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From Birdcage to Bazaar – Reconsidering the works of Captain Francis Fowke R.E.

Part 2 Dissertation 2013
Christopher Ansell
University of Bath | UK
In Victorian Britain, covered markets known as ‘bazaars’ were characterised by their sense of space and scale, the exposure to the light above, and the lack of partitioning; the ultimate manifestation of the ‘bazaar’ was seen at the Great Exhibition in 1851. This paper is a re-evaluation of the works of Captain Francis Fowke R.E., a military architect-engineer who exploited the benefits of these new ferrovitreous architectural technologies, while retaining the qualities of the traditional styles.

Through a chronological series of case studies, this paper looks at key projects throughout Fowke’s career, with particular focus on his designs for galleries, exhibition venues and museums. From his first works as a military architect in 1854, through to his largest public work at Edinburgh’s Royal Scottish Museum in 1860, his innovations, inspirations and influence will be assessed.

Following his untimely death in 1865, at the age of 42, Fowke suffered from unfair judgment by his peers. Having had the stigma throughout his career of never having trained to the name Architect, this criticism followed his death also. However, this paper discovers that in being freed from the dogma of architectural style and tradition, Fowke was able to explore a language that was neither Grecian nor Gothic – it was thoroughly Nineteenth Century.

In combining traditional order with the new technologies of the age, Fowke’s genius was to combine spatial sensitivity with constructional innovation, and a military level of efficiency. Concluding that this was a career cut off on its trajectory to greatness; this paper reconsiders Fowke’s work by finding his influence in Alfred Waterhouse’s architecture at the Natural History Museum and beyond. Francis Fowke was misunderstood in his time and this paper considers his work with a fresh perspective.

Christopher Ansell

Paul Richens
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