Here’s Why Neo-Georgian Architecture Has Become So Popular In Britain

Artist Pablo Bronstein explains how an archaic style reminds Britain of former glories.

If you’re an architecture fan and you’ve never visited The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), this latest exhibition in collaboration with artist Pablo Bronstein is an excellent reason to make the trip to its impressive art-deco home in Portland Place.

Pablo Bronstein: Conservatism, or The Long Reign of Pseudo-Georgian Architecture opened September 21, and documents the architectural style that developed during Britain’s Georgian era (1714 to 1830), a period marked by the reign of four King Georges, upheavals of industry and class, and an emergence in the arts of romanticism and gothic-revival architecture. The documentary in particular notes how this style came to be and remained ubiquitous throughout the country.

Competition design for the Daily Mail Ideal House, Donald Hanks McMorran, 1927 | © RIBA Drawings Collection

Bronstein is fascinated by these buildings that, despite their ubiquity, have remained a relatively unrecognised part of the British vernacular. The internationally acclaimed artist has created 50 new drawings of buildings built during the second-half of the 20th century in this pseudo-Georgian style, which will also be shown alongside other rare neo-Georgian material from the RIBA archives.

On asking the London-based Bronstein what draws him to this type of architecture especially, he explains that it’s the purported splendour of pseudo-Georgian buildings that makes it so appealing to him. “It’s the pathos and desperation and naïveté. I love the way it tries to convince us that it is something other, grander, than what it is. I also love how anonymous it is, and how approachable it is.”

1 Haverstock Street, Haverstock Place, Islington, N1 8BX | © Pablo Bronstein

So what is it about the Georgian architectural style that is just so universally appealing? Bronstein claims that it is partly due to our desire to resurrect the past and recreate the good old days. “Britain is in love with the Georgian [style] because we like to be reminded of the optimism of a growing commercial, industrial and military empire that is now lost. It is an architecture of the golden age, and full of reason and grandeur.

“The London of the Georgian period linked the palace and suburbs of Westminster to the City of London through a series of grand residential developments. An architecture associated with growth, with the birth of a new social order, and with a growing sense of national identity (the national anthem was composed during the period) is always an attractive thing to hark back to.”

Leathermarket Court, Leathermarket Street, Southwark SE1 3HS | © Pablo Bronstein

A lot of it though, is simply down to aesthetics. Georgian properties have always been known for their generous rooms, great proportions and pleasing symmetry, yet they are buildings that are not too intimidating — they exist on a human scale, yet with classical architectural details and embellishment that makes them appear palatial.

“We also love it because it is a practical and affordable style,’ adds Bronstein. ‘The Georgian is a lot easier to pull off than the Baroque or the neo-Gothic for example… if all you need is brick and sashes and the odd panelled door, and you don’t need bays, or entrance porches, or difficult construction techniques, or complex rooflines (like in other styles), then there is less risk of looking ridiculous.”

Design for a device for moving house, Joseph Hartland, 1833 | © RIBA Drawings Collection

Bronstein doesn’t think the style is timeless as such, but the real secret to its popularity over the last three centuries lies in its adaptability and the way it can lend itself to a variety of functions. It’s also a safe bet when it comes to building something new. “At the moment, the Georgian is useful at the bottom end of the new housing market as it adds a touch of class to new affordable developments and is ideal for historically sensitive sites where something uncontroversial is required.”

Imperial House, Victory Place, Limehouse E14 8BQ | © Pablo Bronstein

So what does Bronstein think of the current state of the British housing stock? “There is of course very sophisticated and interesting housing being built, but this is few and far between. I get very bored of the polite modern apartment blocks going up all over the country. These buildings are lifeless and lazy, evoking a sort of international luxury whilst presenting bland, cheaply clad facades. I would far rather the energetic crumminess of the pseudo-Georgian because the illusions it wishes to conjure seem more innocent somehow.”

And his ideal home? “A colossal William and Mary style bungalow.”

Pablo Bronstein: Conservatism, or The Long Reign of Pseudo-Georgian Architecture runs from September 21 to February 11, 2018. There’s also a special RIBA Late event on October 10 — to book, click here.

132–135 Sewardstone Road, Victoria Park E2 9JQ | © Pablo Bronstein