History of Architecture
Our Guide to Building Architecture from the Middle Ages to Present Day
History of Architecture through the ages has steadily evolved, leading historians to declare it as an art of evolution, not revolution. For example, even when whole countries have been taken over, the architecture has never changed dramatically; instead it has gradually altered over time.
Now in the 21st century we have a melting pot of architecture as great designers take inspiration from specific points in history while others fight to produce that one building that will become part of history itself.
Here’s our guide to the history of architecture as we see it from the Middle Ages to the Present Day.
The Middle Ages.
Everyone remembers the date of the Battle of Hastings in 1066and this is where we begin our journey, as it marks a dramatic change in the architecture of Britain. It was this age that architecture began to signify wealth along with a connection to God as the higher the Cathedral the close to heaven the congregation within!
These huge gothic structures of stone concealed another advancement of architecture of the middle ages, as not only were they impressive; every ounce of space was also designated for use. Just like today, houses are built to maximise storage potential and
provide practicality, the Minsters of this age would incorporate rooms for every purpose too. A great example of this age is Durham Cathedral, which took almost a century to build after work began in 1093 on the instruction of Bishop William de St Carilef. More recently this building was used for filming the Da Vinci Code.
Fit for Purpose Whether Rich or Poor
In stark contrast highly paid architects paid little thought to the comfort of the poor, incorporating practicality as standard, many believed that single wooden rooms were enough to keep a destitute family homed. Crammed like sardines, if there was space for every inhabitant to lay their head the government’s job was done, regardless of how uncomfortable the low ceilings were when standing up. There are only reproduced examples of these homes left as the wood often rotted in the rain.
In the history of architecture the Middle Ages also spawned the sprawling Manor House, where buildings would stretch across acres of land impressing gentry for far and wide. A great example of this is Haddon Hall which has been updated numerous times over the past millennia yet still boasts an original Middle Age design.
Interestingly it was also the age in the history of architecture that saw White Tower born, the epicentre of the Tower of London.
When we consider Tudor architecture immediately the clever contrast between black and white springs to mind; the addition of this design to a Tudor home was deliberate as residents fought to ensure their house would be the most noticeable from far away.
Building on the beginnings of the Middle Ages, the Tudor people placed a lot of importance into property; basically the more outstanding the house, the better the people within.
Up on a Hill
This prompted many to build on hills so visitors could see their homes from far away while the black and white beams made the architecture visible even in the middle of the night.
The main change in the history of architecture during this time was the lack of defences. No longer did people need to feel protected in their own homes, so houses could be visible and they could also contain a lot of windows- which was also a signature of wealth.
The Poor Celebrate Over the Gift of Bricks
Even the poor were treated to a little brick and stone rather than the rotten wood they were used to, as landscapes began to form, as yet uninfluenced by neighbouring Europe.
Hampton Court Palace is one of the most famous examples of this time, a gift from creep Cardinal Worsley to King Henry the VIII it has undergone a lot of renovation yet still boasts the great Hall, the place we imagine Henry throwing chicken bones over his shoulder as he dined.
Another is Hardwick Hall which is remarkable because it has undergone very little upheaval after the Royals left it alone to pursue Chatsworth house instead. It strongly suggests a Renaissance influence while the glass shows the wealth of this otherwise cosy building.
The 17th Century
It seemed (Inigo Jones excluded) that in the early 17th century architects and designs were infected by some kind of crazy disease. They couldn’t quite make up their minds what they wanted as the choice became limitless, while architecture became more and more absurd.
Tudors Tempt the Enemy
Along with building on the extravagance of the Tudor period with properties sporting grotesque over embellished statues and features, suddenly after the Civil War (when the Royals followed Charles 2nd overseas into exile to escape persecution) , French, Italian and Dutch designs inspired many to demand European designs when returning to claim their English quarters.
This saw the introduction of gold or gilt, huge ornate carvings, balustrade, cornicing, cherubs, and over the top features.
Baroque Stakes a Claim on British Design
Baroque – The Louis XIV pointed out that if a property was built symmetrically, a Royal could sit in the middle as rooms sprawled around him, in the centre of his own world. Geometry and Architecture blended to see sharp edges and square rooms that are evident in properties and gardens today.
A great example of this time in the history of architecture stands in the form of St Paul’s Cathedral, designed by the incredible Christopher Wren.
The 18th Century
The Battle of the Build
As George I took the throne, architecture was evolving rapidly, yet those in power found the emerging styles a little too crass for modern life. The Georgians wanted to mark their place in history by dictating the styles they’d approve for Britain, meaning design was stifled and suffocated in the early 18th century.
They believed the Baroque trend reeked of a Stuart rule and so more streamlined properties were requested, less overt, more boring.
They tried to use the works of Andrea Palladio as an example of the rules to be followed, yet architects found this limiting and so by the end of the 18th century designers had had enough of being confined to these rules and so innovative architecture began to spring up all over.
Architects Suffocate Under New Rule
Robert Adam, known as the best architect of the 18th century summed this all up by saying, ‘Rules often cramp the genius and circumscribe the idea of the master’.
The greatest example of this rebellion is the Pavilion in Brighton. Oriental and breaking free from the norm, this was a huge achievement of its time.
As far as Georgian Houses go the best example is the understated, elegant Kedleston hall of Derbyshire.
The 19th century
Reclaiming the Power Arts and Crafts
We travel onwards towards the Victorian Age. As memories of the French Revolution remained, designers and architects of Britain tried to return to architecture and design that didn’t rely on the power of the upper classes such as hand crafting techniques.
The William Morris Movement
In the history of architecture William Morris is in fact celebrated as a designer even today as his big bold prints are a favourite of department store Liberties, fetching a pretty penny for home furnishings such as curtains and upholstery!
On the other side, architects embraced the industrial age as they enjoyed using technology to develop their designs, the eminent Crystal palace, constructed of iron and glass is an example of that.
As buildings were mass produced they were labelled as “too perfect” with many craftsman feeling as though they were pushed aside for less ornate architecture that simply served a purpose.
It was William Morris and his followers that reminded people of bespoke construction keeping quality architecture alive.
This also began the Arts and Crafts movement, a time that influences many interior designers today.
A building that set the Arts and Crafts wheels in motion is ironically the first home of newlyweds William and Jane Morris designed by Phillip Web, today it’s known as the Red House of Bexley Heath.
The Houses of Parliament were also rebuilt during this time after the fire of 1834. The confused styles show that architects still hadn’t decided whether to move forward or to replicate Tudor and Gothic design.
To the 20th Century and Beyond
As the rest of the world experimented with huge glass structures and upside down designs, Britain remained in an architectural pocket letting these trends pass it by. In fact the 20’s and 30’s are quite conservative where architecture is concerned and in all honesty, completely dull.
A huge change in the history of architecture was the development of concrete and found it could be moulded into all manner of shapes while we simply built stately homes that act as National trust headquarters or nursing homes today. Ironically, interiors became enchanting as Art Deco began to infiltrate the scene and of course, the descendants of William Morris were still making some noise.
The Authorities Take Over
It was here, a time that many grandparents will remember that the dreaded council began to heavily influence design.
After both wars the government didn’t pay much attention to ornate architecture. The aim was to rebuild Britain quickly and as cheaply as possible. The term “affordable housing” was born and finally Britain embraced concrete and prefabs yet not in the way European designers had.
Little has changed apart from the occasional architectural treat spiralling up out of a city landscape such as The Gherkin and the O2 Stadium, yet these needed heavy investments and their break from the norm was not cheap by any means. Some wealthy private individuals have designed their own homes with the help of an architect yet the majority for new builds are uniform and conservative.
Known as the post modernism age, you can see examples of this design in any street from the 30’s detached semi with the curved bays to the tall Victorian terraces lining a tree lined avenue.
Many hospitals were built around this time too, High Square building with lots of windows, if they weren’t so bland they could be described as ugly.
What Comes Next?
The 21st Century
It seems architecture is slowly changing in the 21st century as the Shard gains incredible respect while the Olympic Stadium makes a statement.
An incredible amount of money is still needed to embrace a new design yet slowly we seem to be moving past the post-modernist age.
TV programs such as “Grand Designs” are inspiring home owners to choose different designs with features such as grass roofs and eco-friendly builds becoming part of the norm.
It’s an exciting age as no one really knows what will come next!