19th Century Architecture
Characteristics, History, Styles, Skyscraper Design, Famous Buildings.

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Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor.
The world's most famous statue.
Dedicated 1886, and designed by
Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. Its
pedestal, by Richard Morris Hunt
has elements of neoclassical Greek
architecture, such as Doric portals,
but the whole is carefully designed
so as not to divert attention from
the statue itself.

Architecture: 19th Century


Characteristics and History
The Battle of the Styles
Engineering Architecture
Skyscraper Architecture
Housing Design
Famous 19th Century Buildings and Architects

19th-century architecture was greatly influenced by earlier architectural movements and foreign, exotic styles, which were adapted to the new technologies of the early modern age. The revivals of Greek, Gothic, and Renaissance designs were fused with contemporary engineering methods and materials. In the Western world, Historicism idealized past empires and cultures, and used motifs inspired by them to stimulate national nostalgia. The main types of nineteenth century architectural styles included: Greek Revival (1800-1900); Gothic Revival (1810-1900) - see English Gothic architecture - Neo-Renaissance and Richardson Romanesque (1840-1880); Second Empire (1850-1880); Exoticism (1800-1900); Industrial architecture (1850-1900); Skyscraper design (1885-1900). See: Design (1850-1970).

Staircase in Emile Tassel House,
Brussels. (1893-7)
Designed by Victor Horta, one
of the greatest architects in
the Art Nouveau style.

For a brief guide to design
and architectural jargon,
see: Architecture Glossary.

For details of art movements
and styles, see: History of Art.

For a guide, see: Definition of Art.

Characteristics and History

Two principal characteristics distinguish 19th-century architecture; the use of a variety of historical styles and the development of new materials and structural methods.

The first arose from the 19th century architect's perception that he had to continue in the traditional styles of their predecessors. Elements of these earlier styles were put together to give an air of authority to town halls (Birmingham), railway stations (Euston, London), opera houses (Paris Opera) and legislatures (Houses of Parliament, London). Restraints of taste and careful application of Classical standards, which had characterised the 18th century, gave way to a variety of styles which could be either quaint, bombastic or severe and generally, to modern eyes, of great curiosity.

The second characteristic emerged from the development of new materials as a result of the new industrial needs. In building, new forms - factories, warehouses, railway terminals, administrative centres, hospitals - were demanded. In the mid years of the century, cast iron was used structurally in large buildings such as warehouses and libraries. The Crystal Palace, designed by Joseph Paxton for the 1851 International Exhibition in London, provided a spectacular example of the possibilities of cast iron and glass that had worldwide publicity. The new ferrous building materials were made to conform to the taste for Classical, medieval or other exotic styles (Brighton Pavilion); for example the glass and iron vault for Paddington Station by Brunel and Wyatt was supported on 'Gothic' columns. In 1889 Gustav Eiffel designed the exhibition tower for Paris which bears his name and provided the same form of publicity for the new material - steel.

In America, late 18th century architecture and early 19th century building designs were typically based on Roman or Greek architecture - known as 'Federal style' or 'Greek Revival'. Exponents included Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), William Thornton (1759-1828), James Hoban (1762-1831), Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844) and Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820). Later came a revival of Gothic architecture, led by designers such as Richard Upjohn (1802-78), Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-52) and James Renwick (1818-95). Romanesque was represented by Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-86), and Renaissance by Richard Morris Hunt (1827-95), while the versatile Charles Follen McKim (1847-1909) produced a range of different designs.



The Battle of the Styles

Whilst the architect, mainly employed by cultured clients with Classical tastes, had no doubt that 'Classical' was the right form of architecture, the architects of the 19th century had no such certainty - nor the clients with the same formed tastes. They were also designing for an aggressively changing society which was often deplored by sensitive and influential critics like John Ruskin (1819-1900). Two main possibilities confronted them; the old and tested Classical style of Greek art or the medieval Christian style - virtuous, worthy and romantic. Both had powerful propagandists.

Augustus Welby Pugin, for instance, having concluded that the medieval was the last 'moral' style and architecture was either good or bad, wrote for and designed in 'Gothic' forms (his book Contrasts is a comparison of Classical and medieval buildings always to the detriment of the Classical). The Classical view was that the only true forms for a modern society were the worldly and civilised Classical columns and pediments.

Battle was joined between the two factions and the early era of Victorian architecture was filled with triumphs for one or the other. In Britain, Pugin scored a great victory with the Houses of Parliament, in France, Viollet le Duc patched, restored and wrote with great medievalist vigour. In France, Garnier designed the Paris Opera (1861-9) and George Gilbert Scott in London designed Classical buildings like the Foreign Office (1861). There never was a result to the battle - indeed it still continues as an opposition of taste.


Engineering Architecture

While the battle of styles was engaging the energies of the architects, great changes were being introduced in industry. Mass production became possible in glass, iron and later steel. The machine tool industry introduced a precision in manufacture which, when applied to building, enabled the erection of large and safe structures built from uniform components. The demands for factories, storage and transport led to new types of utility buildings in manufacturing cities and ports. The railways needed stations, great bridges and viaducts. The architects were hardly by training equipped to supply the design demand - except perhaps to suggest a style - and the engineer-builder appeared to answer the need. Telford's Katherine Dock warehouses in London, and the Marshall Field Warehouse in Chicago, by Richardson are early and late examples of storage design whilst the London rail termini provide a range of solutions from the Doric portico of Euston (1838) designed by the architect Philip Hardwick to the plain brick arch frontage of Kings Cross station by Thomas Cubit.

For the same exhibition in Paris for which Eiffel built his tower, in 1889, two engineers designed the Galeries des Machines, the largest free span then attempted, and rested it on rocker pads which gives the appearance of lightness to the large and heavy structure - a purely engineering solution. Near Milan Cathedral, the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele was built to rival in height the Cathedral's nave in glass and cast iron. At the end of the century the Amsterdam Bourse (Stock Exchange) was built by Berlage in brick, steel and glass in an undecorated bare functional style which heralds the new architecture of the 20th century perhaps more than any of the Classical or medieval examples resulting from the battle of styles.

Skyscraper Architecture

During the second half of the 19th century in the United States, it was the possibilities of cast iron and steel in the building of multi-storey unit constructions that were most effectively exploited. After the installation of the first safety elevator by Otis, it became possible to use as well as build tall buildings. Skyscraper architecture was first seen in New York, but the genre was mastered by the Chicago School of architecture during the late 1880s and 1890s, thanks to pioneer architects such as William Le Baron Jenney (1832-1907), Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912), Dankmar Adler (1844-1900), Louis Sullivan (1856-1924), Cass Gilbert (1859-1934). For more US designers, see: American Architects (1700-2000).

Richard Upjohn's Trinity Church (1841-6), now dwarfed by the skyscrapers of New York's Wall Street, soared above its surroundings when it was built and symbolises the defeat of the styles by the growth of vertical architecture, which came to dominate the American urban environment. The name "skyscraper" was first applied in the late 19th century to buildings of steel framed construction that were at least 10 storeys high. Later, the Emporis Standards Committee defined a high-rise building as a multi-storey structure (100-300 feet high), or a building of 12-39 floors; it defined a skyscraper as a multi-storey building with an architectural height of at least 330 ft. See also: American Architecture (1600-present).

Chicago's Home Insurance Building (designed by William Le Baron Jenney) was the first steel-frame skyscraper in 1885, with a height of 138 feet, though some claim New York's seven-storey Equitable Life Assurance Building, erected in 1870 takes the title due to its innovative use of a skeletal frame. Another early skyscraper was Burnham and Root's Rand McNally Building (1889), the first all-steel framed high-rise, as was Louis Sullivan's Carson Pirie Scott Store (1899). New materials, concentration of population in new fast growing urban areas, particularly Chicago and New York in the mid-19th century, solid rock foundations, available capital and such inventions as the elevator resulted in the growth upwards of American city buildings. The engineers provided the means and the architects, taking over, exploited them. The first design, not executed, for a real skyscraper of 28 storeys in Chicago by L. S. Buffington in 1887 preceded Louis Sullivan's Wainwright (1890) and Guaranty (1896) buildings by only a few years. Sullivan's buildings were however much ahead of Buffington's and indeed later scrapers such as Cass Gilbert's Woolworth Building (1934) in showing the way in which scraper architecture design was to go. Sullivan's vertical emphasis through the load-bearing columns became the later theme rather than the attempt to extend vertically an historically based design - for example a vertical Italian palazzo.

By the end of the century, the American Surety Building, designed by Bruce Price and completed in 1896, gave New York the title of tallest building for many years. For a wider perspective on the arts and culture of America, see also: American Art (1750-present).

Housing Design

During the century great changes occurred in the provision of dwellings. Housing for workers had been previously of the cottage type designed locally by masons and carpenters without architects or plans. The newly rising middle classes, merchants and manufacturers, business and professional men had only the great houses of the landed gentry to copy or envy. There was no housing for industrial city workers - a new breed. In the cities too, the merchant's clerks and other than manual workers came to live to be with their work. A complex class structure, particularly in Britain, developed. In the United States the same effect came out of money-conscious and race-conscious distinctions. The outcome was a new variety and quality in domestic building. All ranges of taste, cost, social level and convenience of location were variously catered for. Before the 19th century, architecture was for the better off, building for the workers - with successful and satisfying solutions in each category: during the 19th century the two were fused into a new great industry - building homes. (See also Biedermeier Style c.1810-60.)

At the most deplorable end were the jerry-built slums of the world's great cities. The pretentiousness of much of the middle-class housing is reflected in the proliferations of styles on pompous facades but during the century there was much serious consideration of the needs of housing, especially through the Arts and Crafts movement and the social revolutions that were heralded during the middle years of the century. Before the end of the century Philip Webb, Norman Shaw and C. F. W. Voysey had produced a new domestic architecture in England, while in America H. H. Richardson was introducing a style that Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) exploited in Oak Park, Chicago. For more about the European avant-garde designers, see: Bauhaus Design School (1919-33) and the Dutch De Stijl group organized by Theo van Doesburg.

Famous 19th Century Buildings and Architects

Here is a short selection of some of the most innovative architectural designs of the nineteenth century, not mentioned above, along with the architects who created them.


Nassau Hall, Princeton (1802)
Designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe.
A mixture of Greek and Gothic features. Oldest building at Princeton University.

Baltimore Basilica (1806-21)
Designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe.
Neoclassical. The first Roman Catholic Cathedral in the United States.

Downing College, Cambridge (1807-20)
Designed by William Wilkins.
Greek Revival style of architecture, with Greek columns.


Royal Pavilion, Brighton (1815-23)
Designed by John Nash (1752-1835).
Moorish Revival style of Exoticism architecture, with onion domes.

Konzerthaus on Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin (1819-21)
Designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel.
Greek Revival style based on the designs of the Parthenon, and Hellenistic architecture.


Tegel Palace, Berlin (1821-24)
Designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel.
Neoclassical style building and gardens.

Rotunda, University of Virginia, Charlottesville (1822-26)
Designed by Thomas Jefferson.
Neoclassical style of architecture.

Altes Museum, Berlin (1823-30)
Designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel.
A neoclassical loggia which overlooks the Lustgarten (pleasure garden).

British Museum, London (1823-57)
Designed by Sir Robert Smirke.
Neoclassical architecture incorporating the Classical orders into its design.



National Gallery, London (1832-38)
Designed by William Wilkins.
Neoclassical Greek Architecture with dome and columns.

Houses of Parliament, London (1839-52)
Designed by Sir Charles Barry.
Gothic architecture with Italian ground plan.


Bibliotheque Sainte 'Genevieve, Paris (1845-50)
Designed by Henri Labrouste.
First nonutilitarian building to show exposed metalwork.

Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC (1847-55)
Designed by James Renwick.
Known as "The Castle". Gothic Revival, with Romanesque elements, turrets and arches.


Crystal Palace, London (1851)
Designed by Joseph Paxton.
Industrial Architecture: 300,000 panes of glass on wrought-iron framework.
Originally erected in Hyde Park before being moved to Penge Common.

Urban Reconstruction of Paris (1852-70)
Designed by Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann, under Napoleon III.
Wider, straighter, longer boulevards/avenues; slum clearance.

Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris (1854-75)
Designed by Henri Labrouste.
Industrial cast-iron construction.

St Patrick's Cathedral, New York (1858-79)
Designed by James Renwick.
Decorated Gothic style, inspired by the cathedrals of Cologne, Reims and Westminster Abbey.

Chateau de Pierrefonds, Oise, France (1858-85)
Designed by Eugene Viollet-le-Duc (1814-79).
Medieval style of architecture with Gothic Revival interior.


Paris Opera, Exterior and Interior (1860-75)
Designed by Charles Garnier.
Baroque architecture meets Ecole des Beaux-Arts, with Neo-Gothic details.

Prince Albert Memorial, Hyde Park, London (1864-76)
Designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. Sculpted by Henry Armstead, John Bell.
Ciborium form of a Gothic shrine, with pink/grey granite columns.

St Pancras Station, London (1868-74)
Designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott.
Gothic Revival style with red brick facade.
Victorian art at its most typical.

Semper Opera House, Dresden (1869-78)
Designed by Gottfried Semper.
Baroque Revival style of architecture, skyline sculptures.


Philadelphia City Hall (1871-1880)
Designed by John McAuther Jr.
Second Empire style. Tallest occupied masonry building in the United States.

Executive Office Building, Washington DC (1871-1888)
Designed by Alfred B. Mullet.
Built from cast iron, granite and slate.

Trinity Church, Boston (1872-77)
Designed by Henry Hobson Richardson.
Exemplifies Richardson Romanesque style; layout based on Greek cross.


Monte Carlo Casino (1880-85)
Designed by Charles Garnier.
Neo-Baroque style of architecture.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (1883)
Designed by Antoni Gaudi.
Art Nouveau style of Gothic architecture!

Eiffel Tower, Paris (1885-89)
Designed by Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) and Stephen Sauvestre.
Industrial Architecture: Giant viaduct pylon, prefabricated iron girders.

Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor (dedicated 1886)
Designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi.
Consists of Female figure of Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, who holds a torch and a tablet evoking the law, with the date (July 4, 1776) of the American Declaration of Independence.

Palais Wagner, Vienna (1889-91)
Designed by Otto Wagner.
Vienna Secession style of architecture, combining delicate metalwork with ornament.

Palacio Episcopal, Leon, Spain (1889-93)
Designed by Antoni Gaudi.
Art Nouveau style of architecture.

The Galerie des Machines, Paris (1889)
Designed by Ferdinand Dutert and Victor Contamin.
Industrial Architecture: Metal/glass hall, with three-hinged arch structure.

Carson Pirie Scott Department Store, Chicago (1899-1904)
Designed by Louis Sullivan.
Foreshadowed the uniform grid designs of Modernist architecture.


Wainwright Building, St Louis (1890-91)
Designed by Louis Sullivan.
Based on a grid of pronounced structural verticals.

Second Leiter Building, Chicago (1890-91)
Designed by William le Baron Genney.
Steel-frame construction: metal frame draped in a light masonry curtain wall.

Reliance Building, Chicago (1890-95)
Designed by Daniel Burnham and Charles Atwood.
Steel-frame construction: a wall of glass and white terracotta.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (1890-1902)
Designed by Richard Morris Hunt.
Renaissance Revival style with Victorian limestone facade.

Guaranty Building, Buffalo, New York (1894-5)
Designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler.
Cladding with steel structure.

Hotel van Eetvelde, Brussels (1895-98)
Designed by Victor Horta.
Art Nouveau style of architecture; creative use of stained glass and iron.

House of the Viennese Sezession, Vienna (1897-98)
Designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich.
Functional building, with geometric forms, decorated with ornamental friezes. See also: Jugendstil (1890s-1914)

Majolika House, Vienna (1898)
Designed by Otto Wagner.
Vienna Secession style of architecture, with ceramic art facade.

Metro Station at Porte Dauphine, Paris (1899)
Designed by Hector Guimard (1867-1942).
Art Nouveau style of architecture.

Flatiron Building (Fuller Building) New York (1901-03)
Designed by Daniel Burnham.
Steel-frame construction.

See also: Nineteenth Century Sculptors.

20th Century Building Design

For details, see: 20th-Century Architecture (1900-2000). For an influential group of modernist architects, see: Second Chicago School of Architecture (c.1940-75), led by ex-Bauhaus director Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969).

• For a chronological guide to modern architecture, see: History of Art Timeline.
• For more about architectural designwork, see: Homepage.

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