Geographically the United Kingdom is a group of islands on the northwest corner of Europe. The important factor about the United Kingdom is that it is a political union between four countries: England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland. Even though these four countries come under the crown, every country has its own identity, separate governments, rules & rights. They have their own history, politics, the timeline of changes and development. 

Yet, since these are neighbouring countries, the major changes, power struggle, politics and conflicts of one country rippled through the elements in the history of other countries; one of those elements is architecture. 

The politically inclined architecture of United Kingdom - Sheet1
palace of westminster_Image Courtesy of BDP

The vast combinations of architectural styles have resulted from remains of roman influences and the trend of architecture in other European countries. The Asian and African architecture elements are also found in some examples, picked up during the colonization of those countries. 

The architecture of the United Kingdom has seen many turning points throughout history. The major turning point was with the roman empire.

Post-Roman Era and Dark Ages

The politically inclined architecture of United Kingdom - Sheet2
Roman Bath at Somerset, England_©Claudio Divizia

The major turn in the politics and architecture of the United Kingdom was around the year 400 when the roman empire walked out of Britain (today England, Scotland, and part of Wales). After that, Roman-British culture came to rise. But the elegance, well-planned systems and engineering were partially lost during the dark ages. Wood and crudely built houses became more prominent.

Norman invasion

The politically inclined architecture of United Kingdom - Sheet3
Carrickfergus Castle, Ireland _discovernorthernireland.com

The Normans came to England in 1066. With them, they brought the large-scale building style using stone blocks. This Romanesque style of architecture was commonly used for Important structures, castles, churches, and cathedrals. Wood was a primary material before Norman introduced this style. For Normans, the added safety of stone blocks and the large scale of a building was, in a way, a tool to intimidate and impose power.

This architecture style spread in the United Kingdom from England to Ireland and Wales as well. As for Scotland, a blend of the architecture of both sides (Scoto-Norman architecture) is also found.

The politically inclined architecture of United Kingdom - Sheet4
Stirling Castle, Scotland_ www.historicenvironment.scot

Instead of grandeur, fitness for purpose was practiced in the United Kingdom during that era. Meaning simplicity and functionality had more weight. Due to political instability and war, the castles were built as a stronghold and base for military and battlements. 

The houses and manners were designed adequately as per status. The Lower class that was deemed as unimportant had small, dark, crudely built houses. Churches and cathedrals with their tall towers were important community centres, not just worship spaces. Most of the structures were inward-looking for the sake of security.

Union of the crown

Union of the crown holds great significance in the history of the United Kingdom. James VI, king of Scots, succeeded to ascend the throne of England in 1603. As the name suggests, the king had Scottish origin. Hence with political changes, social and cultural changes also took place. In this era, Britain became more unified and stable. 

As a result, the building became grand and outward-looking. The grandeur of mansions and houses become symbols of status. The wealth was presented through ornamented structure, use of glass, and expensive interior. Commoner’s and lower-class houses also began to become more stable. The timber was replaced by stones and bricks

This was also the era when catholic monasteries were closed, churches declined. The newly increased availability of land fuelled the construction of huge manors and mansions. But the damaged relationship with catholic Europe forced Britain to isolate, which led to the late arrival of the renaissance. In the meantime, a combination of gothic and classic styles became popular in Britain. 

The politically inclined architecture of United Kingdom - Sheet5
Chiswick House, London _londontopia.net

During the 16th-17th centuries, the change in power of political leadership architectural style also changed. Not drastic enough to create a whole new style. It was a combination of gothic and classic styles. Some might consider it an effort to revive the Roman era, studied and perceived from books and other mediums like ‘Four Books of Architecture’ by Italian architect Andrea Palladio. 

Formation of kingdom of great Britain

In the 18th century, the ‘Act of Union 1707’ was put in motion. Which finally unified the kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland. The formation of a new ‘kingdom of great Britain’ opens the gate to the exchange of ideas and combined efforts and new perspectives from both cultures. As a result of innovative art, science, and engineering, Britain was able to participate in the race of industrialization and capture the areas from other words, eventually becoming the largest empire in history. 

With gates open to numerous cultures, ideas, and their wealth alongside the industrial revolution resulted in profound changes in the economical, social and cultural structure of Britain. 

Victorian era (19th century)

This was the era of social and political unrest. The internal politics of the United Kingdom, alongside other leading European countries, was rather unstable. With the increase in the industrial revolution, many changes happened in the architecture as well as social structure. Mass production with the help of machines was perfect enough to reduce the value of individual craftsmen to nothing.

The politically inclined architecture of United Kingdom - Sheet6
Crystal Palace, designed by Joseph Paxton hug._www.britannica.com

 Some individuals John Ruskin, William Morris, tried to reform the pre-industrial manufacturing tectonics. Giving the craftsman, people in similar occupations hope. The people with similar mindsets continued their efforts till the early 20th century.

20th century

The world wars and the rapid changes in the postwar world highlighted drastic changes in the architecture of the United Kingdom. In the initial decades of the 20th century, the United Kingdom didn’t see many prominent changes, unlike other parts of Europe. At the most, neo-Georgian architecture and revival of the renaissance were few highlights of that era. 

After the second world war, there were rapid changes and opportunities in structures. The need for cheap houses rose. 

To ensure the rapid construction use of the concrete, metal structure, and prefabricated elements become popular in the market. Decoration and structural ornamentation become absent for the sake of the speed of mass production. The skyscrapers become a new symbol of prestige. The baton of construction passed from individual architects to the construction groups and companies. By the 1980s, the craze of mass-produced structures and skyscrapers went down. 

The architecture of the United Kingdom today is affected by many elements. Such as rapidly changing technology, way of living, transportations, globalization, etc. The new style is still being discovered. Given the ease of imagination, construction due to technological advancement and the discovery of newer techniques are introducing many possibilities that will define the future of architecture. 

References

Johnson, B. (2019). The UK, Britain, Great Britain, The British Isles, England – what’s the difference? [online] Historic UK. Available at: https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/The-UK-Great-Britain-Whats-the-Difference/. [Accessed 24 Jul. 2021].

Historic UK. (n.d.). The History of England Magazine. [online] Available at: https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/. [Accessed 24 Jul. 2021].

Historic UK. (n.d.). The History of Scotland Magazine. [online] Available at: https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofScotland/  [Accessed 24 Jul. 2021].

Historic UK. (2019). The History of Wales Magazine | Historic UK. [online] Available at: https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofWales/. [Accessed 24 Jul. 2021]

www.bbc.co.uk. (n.d.). BBC – History – A History of British Architecture. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/architecture_01.shtml  [Accessed 24 Jul. 2021]

www.cia.gov. (n.d.). United Kingdom – The World Factbook. [online] Available at: https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/united-kingdom/. [Accessed 24 Jul. 2021].

team, C. (2005). Key facts about the United Kingdom. [online] webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk. Available at: https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20121003003526/http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Governmentcitizensandrights/LivingintheUK/DG_10012517  [Accessed 24 Jul. 2021].

‌Jackson, A. (1965). The Politics of Architecture: English Architecture 1929-1951. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, [online] 24(1), pp.97–107. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/988291  [Accessed 24 Jul. 2021].

Glenn, M. (n.d.). Architecture Demonstrates Power. [online] . Available at: https://scholarship.tricolib.brynmawr.edu/bitstream/handle/10066/714/2003GlennM.pdf?sequence=5. [Accessed 24 Jul. 2021].

Ireland, C.N. (2005). The Pre-modern Architecture of Northern Ireland. [online] Culture Northern Ireland. Available at: https://www.culturenorthernireland.org/features/heritage/pre-modern-architecture-northern-ireland  [Accessed 24 Jul. 2021].

‌www.webcitation.org. (n.d.). WebCite query result. [online] Available at: https://www.webcitation.org/5kwQOJDjl?url=http://uk.encarta.msn.com/encnet/refpages/RefArticle.aspx?refid=781533633&pn=2  [Accessed 24 Jul. 2021].

Author

Gargi is an Architect by degree and a tinker by heart. As a recent graduate, she is yet to find out what alley of architecture she would like to explore further in her life. Writing is a tool for her to analyze and discuss her exploration.

Write A Comment