking design feature of the southern front are the forty-four Ionic columns .
  • The original building of the Royal College of Physicians , now known as Canada House , was designed by Smirke and built from 1824 to 1827.
  • Smirke was involved in the planning and implementation of Lancaster House in 1825 and from 1832 to 1840.
  • The east wing of Somerset House was designed by Smirke and built from 1829 to 1831, taking over the design of the building built by William Chambers .
  • The Oxford and Cambridge Club building on Pall Mall was constructed by Smirke from 1835 to 1838.
  • The collapsed middle section of the Custom House was rebuilt in 1825 by Smirke based on his own designs.


  • Howard Colvin: A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840. 3rd edition. Yale University Press, New Haven CT et al. 1997, ISBN 0-300-07207-4 .

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