One of the things I picked up while I was an intern at the Soane Museum years ago was the concept of the pendentive dome, which is a dome set on top of a square volume.
This sounds relatively straightforward, but architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837) turned it into a rich and strange architecural form, almost a signature motif.
Soane loved to conjure with volumes, deliberately juxtaposing ’inside’ and ‘outside’, ‘open’ and ‘closed’. At Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire, Soane used a pendentive dome when he created the Yellow Drawing Room there in the 1790s.
The interlocking volumes of the Yellow Drawing Room were inspired by the side chapels in the basilica of St John Lateran and the loggia of the Villa Madama, both in Rome and both seen and sketched by Soane.
But Soane had clearly made this vocabulary his own, and he used similar bewitching combinations of walls and apses, straight and curved surfaces in his designs for the Bank of England and for his own house in Licoln’s Inn Fields.