During the 1640’s and 50’s the Civil War saw many English gentlemen and nobles escape the fighting and/or to follow Charles the 11 into exile on the Continent. There they saw the buildings of the French, Dutch and Italian architects. When Charles took back the throne in 1660, and royalists reclaimed their property, the latest continental styles were reflected in the new build and the restorations.
Baroque drew on the wealth and power of the Italian courts and blended secular and religious forces. In its initial stages it was directly linked to the Counter-Reformation. The British Baroque was an absolute reassertion of authority, built by men who knew a world turned upside down by Civil War. The Queens House Greenwich, is a fabulous example of Baroque and was built by Inigo Jones. St Paul’s Cathedral in London is one of the most perfect expressions of this type of architecture, it was designed by Christopher Wren to replace the old cathedral which was devastated by the Great Fire of London in 1666. Blenheim Palace although built in the 18th century, lies in the ideology of the 17th century, it was designed by John Vanbrugh.
A new style of architecture was thought to be needed for a new age, a style worthy of the ruling classes. The solution was found in antiquity. The 16th century Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-80), provided the inspiration for the early Georgian build. Georgian architecture is the name given in most English speaking countries to the set of architectural designs between 1714-1830. Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture methodically explored and reconstructed the buildings of ancient Rome. However, architects soon found the search for an ideal limiting. Robert Adams the 18th century’s most sought after architect stated that “Rules often cramp the genius and circumscribe the idea of the master”. The style of Georgian buildings is very variable, but is easily recognised by its symmetry and proportion. Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire was one of the most consistently praised of all Georgian houses. By the end of the 18th century the idea of a single style of house was out of vogue.
During the early 19th century, medieval Gothic revival style was developed, seen as a reactionary move against the symmetry of Palladianism. Crystal Palace, designed by Joseph Paxton to house the Great Exhibition of 1851 embraced new industrial processes. As a result of new technology, (for example, incorporating steel as a building component), mass production was enabled. This resulted in the individual craftsman no longer having a major role in the building process. Reformers like John Ruskin and William Morris made concerted efforts to return to handmade-crafted, pre-industrial manufacturing techniques, producing The Arts and Crafts movement.
Richard Norman Shaw was an enthusiast for using local materials and traditional building crafts, producing a series of influential country houses in the “Old English Style” and then developing the Queen Anne Style for town and country.
Only a handful of Modern Movement buildings were produced in the 1920’s and 30’s, mostly the work of foreign architects, such as Serge Chermayeff, Berthold Lubetkin and Erno Goldfinger who all settled in Britain.
After the Second World War the mood of the country changed. Post-war Britain saw reconstruction under Attlee’s Labour government begin. There was a need for cheap housing to be produced quickly. Pre-fabricated and metal frames, concrete cladding and plain undecorated exteriors which the modernist abroad embraced, were to varying degrees used for housing developments and schools. Local authorities were tasked with rebuilding city centres, which represented a shift away from the private sector.
Local authorities, and national and multinational builders have dominated British architecture in more recent times. Post modernism still appears to be the order of the day.