On a recent trip to London I visited both Westminster Abbey and St Pauls Cathedral. One impressed me and the other didn’t so much. When I questioned myself how these buildings Architecture affected me so differently, I came to the conclusion that a lot of it had to do with each buildings approach.
Westminster Abbey was the venue that promised so much for me, but sadly didn’t live up to expectations. After watching the Royal wedding, seeing footage of Coronations etc, maybe I’d built it up too much, maybe the Royal graves and famous authors buried there detracted from the Architecture, but honestly, I think it was the entrance. Unfortunately sightseers are granted access from the North side entrance, not the primary West one. This means you enter and are immediately faced with what is arguably the pinnacle of the church, the Sanctuary. You then walk down the lengthly aisle, and turn finally onto the main nave, where you really should have entered initially. By this time, although you can finally see the abbey in all its height and splendour and see down through the choir into the sanctuary, you’ve become accustomed to the Gothic features and towering ceiling, the wow factor has worn off. Thankfully, the approach to the Lady chapel has remained unaltered and as you discover it at the end of the building, your spirits are restored by its dainty charm.
St Pauls however, ticked all my boxes. You enter from the West, up the steps of the Grand Entrance, and come to the ticket booth. I was fooled into thinking that what I could spy over the barriers was the main bulk of the church, and very nearly decided not to pay for full entry, but as soon as you cross the little red rope, you can feel a crescendo building as you promenade along the wide, almost excessively wide nave. Gradually the dome reveals itself to you. 365 feet of space, the amount of days in a year, is suspended above you, disorientating you, wittling you down to the size of a mere ant.
Entrances are designed for a reason. They immediately inform you of what you think of a space and building. They can build suspense, or create a longing to discover more. When the well thought out and designed entrance is disregarded, the building is askew, viewed all wrong, diminished unnecessarily. Both buildings were worth the money and amazing places to visit, but I can’t help but feel that Westminster Abbey was let down by someone simply forgetting that First Impressions Count.