Original features

October 23, 2008

The central portico, with its ten Corinthian columns, is the most famous landmark of University College London. Work began in 1826, the year UCL was founded, and was completed in 1829. Since money ran short, many of architect William Wilkins' other plans could not be carried out: the U-shaped series of buildings around the main quadrangle was not finished until 1985, prompting the description of the portico as "the grandest entrance in London, with nothing behind it".

Philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) is often seen as the spiritual father of UCL because of his commitment to opening up university education to students outside the traditional elite. His skeleton, dressed in his clothes and topped with a wax head, is displayed in a cabinet in the cloisters. The figure is the source of many urban myths: one claims his skull was once stolen by students and used as a football in the quad.

The wide staircase of the portico leads up to the entrance of the Wilkins Building, topped by an elegant dome, which houses the main UCL library where all of Bentham's manuscripts are held. A mural depicts an entirely fictitious scene of Wilkins submitting his architectural plans to Bentham for approval.

Suggestions for this regular architectural series are welcome: matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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