Development and Characteristics of Gothic Revival Architecture

Gothic Revival architecture developed in the mid-18th century in England and spread throughout the world. Gothic Revival architecture, also known as Neo-Gothic, was based on medieval and Renaissance styles.

The Neo-Gothic style fell out of favor in the early 1890s with the rise of the Arts and Crafts movements and early Modernism.

The Inspiration for Gothic Revival Architecture

Gothic Revival Architecture
Gothic Revival Sint-Petrus-en-Pauluskerk – Ostend, Belgium

Interest in the Gothic Revival style resulted from religious and social pressures in England during the mid-18th century. Fear of new machinery and non-conformist religious movements were prevalent. These fears helped develop Gothic Revival style, which was an ode to the past.

Early inspiration for Gothic Revival included interest in the romantic ideals of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. These ideals related to chivalry and devotion to duty.

The key architectural features of Gothic Revival include window tracery, stained glass, lancet windows, finial details, decorative woodwork, hood molds, religious imagery, and tower projections.

Development of Gothic Revival Architecture

Popular examples of Gothic Revival architecture include castles and cathedrals from the mid to late 1700s. These elements became more defined with the publication of an article by Thomas Rickman in 1817 called Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of English Architecture.

The article was still being published, reprinted, and read by 1881. It helped popularize the Gothic Revival architectural style in commercial and residential buildings.

By 1820, architects incorporated Gothic elements in large buildings and estates for the wealthy.

One of the early idealists for the Gothic style was Horace Walpole. He transformed his cottage into a mansion called Strawberry Hill -one of the first examples of Gothic Revival architecture.

Other prominent examples of Neo-Gothic architecture in England were the buildings of Parliament and the campuses of Oxford and Cambridge universities. The style was also called Gothic Victorian architecture, one of the popular architectural types of the Victorian era.

Gothic Revival Architecture in the United States

Alexander Jackson Davis. It was called Glen Ellen.

The first residential Gothic Revival architecture in the United States was a home designed in 1832 by Alexander Jackson Davis. It was called Glen Ellen. Davis was a prominent architect and published books promoting the Gothic Revival style. His ideas and designs gained popularity throughout the United States for churches and homes.

Many of the first examples of Revival Gothic Architecture in the United States used stone. Architects relied on stone because it echoes the same look of medieval European castles.

Later, builders began using materials like brick and wood as the Neo-Gothic look became more popular.

More people were adopting Gothic Revival designs for their homes, but many of these examples are rustic and simple in execution. Experts call the new genre Carpenter Gothic or Rural Gothic, popular from the 1840s-1860s, lasting in the West through the 1890s.

Architects continued to use Carpenter Gothic designs for church buildings until the 1940s

Even after the ideas of Neo-Gothic architecture fell out of fashion, the style remained popular for schools, colleges, and universities throughout the United States. The style was an effort to create the look of age and history. It’s also known as “Collegiate Gothic” and is prominent in universities such as Bryn Mawr, Princeton, and the University of Chicago.

Gothic Revival Architectural Elements

Gothic revival architecture looks different depending on the type of building.

It is typical for grand examples, like castles and cathedrals, to have all the high Gothic elements. These buildings are distinct from wooden buildings like country churches and homes with a modified Neo-Gothic look.

Architectural Features for High Gothic Revival Structures

  • Masonry or stone construction
  • Use of patterns in brickwork and/or multi-colored stones
  • The emphasis of strong vertical lines to draw the eye upwards
  • High-pitched roofline with vaulted ceilings
  • Use of Pinnacles
  • Stone carvings featuring birds and flowers
  • Grouped chimneys
  • Use of pointed arch windows and doors
  • Use of Gothic motifs like arches, quatrefoil, and trefoil designs
  • Leaded, diamond-paned, and stained glass windows
  • Delicate tracery on windows and ceilings
  • Rich color and medieval motifs in interior spaces

Architectural Features for Carpenter Gothic Structures

  • High-pitched roofline with gables
  • Use of pointed arch windows and/or doors
  • Bargeboards of sawn wood at the eaves with decorative scrollwork
  • Carved or turned porch posts
  • Board and batten siding

What is the Difference Between Gothic and Gothic Revival Architecture?

Architects based Gothic Revival architecture on the earlier Gothic form, which flourished from the 12-16th century. There are many similarities between the two, but because the building types are different, the manifestations of the styles are distinct.

Cathedrals and castles are the primary examples of Gothic architecture. They feature flying buttresses to spread the weight and allow for soaring vaulted ceilings, rib vaults, pointed arch windows, elaborate window and ceiling tracery, and stained glass windows.

Some Gothic Revival structures built in the grand style have many of the same features. Yet, most Gothic Revival homes in the United States feature Carpenter Gothic or Rural Gothic forms, which echo rather than replicate the earlier Gothic architectural style.