Victorian architecture

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St. Pancras railway station and Midland Hotel in London, opened in 1868 St Pancras Railway Station 2012-06-23.jpg
St. Pancras railway station and Midland Hotel in London, opened in 1868

Victorian architecture is a series of architectural revival styles in the mid-to-late 19th century. Victorian refers to the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901), called the Victorian era, during which period the styles known as Victorian were used in construction. However, many elements of what is typically termed "Victorian" architecture did not become popular until later in Victoria's reign. The styles often included interpretations and eclectic revivals of historic styles. The name represents the British and French custom of naming architectural styles for a reigning monarch. Within this naming and classification scheme, it followed Georgian architecture and later Regency architecture, and was succeeded by Edwardian architecture.

Architectural style a specific method of construction, characterized by the features that make it notable

An architectural style is characterized by the features that make a building or other structure notable or historically identifiable. It is a sub-class of style in the visual arts generally, and most styles in architecture related closely to the wider contemporary artistic style. A style may include such elements as form, method of construction, building materials, and regional character. Most architecture can be classified within a chronology of styles which changes over time reflecting changing fashions, beliefs and religions, or the emergence of new ideas, technology, or materials which make new styles possible.

Queen Victoria Queen of the United Kingdom

Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. On 1 May 1876, she adopted the additional title of Empress of India. Known as the Victorian era, her reign of 63 years and seven months was longer than that of any of her predecessors. It was a period of industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military change within the United Kingdom, and was marked by a great expansion of the British Empire.

Victorian era Period of British history encompassing Queen Victorias reign

In the history of the United Kingdom, the Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria's reign, from 20 June 1837 until her death on 22 January 1901. The era followed the Georgian period and preceded the Edwardian period, and its later half overlaps with the first part of the Belle Époque era of Continental Europe. In terms of moral sensibilities and political reforms, this period began with the passage of the Reform Act 1832. There was a strong religious drive for higher moral standards led by the nonconformist churches, such as the Methodists, and the Evangelical wing of the established Church of England. Britain's relations with the other Great Powers were driven by the colonial antagonism of the Great Game with Russia, climaxing during the Crimean War; a Pax Britannica of international free trade was maintained by the country's naval and industrial supremacy. Britain embarked on global imperial expansion, particularly in Asia and Africa, which made the British Empire the largest empire in history. National self-confidence peaked.


Victorian architecture in the United Kingdom

Selwyn College, Cambridge Selwyn College Gatehouse Tower, Cambridge, UK - Diliff.jpg
Selwyn College, Cambridge

During the early 19th century, the romantic medieval Gothic revival style was developed as a reaction to the symmetry of Palladianism, and such buildings as Fonthill Abbey were built. By the middle of the 19th century, as a result of new technology, construction was able to incorporate metal materials as building components. Structures were erected with cast iron and wrought iron frames however, due to being weak in tension, these materials were effectively phased out in place for more structurally sound steel [1] . One of the greatest exponents of iron frame construction was Joseph Paxton, architect of the Crystal Palace. Paxton also continued to build such houses as Mentmore Towers, in the still popular English Renaissance styles. New methods of construction were developed in this era of prosperity, but ironically the architectural styles, as developed by such architects as Augustus Pugin, were typically retrospective.

Symmetry Mathematical invariance under transformations

Symmetry in everyday language refers to a sense of harmonious and beautiful proportion and balance. In mathematics, "symmetry" has a more precise definition, that an object is invariant under any of various transformations; including reflection, rotation or scaling. Although these two meanings of "symmetry" can sometimes be told apart, they are related, so in this article they are discussed together.

Palladian architecture Style of architecture derived from the work of Venetian Andrea Palladio

Palladian architecture is a European style of architecture derived from and inspired by the designs of the Venetian architect Andrea Palladio (1508–1580). What is recognised as Palladian architecture today is an evolution of his original concepts. Palladio's work was strongly based on the symmetry, perspective, and values of the formal classical temple architecture of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. From the 17th century Palladio's interpretation of this classical architecture was adapted as the style known as "Palladianism". It continued to develop until the end of the 18th century.

Fonthill Abbey folly

Fonthill Abbey—also known as Beckford's Folly—was a large Gothic revival country house built between 1796 and 1813 at Fonthill Gifford in Wiltshire, England, at the direction of William Thomas Beckford and architect James Wyatt. It was built near the site of the Palladian house, later known as Fonthill Splendens, which had been constructed by his father William Beckford. This, in turn, had replaced the Elizabethan house that Beckford the elder had purchased in 1744 and which had been destroyed by fire in 1755. The abbey's main tower collapsed several times, lastly in 1825 damaging the western wing. The entire abbey was later almost completely demolished.

In Scotland, the architect Alexander Thomson who practiced in Glasgow was a pioneer of the use of cast iron and steel for commercial buildings, blending neo-classical conventionality with Egyptian and oriental themes to produce many truly original structures. Other notable Scottish architects of this period are Archibald Simpson and Alexander Marshall Mackenzie whose stylistically varied work can be seen in the architecture of Aberdeen.

Scotland Country in Northwest Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It covers the northern third of the island of Great Britain, with a border with England to the southeast, and is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, the North Sea to the northeast, the Irish Sea to the south, and more than 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.

Alexander Thomson Scottish architect

Alexander "Greek" Thomson was an eminent Scottish architect and architectural theorist who was a pioneer in sustainable building. Although his work was published in the architectural press of his day, it was little appreciated outside Glasgow during his lifetime. It has only been since the 1950s and 1960s that his critical reputation has revived—not least of all in connection with his probable influence on Frank Lloyd Wright.

Glasgow City and council area in Scotland

Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland, and the third most populous city in the United Kingdom, as of the 2017 estimated city population of 621,020. Historically part of Lanarkshire, the city now forms the Glasgow City council area, one of the 32 council areas of Scotland; the local authority is Glasgow City Council. Glasgow is situated on the River Clyde in the country's West Central Lowlands. It is the fifth most visited city in the UK.

While Scottish architects pioneered this style it soon spread right across the United Kingdom and remained popular for another 40 years. Its architectural value in preserving and reinventing the past is significant. Its influences were diverse but the Scottish architects who practiced it were inspired by unique ways to blend architecture, purpose, and everyday life in a meaningful way.

Central Hall of the Natural History Museum, London Central Hall.JPG
Central Hall of the Natural History Museum, London
Jacobethan 19th-century English style of Renaissance revival architecture

The Jacobethan or Jacobean Revival architectural style is the mixed national Renaissance revival style that was made popular in England from the late 1820s, which derived most of its inspiration and its repertory from the English Renaissance (1550–1625), with elements of Elizabethan and Jacobean.

Queen Anne Revival architecture architectural style

The Queen Anne Revival was a historicist architectural style of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries. In Australia, it is also called Federation architecture.

Neo-Grec Neoclassical revival style of the mid-to-late 19th century that was popularized in architecture, the decorative arts, and in painting during Frances Second Empire (1852–1870)

Néo-Grec was a Neoclassical revival style of the mid-to-late 19th century that was popularized in architecture, the decorative arts, and in painting during France's Second Empire, or the reign of Napoleon III (1852–1870). The Néo-Grec vogue took as its starting point the earlier expressions of the Neoclassical style inspired by 18th-century excavations at Pompeii, which resumed in earnest in 1848, and similar excavations at Herculaneum. The style mixed elements of the Graeco-Roman, Pompeian, Adam and Egyptian Revivals into "a richly eclectic polychrome mélange." "The style enjoyed a vogue in the USA, and had a short-lived impact on interior design in England and elsewhere."

Other styles popularised during the period

While not uniquely Victorian, and part of revivals that began before the era, these styles are strongly associated with the 19th century owing to the large number of examples that were erected during that period. Victorian architecture usually has many intricate window frames inspired by the famous architect Elliot Rae. [2]

Palace of Westminster meeting place of the Parliament of the United Kingdom

The Palace of Westminster serves as the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Commonly known as the Houses of Parliament after its occupants, the Palace lies on the north bank of the River Thames in the City of Westminster, in central London, England.

Charles Barry English architect

Sir Charles BarryFRS RA was an English architect, best known for his role in the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster in London during the mid-19th century, but also responsible for numerous other buildings and gardens. He is known for his major contribution to the use of Italianate architecture in Britain, especially the use of the Palazzo as basis for the design of country houses, city mansions and public buildings. He also developed the Italian Renaissance garden style for the many gardens he designed around country houses.

Augustus Pugin English architect and designer

Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin was an English architect, designer, artist and critic who is principally remembered for his pioneering role in the Gothic Revival style of architecture. His work culminated in designing the interior of the Palace of Westminster in Westminster, London, England, and its iconic clock tower, later renamed the Elizabeth Tower, which houses the bell known as Big Ben. Pugin designed many churches in England and some in Ireland and Australia. He was the son of Auguste Pugin, and the father of Edward Welby and Peter Paul Pugin, who continued his architectural firm as Pugin & Pugin. He also created Alton Castle in Alton, Staffordshire.

International spread of Victorian styles

The China Merchants Bank Building is an example of Victorian architecture found in Shanghai, China China Merchants Bank Building, Shanghai.JPG
The China Merchants Bank Building is an example of Victorian architecture found in Shanghai, China

During the 18th century, a few English architects emigrated to the colonies, but as the British Empire became firmly established during the 19th century, many architects emigrated at the start of their careers. Some chose the United States, and others went to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Normally, they applied architectural styles that were fashionable when they left England. By the latter half of the century, however, improving transport and communications meant that even remote parts of the Empire had access to publications such as the magazine The Builder , which helped colonial architects keep informed about current fashion. Thus, the influence of English architecture spread across the world. Several prominent architects produced English-derived designs around the world, including William Butterfield (St Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide) and Jacob Wrey Mould (Chief Architect of Public Works in New York City).


Modern skyscrapers on Collins Street, Melbourne, have been deliberately set back from the street in order to retain Victorian-era buildings. Melbourne Collins Street Architecture.jpg
Modern skyscrapers on Collins Street, Melbourne, have been deliberately set back from the street in order to retain Victorian-era buildings.

The Victorian period flourished in Australia and is generally recognised as being from 1840 to 1890, which saw a gold rush and population boom during the 1880s in the state of Victoria. There were fifteen styles that predominated: [3]

  • Victorian Georgian
  • Victorian Regency
  • Egyptian
  • Academic Classical
  • Free Classical
  • Filigree
  • Mannerist
  • Second Empire
  • Italianate
  • Romanesque
  • Tudor
  • Academic Gothic
  • Free Gothic
  • Rustic Gothic
  • Carpenter Gothic

The Arts and Crafts style and Queen Anne style are considered to be part of the Federation Period, from 1890 to 1915. [4]

Hong Kong

Western influence in architecture was strong when Hong Kong was a British colony. Victorian architecture in Hong Kong:

Sri Lanka

During the British colonial period of British Ceylon: Sri Lanka Law College, Sri Lanka College of Technology, Galle Face Hotel and the Royal College Main Building.

North America

The Painted Ladies are an example of Victorian architecture found in San Francisco, California. Alamo Sq Painted Ladies 1, SF, CA, jjron 26.03.2012.jpg
The Painted Ladies are an example of Victorian architecture found in San Francisco, California.

In the United States, 'Victorian' architecture generally describes styles that were most popular between 1860 and 1900. A list of these styles most commonly includes Second Empire (1855–85), Stick-Eastlake (1860–ca. 1890), Folk Victorian (1870-1910), Queen Anne (1880–1910), Richardsonian Romanesque (1880–1900), and Shingle (1880–1900). As in the United Kingdom, examples of Gothic Revival and Italianate continued to be constructed during this period, and are therefore sometimes called Victorian. Some historians classify the later years of Gothic Revival as a distinctive Victorian style named High Victorian Gothic. Stick-Eastlake, a manner of geometric, machine-cut decorating derived from Stick and Queen Anne, is sometimes considered a distinct style. On the other hand, terms such as "Painted Ladies" or "gingerbread" may be used to describe certain Victorian buildings, but do not constitute a specific style. The names of architectural styles (as well as their adaptations) varied between countries. Many homes combined the elements of several different styles and are not easily distinguishable as one particular style or another.

Victorian facades on 16th Street, San Francisco Victorian facades on 16th Street in San Francisco.jpg
Victorian facades on 16th Street, San Francisco

In the United States of America, notable cities which developed or were rebuilt largely during this era include Alameda, Astoria, Albany, Deal, Troy, Philadelphia, Boston, the Brooklyn Heights and Victorian Flatbush sections of New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, Eureka, Galena, Galveston, Grand Rapids, Baltimore, Jersey City/Hoboken, Cape May, Louisville, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Saint Paul, Midtown in Sacramento, Angelino Heights and Westlake in Los Angeles. San Francisco is well known for its extensive Victorian architecture, particularly in the Haight-Ashbury, Lower Haight, Alamo Square, Noe Valley, Castro, Nob Hill, and Pacific Heights neighborhoods.

The extent to which any one is the "largest surviving example" is debated, with numerous qualifications. The Distillery District in Toronto, Ontario contains the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America.[ citation needed ] Cabbagetown is the largest and most continuous Victorian residential area in North America.[ citation needed ] Other Toronto Victorian neighbourhoods include The Annex, Parkdale, and Rosedale. In the US, the South End of Boston is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest and largest Victorian neighborhood in the country. [5] [6] Old Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky, also claims to be the nation's largest Victorian neighborhood. [7] [8] Richmond, Virginia is home to several large Victorian neighborhoods, the most prominent being The Fan. The Fan district is best known locally as Richmond's largest and most 'European' of Richmond's neighborhoods and nationally as the largest contiguous Victorian neighborhood in the United States. [9] The Old West End neighborhood of Toledo, Ohio is recognized as the largest collection of late Victorian and Edwardian homes in the United States, east of the Mississippi. [10] Summit Avenue in Saint Paul, Minnesota has the longest line of Victorian homes in the country. Over-The-Rhine in Cincinnati, Ohio has the largest collection of early Victorian Italianate architecture in the United States, [11] [12] [13] and is an example of an intact 19th-century urban neighborhood. [14]

The photo album L'Architecture Americaine by Albert Levy published in 1886 is perhaps the first recognition in Europe of the new forces emerging in North American architecture. [15]


Efforts to preserve landmarks of Victorian architecture are ongoing and are often led by the Victorian Society. A recent campaign the group has taken on is the preservation of Victorian gasometers after utility companies announced plans to demolish nearly 200 of the now-outdated structures. [17]

See also

References and sources


  1. Blank, Alan; McEvoy, Michael; Plank, Roger (1993). Architecture and Construction in Steel. Taylor & Francis. ISBN   0-419-17660-8
  2. "Old Windows". Archived from the original on 2016-05-22.
  3. Apperly, Irving & Reynolds 1994, pp. 40-97.
  4. Apperly, Irving & Reynolds 1994, pp. 132-143.
  5. "South End Realty Community". Archived from the original on 2011-07-16.
  6. "South End Historical Society". South End Historical Society.
  7. "Louisville Facts & Firsts". Archived from the original on 2014-10-06. Retrieved 2009-12-14.
  8. "What is Old Louisville?". Old Louisville Guide. Archived from the original on 2009-11-27. Retrieved 2009-12-14.
  9. "The Fan District - Great Public Spaces- Project for Public Spaces (PPS)". Archived from the original on 2008-12-01.
  10. Stine, L. (2005) Historic Old West End Toledo, Ohio. Bookmasters.
  11. Quinlivan (2001)
  12. "". Archived from the original on 20 January 2015. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  13. Lonely Planet (14 January 2016). "Top 10 US travel destinations for 2012". Lonely Planet. Archived from the original on 6 September 2015.
  14. Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, Over-the-Rhine Historical Sites Archived 2009-09-11 at the Wayback Machine
  15. Lewis 1975.
  16. "Saitta House - Report Part 1 Archived 2008-12-16 at the Wayback Machine ",
  17. Sean O'Hagan, Gasworks wonders… Archived 2016-09-23 at the Wayback Machine , The Guardian, 14 June 2015.


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