Understanding Gothic Revival Architecture

Some architectural styles should never change. That’s likely what many builders thought in the early 1800s when Gothic architecture was rediscovered. With its tall, looming lines and intricate facades, the style was as relevant and attractive then as it was in its original period. Many Gothic Revival structures throughout the united states have been carefully preserved, and new examples are always celebrated. 

The Beginning of Gothic and Gothic Revival Architecture 

Gothic and Gothic Revival architecture is always easy to identify. The design elements and the inspiration comes from the medieval ages and the architecture seen in that time period. This was due to the romantic revolution and the literary that surrounded it. Specifically, Sir Walter Scott created a sense of nostalgia when writing about medieval times. When we reflect on the early beginnings of Gothic architectural elements, Strawberry Hill is what comes to mind as it was one of the first buildings to have this style incorporated. Many that had their churches or homes built with this style were wealthy and could afford such a luxury.  

Buildings of this style often have high pitched roofs or spires, tall, narrow windows coming to a point at the top, exposed wood structural beams, and cross-hatched decorative patterns. Because of its defining characteristics, many people have the misconception that all gothic buildings are tall and narrow, such as The Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. This is not always the case, Gothic architecture comes in all shapes and sizes with the same end result in mind.

Some of the best examples of the style are square or rectangular structures such as the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and the Saint Clotilde Basilica in Paris. The Gothic tradition in these buildings is as apparent as anywhere else. Gothic skyscrapers built in the late 19th and early 20th century (particularly in New York City) may be responsible for the style’s most common interpretation. 

Gothic Architecture Spreads

Gothic architecture is widely accepted to have begun in the 12th century with the Basilique Saint-Denis in Paris, where nearly all of the country’s monarchs were buried. The style quickly spread across Europe and was developed over several centuries, with the last high profile example being the Chapel at Westminster, built by Henry VII in the early 16th century. 

Gothic architecture never died out completely, but resurfaced less frequently between the 16th and 19th centuries, while post-renaissance styles were popularized. The literature of the 19th century helped revive interest in the middle ages. Authors like Horace Walpole began to celebrate the period in their work. 

The Gothic Revival was in full swing by the early 19th century and came to America in the 1830s. While the style re-emerged largely unchanged, it was now being applied to smaller structures like homes and commercial buildings, as well as in traditional settings. Gothic revival architecture remained popular in the U.S. until the 1870s, although, again, it never vanished completely. Aspects of the Art Nouveau style of the 1930s can be traced to Gothic and Gothic Revival architecture, and occasionally a gifted architect can channel the original style in all its unmistakable stark beauty.

Gothic and Gothic Revival architecture was an intricate building design that spread quickly throughout the world. With their carved stone and beautiful layers, it’s hard not to see why it became so popular. The history that surrounds Gothic and Gothic Revival Architecture is rich and holds many stories that are of value. Looking at these priceless monuments of history shows just how far the modernization of institutions crept up on society.

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