Beyond the Classical

  Side View of Inveraray Castle © Tobias Glitsch  

Beyond the Classical. The Origins of Stylistic Pluralism in Great Britain


When Western architecture had been derived more or less directly from the precedent of Roman antiquity, from the second half of the 18th century onward, interest in other historical styles of architecture gradually reawakened throughout Europe. A pioneering role in this development was played by Great Britain, where even during this period, the memory of the Gothic was still comparatively vivid. At the time, a long-established antiquarian movement, a lively discourse on art among dilettantes, an unusually close contact with non-European cultures via the Empire confluenced. Moreover, a particularly profound set of technological, economic, and social changes triggered by early industrialization had created an intellectual climate in which the efforts to expand the architectural canon fell on particularly fertile ground.

The project will use the British case to examine and re-evaluate the processes and underlying conditions which led to the rediscovery of additional stylistic traditions. Therefore, part of the task will also be to determine where the classical ideal ultimately lost its universal appeal.

In a series of consecutive sub-investigations, ranging from Wren's and Hawksmoor's additions to earlier ensembles, Vanbrugh's 'castle air', Miller's, Walpole's and Langley's Rococo Gothic and Wyatt's medieval fantasies all the way to the controversies surrounding the restoration of the great cathedrals and the buildings of Pugin, the research will on the one hand look at key stages on the way to the full-blown Gothic Revival. On the other hand, however, the analysis will also explore the new-found fascination with Greek architecture brought about by the expeditions of Stuart and Revett, the exoticism of buildings such as Sezincote, the Royal Pavilion, and the Kew Pagoda, or the influence of cast iron as a newly available material. Ultimately, the survey will end with the architecture of Alexander 'Greek' Thomson, which demonstrates how, by using non-classical principles of composition, it became possible to generate, even from traditional elements, surprisingly novel overall solutions that pointed far towards the future.

In this way, the study will shed light on a development that was to shape 19th-century discussions on typology and style far beyond Britain, and thus also proves fundamental to the understanding of European architecture as a whole.



Dr.-Ing. Tobias Glitsch