Is there a golden age of British architecture?

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22 December
11:42
December
2016

No, I don't think there is. Or, rather, there are number of different golden ages of British architecture.

The Georgian period is perhaps the most celebrated, because there is a permanence about Georgian architecture that many earlier domestic buildings lacked. That permanence, and the sheer number of homes built in that period in our towns, give those buildings a powerful stylistic unity. Also, you have to admire the ambition of Georgian architects.

An aerial view of Bath's Royal Crescent

If you go to Bath, and you see the very grand end of Georgian design, it’s breathtaking to have so much unified architecture in one place. I also think that unlike, say, stately homes and cathedrals, the houses of the Georgian period still make sense to us now. In terms of the proportions and the size of the windows these elements have lasted extremely well, and for a lot of people that is THE golden age of British architecture.

But there are many more. There's a fantastic moment at the end of the 19th Century, when Victorian architecture goes completely bonkers, and you suddenly get these enormously grand structures like the Midlands Hotel at King’s Cross in London, these grand neo-gothic excesses. Those buildings are very exciting and because they’re so over-the-top and exhausting, they feel like the final flourish of Victoria's era, of Empire, of a lost age.

The St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel – originally George Gilbert Scott's Midland Grand Hotel [image: LepoRello (Wikipedia)]. Spice Girls not pictured.

In the 30s, 40s and 50s, late Victorian architecture was seen as this awful joke that needed to be eradicated. It was a slow process for people to come around to it. Instead, Art Deco and Modernism were the dominant styles of the day, two more golden ages.

I also think that post-war architecture represents a really fantastic period of our history and a really lovely spirit of generosity and excitement. It would be awful if we lost those landmarks because they say so much about who we are as a modern nation in a really positive way.

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