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Design a new roof for St Paul’s

Reimagine the roofs of St Paul’s, One Canada Square or Didcot Power Station in the Redland/AJ Design a Roof competition

Can you imagine St Paul’s Cathedral without its dome, or with an alternative roof? That’s what pitched roofing materials supplier Redland, in partnership with the AJ, wants you to do for the Design a Roof competition, organised to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Redland’s Cambrian roof slates. Redland is offering an architectural tour of Istanbul, the city of domes and 2010 European Capital of Culture, to the winner.

To get you in the mood, the AJ’s resident cartoonist Louis Hellman has conjured up a tableaux of alternative toppings for Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, but your own design for the roof of St Paul’s could be anything: conventional, controversial, political or downright bizarre.

Redland has provided a template of St Paul’s without its dome, which you can download from the competition website and use for your entry. But if redesigning London’s most famous roof doesn’t grab you, there are two other templates to work from: Cesar Pelli’s One Canada Square at Canary Wharf, which has been shorn of its pyramidal peak, and Didcot Power Station, which Redland thinks might look better covered up. Alternatively, you can choose another building altogether and put a new roof on it.

Your design could be anything: conventional, controversial, political or downright bizarre

Famously, St Paul’s has a domed roof that was not shown in the drawings for Wren’s warrant design (the scheme approved by the clergy in 1675). The cathedral was originally characterised by a multi-tiered spire erupting out of a modestly scaled, egg-like cupola. However, as the building began to rise out of ground, Wren took advantage of a royal directive to make ‘variations, [but] ornamental rather than essential’ (as recorded in Parentalia, the biography of the Wren family that contains documentation of the design and construction process). The result, a bigger dome built around the cupola, with not a spire in sight, was a baroque cathedral with similarities to St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Perhaps fittingly, given that the prize for this competition is a trip to Istanbul, it is widely believed that Wren used construction technology developed in the Ottoman capital a century before St Paul’s was completed. English merchants from the Levant Company are known to have passed lead-sheathing techniques to their countrymen, having learned the skill while based on the Bosphorus.

Wren had good reason for bending the rules in order to see that the best design for St Paul’s was built, and thank goodness he did. The warrant design was a stinker. You, however, have free rein – abandon all fear of leaks and bitumen flashing. For this competition, the sky really is the limit.

For every entry received, Redland will donate £5 to CRASH, the construction and property industries’ charity for homeless people. The deadline for entries is 21 May. Visit and download an entry pack.

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