Battle of the Styles

During the Victorian Era, Britain was trying to find its own architectural identity. Some architects looked to the past to come up with new designs, introducing revivalism, and other architects looked to react to the changing production processes of the time. These differences in views of how architecture should be made led to the Battle of the Styles in England during the second half of the 19th century.

St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark, showing the modest style of Gothic Revivalism even in usually ornate Roman Catholic churches

A few different types of Revivalism began during this period. Gothic Revival, the most notable example being the Palace of Westminster, was seen as a way to use Gothic forms in a more austere manner by stripping away some of its unnecessary ornament. This approach to design is always reflective of England’s status as a Protestant country instead of Catholic. Even the Roman Catholic cathedrals built in this time were very modest in terms of their ornament. Augustus Pugin was a big proponent of stripping the architecture of Gothic Revival churches down to its bare essentials.

Neo-Classicism also began in this period. Many architects at this time designed buildings in extremely different styles, such as George Gilbert Scott and his designs for the Foreign Office (Neo-Classical) and the Midland Grand Hotel (Neo-Gothic). This is due to the fact that the styles of many projects was chosen by the client before the competitions even began.

As a result of the rapid industrialization of this time, some architects began utilizing these processes of mass-production in their designs. They would emphasis the engineering of the project over the architectural elements. This is seen in the St. Pancras Train Shed by William Henry Barlow, who was an engineer.

St. Pancras Train Shed, emphasizing its construction methods

In response to this standardized way of building brought on by Industrialization, a movement called Arts & Crafts was started. This movement aimed to respond to the harmful effects of Industrialization. Those who were part of Arts & Crafts wanted to emphasize the human element of producing buildings. Most of the furniture in their buildings were hand-made and the interiors of their spaces were also designed to highlight the production process and material. They saw the standardization of architecture as dehumanizing.

Interiors of The Red House, Designed by Philip Webb, William Morris, and Jane Morris
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