Victorian Architecture: The History of the Style and Characteristics

Victorian architecture is the building style that emerged during the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837-1901. It encompasses many designs, including, Gothic Revival, Queen Anne Revival, Romanesque Revival, and Second Empire.

The decorative style of Victorian architecture was a reaction to the symmetrical and simple designs of Neoclassical and Georgian structures. Architects also had more freedom and resources due to the Industrial Revolution.

Historians named Victorian architecture after the British Queen Victoria, but it became an international style with representation in every part of the world.

Rise of Victorian Architecture

Victorian Architecture

Queen Victoria was a long-reigning monarch of England. The craft of architecture developed more under her era than in any previous period. Still, architects didn’t limit the structures of the Victorian age to one specific style. Instead, they were free to experiment.

Some of the most popular types of Victorian-style architecture include Gothic Revival, Tudor Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Romanesque Revival, and Second Empire. Experts characterize these styles by their ornamentation, grandeur, and elaborate detailing.

The Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century brought about significant economic prosperity. This prosperity enabled a growing middle class and created the demand for more housing and municipal development.

Manufacturers developed new materials due to the Industrial Revolution, including steel, glass, and iron products. Architects utilized these robust and durable materials to create large multi-story buildings.

The mass production of the assembly line allowed for standardizing products like tiles, brick, and plaster. Standardization and mass production allowed architects to produce large building complexes and helped to popularize Victorian architectural styles.

Victorian Style House Architecture

Victorian-style house is one of the most diverse as it includes various styles. Most of these styles feature decorative detailing and large buildings.

Gothic Revival

Medieval architecture and a new interest in Anglo-Catholic theology inspired the Architects of the Gothic Revival or Neo-Gothic style.

Gothic Revival architecture incorporates spires, pointed arches, stoned glass, and delicate tracery work. One of the most famous architects of Victorian Gothic architecture was Augustus Pugin. He and Charles Barry designed the Gothic Revival Palace of Westminster in London.

Tudor Revival

Tudor Revival architecture first appeared in England in the 1860s. Experts consider the development of the Tudor Revival as a reaction against the ornate style of the Gothic Revival.

Tudor Revival buildings have exterior details popular from the Elizabethan Age. These details include half-timbering, herringbone brickwork, tall mullioned windows, dormer windows, and thatched roofs.

One prominent Tudor Revival architect was Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott. He developed his architectural style focused on simplicity and craftsmanship. His style later developed in the early Arts and Crafts style.


Victorian Italianate Architecture

The Italianate architectural style appeared in Britain in 1802 with the creation of Cronkill, designed by John Nash. Historians consider the Victorian Italianate style to have developed from this point and later by Charles Barry in the 1830s.

Italianate style, characterized by low-pitched or flat roofs, projecting eaves supported by corbels, and pedimented windows and doors, became popular in the United States in the 1840s. Architect, Alexander Jackson Davis, popularized this style as an alternative to Gothic and Greek Revival styles.

Queen Anne

Queen Anne, or British Queen Anne Revival, was popular as a Victorian style in the last quarter of the 19th century. It maintained a strong following until the first quarter of the 20th century.

Architects used Queen Anne Revival architecture in England for buildings of modest size but rarely for large-scale buildings like churches. Queen Anne architecture was a beloved style in the United States. Architects used Queen Anne style for buildings of all sizes.

The characteristics that signify Queen Anne architecture are asymmetrical facades, front-facing gable, diverse wall textures, bay windows, spindlework, and prominent chimneys.

Romanesque Revival

Romanesque architecture was a Victorian style popular in Britain and the United States. It features rounded arches, short and thick pillars, stone facades, asymmetrical facades, and barrel vaults.

Henry Hobson Richardson is the most prominent architect of this design period in the United States. Some experts refer to his designs as Richardson Romanesque.

Second Empire

Second Empire architecture was popular in the later half of the Victorian age from 1865-1900. This style first appeared in France and Germany in the 18th and 19th centuries. Experts characterize this style by the use of the mansard roofline.

Second Empire style gained popularity due to the Haussmann renovation of Paris in the 1850s and the reconstruction of the Louvre. French-born architect Detlef Lienau emigrated to the United States in 1848 and designed the first Second Empire house. After the Civil War, this style rose to greater prominence.

Victorian Architecture Characteristics

Victorian architecture has decorative and ornate elements, but each structure may look different depending on its specific style.

Exterior Features

  • Ornamental details that provide decoration to the exterior, like, intricate patterns and carvings that vary with the type of Victorian design
  • Asymmetrical facades with a variety of shapes and sizes for windows and doors
  • Steeply pitched roofs with dormers and towers
  • Mix of material on the outer facade, including wood, stone, brick, and iron
  • A grand scale for houses and buildings
  • Colorful exteriors
  • Porches and verandas
  • Bay windows

Interior Features

  • Ornate plasterwork on the ceilings and walls
  • High ceilings to create grandeur
  • Stained glass in key areas like entries and stairways
  • Fireplaces as a focal point to provide warmth and decoration
  • Built-in cabinets and seating
  • Parquet flooring with decorative detailing
  • Pocket doors to save space and create open floor plans when needed
  • Grand and sweeping staircases to connect floors and provide elegance in the front rooms

Notable Examples of Victorian Architecture

Here’s a look at some famous examples of Victorian Architecture.

Palace of Westminster in London, England

Palace of Westminster in London, England

Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin designed the Palace of Westminster in a Perpendicular Gothic style.

The architects used sand-colored Anston limestone, but because of decay, they replaced the stone with honey-colored Rutland limestone. The replacement began in the 1930s, but the government halted the building project because of the world wars. They did not complete it until 1994.

Sydney Town Hall in Sydney, Australia

Victorian Architecture

Architects designed the Sydney Town Hall in the Second Empire style. They created the design based on the Second Empire Hotel de Ville in Paris. The hall has a high Victorian interior on the first floor with marbled surfaces and tinted plasterwork. The growing interest in the Aesthetic movement inspired the design of the second floor, which is less ornate.

St. Andrews Church in Kowloon, Hong Kong

St. Andrews Church in Kowloon, Hong Kong

Leigh & Orange, Ltd, an international architecture firm founded in Hong Kong, designed St. Andrews Church. They created this church in the Victorian Gothic style. They used red brick and granite for the exterior facade. It has a stained glass window designed by William Morris & Co. with other stained glass in the Art Nouveau style.

Samuel Cupples House

Victorian Architecture

The Samuel Cupples House sits on the campus of St. Louis University. Wealthy entrepreneur, Samuel Cupples, commissioned this Victorian-style house.

Thomas B. Annan designed the home with a Romanesque Revival style. It has rounded arches, short and wide columns, a red stone-like exterior, and tower projections. St. Louis University bought the house and commissioned its restoration in 1973. It is now a museum.

Impact of Victorian-Style Architecture

Victorian architecture is one of the most important architectural styles because of its impact on society and culture. Architects utilized the Victorian architecture style for many important building projects for the growing middle class.

The style reflects confidence in experimenting with new ornamentation and materials.