Architecture of the United Kingdom

The architecture of the United Kingdom has a long and diverse history from beyond Stonehenge to the designs of Norman Foster and the present day. Below are listed some architects and examples of their work typical of the era in which they were created. The evolution of British architecture can be traced through these buildings.

Pre-Roman architecture

The earliest known examples of architecture in the United Kingdom are the many neolithic monuments such as those at Stonehenge and Avebury.

Roman architecture

The earliest domestic architecture is that bequeathed to the country by the Romans, who occupied Britain from 43 until 406. The Romans built the first cities and towns, which included Chester, St. Albans, London and Bath. Many fine examples of Roman architecture remain: of special note are the ruins of the spa in Bath. Following the Roman's departure architecture seems to have regressed and little remains of the period immediately after the Roman withdrawal.

Anglo-Saxon architecture

Following the battle of Mons Badonicus in 500, and the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon period a few isolated examples of architecture begin to appear; most notably some Saxon churches such as those at Stewkley and Wing both in Buckinghamshire.

Medieval architecture

Defensive architecture

After the Norman invasion of 1066, more consistent forms of design began to regularly appear. William I and his law lords built numerous castles and garrisons to uphold their authority. Often these were built initially of wood, speed of erection being of greater concern than design or appearance; the best-known of these is the Tower of London. However during the following two centuries of the Norman period further and even larger castles such as Caernarfon Castle in Wales and Carrickfergus Castle in Ireland were built to suppress the natives.

Many castles remain from these medieval times and in most towns and villages the parish church is an indication of the age of the settlement, built as they were from stone rather than the traditional wattle and daub.

Religious architecture

The Gothic

*Gothic architecture

Whilst the Crown busied itself with the construction of defensive structures, the clergy, and indeed most of society, was dedicated to the glorification of god through the erection of Gothic cathedrals.

Tudor architecture

Large houses continued to be fortified until the Tudor period, when the first of the large gracious unfortified mansions such as the Elizabethan Montacute House and Hatfield House were built. The Tudor arch was a defining feature.

tuart architecture

The Civil War 1642—49 proved to be the last time in British history that houses had to survive a siege. Corfe Castle was destroyed following an attack by Oliver Cromwell's army, but Compton Wynyates survived a similar event. After this date houses were built purely for living, and design and appearance were for ever more important than defense.

Just prior to the Civil War, Inigo Jones, who is regarded as the first significant British architect, came to prominence. He was responsible for importing the Palladian manner of architecture to Britain from Italy; the Queen's House at Greenwich is perhaps his best surviving work.


In the early 18th century baroque architecture, a style exemplified by heavy embellishment and mass, popular in Europe, was introduced, the first baroque house in England was Chatsworth House by William Talman in the 1690. However, it is Sir John Vanbrugh who is remembered as the English master of baroque, his design for Castle Howard of 1699 is that of the first truly baroque house in England, dominated by it cylindrical domed drum tower it would not be in out of place in Dresden or Würzburg. Vanbrugh then evolved the style to suit the more solid English taste this he perfected at Blenheim Palace and later Seaton Delaval Hall.

Georgian architecture

In spite of Vanbrugh's efforts and those of his colleague and contemporary Nicholas Hawksmoor baroque was never truly to the English taste, and well before the time of Vanbrugh's death in 1724 baroque was being replaced by a return of the Palladian form. The Georgian architecture of the 18th century was an evolved form of Palladianism. Many existing buildings such as Woburn Abbey and Kedleston Hall are in this style. It was during this period that comfort and style became truly popular, and many of England's old fortified houses were rebuilt or remodelled, this is why today it is not uncommon to see country houses with facades in different styles, often the front of a castellated castle would be rebuilt in the palladian style complete with portico, while at one end of the same facade a medieval tower would remain untouched Brympton d'Evercy in Somerset is typical of a house partly modernised at this time. Among the many architects practising in this era were Robert Adam, Sir William Chambers, and James Wyatt.

Victorian architecture

In the early 19th century the romantic medieval gothic style appeared as a backlash to the symmetry of Palladianism, and such buildings as Fonthill Abbey were built. By the middle of the 19th century, as a result of new technology, construction was able to develop incorporating steel as a building component; one of the greatest exponents of this was Joseph Paxton, architect of the Crystal Palace. Paxton also continued to build such houses as Mentmore Towers, in the still popular retrospective Renaissance styles. In this era of prosperity and development English architecture embraced many new methods of construction, but ironically in style, such architects as Augustus Pugin ensured it remained firmly in the past.

In Scotland, Alexander Thomson was a pioneer in the use of cast iron and steel for commercial buildings, blending neo-classical conventionality with Egyptian and oriental themes to produce many truly original structures.

In the 18th century a few British architects had emigrated to the colonies, but as the British Empire became firmly established in the 19th century many architects at the start of their careers made the decision to emigrate, several chose the USA but most went to Canada, Australia or New Zealand, as opportunities arose to meet the growing demand for buildings in these countries. Normally the style of architecture they adopted was those which were fashionable when they left Britain, though by the latter half of the century improving transport and communications meant that even quite remote parts of the Empire had access to the many publications such as The Builder magazine that enabled colonial architects to stay abreast of current fashion. Thus the influence of British architecture spread across the world. Several prominent 19th century architects produced designs that were executed by architects in the various colonies. For example Sir George Gilbert Scott designed Bombay University (University of Mumbai) & William Butterfield designed St Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide.

Twentieth century architecture

At the beginning of the 20th century a new form of design arts and crafts became popular, the architectural form of this style, which had evolved from the 19th century designs of such architects as Charles Rennie Mackintosh and George Devey, was championed by Edwin Lutyens. Arts and crafts in architecture is symbolized by an informal, non symmetrical form, often with mullioned or lattice windows, multiple gables and tall chimneys. This style continued to evolve until World War II.

Public buildings and commercial buildings were often executed in the neo-classical style until the late 1950s. Lutyens designed new civic buildings in this style as did Herbert Baker, Reginald Blomfield, Bradshaw Gass & Hope, Edward Maufe, Albert Richardson and Percy Thomas. A notable example of the style is Manchester Central Library by Vincent Harris. With the exception of Lutyens, the reputations of these architects suffered in the later twentieth century. Some architects responded to modernism, and economic circumstances, by producing stripped down versions of traditional styles; the work of Giles Gilbert Scott illustrates this well.

Following the Second World War reconstruction went through a variety of phases, but was heavily influenced by the late work of Le Corbusier, especially from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. Significant movements in this era included the British 'New Brutalist' style such as the Economist Building by Alison and Peter Smithson, the Hayward Gallery, the Barbican Arts Centre and Denys Lasdun's Royal National Theatre . Many Modernist-inspired town centres considered unappealing by some, are today in the process of being redeveloped, Bracknell town centre being a case in point.


Postmodern architecture that started in the 1970s was especially fashionable in the 1980s when many shopping malls and office complexes for example Broadgate used this style, notable practitioners were James Stirling and Terry Farrell (architect), although Farrell returned modernism in the 1990s.

Modernism remained a significant force in British architecture, although its influence was felt predominantly in non-domestic buildings. The two most prominent proponents were Lord Rogers of Riverside and Lord Foster of Thames Bank. Rogers' iconic London buildings are probably Lloyd's Building and the Millennium Dome, while Foster created the Swiss Re Buildings (nicknamed "The Gherkin") and the Greater London Authority H.Q. Their respective influence continues past the millennium, into the current century.

Traditional styles were never fully abandoned in the late twentieth century. In the 1980s,Prince Charles controversially made known his preference for traditional architecture and put his ideas into practice at his Poundbury development in Dorset. Architects like Raymond Erith, Francis Johnson and Quinlan Terry continued to practice in the Classical style; many of their buildings were new country houses for private clients.

Contemporary architecture

*David Adjaye: Dirty House, Whitechapel Idea Store
*Will Alsop: Peckham Library, North Greenwich tube station
*David Chipperfield: River and Rowing Museum
*Zaha Hadid: Phaeno Science Centre
*Caruso St John: Walsall Art Gallery
*Ian Simpson: Beetham Tower, Manchester, Urbis, No. 1 Deansgate, Beetham Tower, Birmingham
*Wilkinson Eyre: Gateshead Millennium Bridge

ee also

*List of historic buildings and architects of the United Kingdom
*List of British architects

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