No town has such a disordered variety of forms, such a capricious mixture of the beautiful, the ugly, the magnificent, the poor, the sad, the strange, the great, the gloomy.
Anyone who is lucky enough to experience the streets of the British capital knows that London is a city that contains many little towns: districts with a strong and changing identity that are woven together to give shape to Europe’s most interesting metropolis.
The architecture tells us a great deal about the evolution of these small worlds that are full of culture. In this post, we shall try to identify its main distinguishing features through styles, works and personalities so that we are able to look at the marvels that crop up in the streets of London with new eyes.
On the roads of London there are houses built in three main styles that are named after the monarchs on the throne at the time: Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian.
The Georgian style reigned when Kings George I to IV were on the throne, between the early eighteenth century to the first half of the nineteenth century.
The Georgian style is a local version of Palladian architecture. It is rich in references to Italian Renaissance culture and its most distinctive mark is its focus on the proportion and balance of elements: the simplest mathematical rules are represented in the chosen dimensions of rooms, windows, decoration and the typical entrances. In this period, classical architecture was also a great source of inspiration.
You can find fine examples of Georgian architecture in the borough of Camden, in Little Green Street. This is one of the oldest streets in London where we can see a series of 10 brick houses in pure Palladian style. In order to appreciate the distribution of Georgian interiors, it is a good idea to visit the London residence of one of the founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, which was in fact the first American embassy in the United Kingdom. It can be visited and is at 36 Craven Street. One of the best examples of a Georgian church is Christ Church Spitalfields.
The next style in chronological order is the Victorian style that was prominent in the nineteenth century during the reign of Victoria. The style was a clear reaction to the symmetry and balance of Neo-Palladian architecture and expresses itself in the Gothic Revival architecture of many of London’s best known buildings. The period was one of wealth and scientific progress that were influenced in an interesting manner by the styles and tendencies of the past.
The style spread in the same period in which steel established itself as a building material and the architects incorporated it into different works that dominated the skies of London. The most representative of these was the Crystal Palace, of which only photographs and reports remain because of the fire that destroyed it in 1936. It was the site of the Great Exhibition, covered a surface area of 84 thousand square metres and was crowned by an imposing barrel vault.
One of the most famous examples of Gothic Revival are the Palace of Westminster, the symbol of London in the world, and London’s St Pancras railway station.
Edwardian architecture was born with the twentieth century and was suddenly stopped by the first world war. We can see two main threads in this architectural style: Edwardian Baroque, which is a continuation of the Victorian style, and the main thread, which did away with the decorations and ornaments of the previous century.
Edwardian Baroque draws its main inspiration from eighteenth century French architecture. One of the best examples in London is the War Office on Horse Guards Avenue, Australia House (the Australian embassy in London, which was mainly built with Australian building materials) and Westminster Central Hall.
During this period, the elaborate textures used for wall paper and curtains in the Victorian age were abandoned and house ornaments started to be placed in spaces dedicated to them instead of almost taking over all rooms.
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