Dr Johnson dismissed Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy on the grounds that nothing odd would stand the test of time. The same could have been said about Sir John Soane, that unique and unclassifiable genius of British architecture. Although he received many honours and many public commissions (his forty years’ service as architect to the Bank of England being one of the greatest), Soane was always something of an outsider. He had many admirers but few imitators.
In fact, his oddness, like Sterne’s, is what has made him an artist of such enduring interest. The stripped-down classicism, the refusal to be hidebound by architectural precedent, the highly original approach to spatial planning are now recognised and appreciated in a way which would have gratified Soane, who was