Victorian Architecture (History, Features, Famous Buildings)

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Victorian architecture is perhaps the most influential and widely used around the world compared to other styles. The architecture has stood the test of time because it was mostly developed during the industrial revolution, which has a lasting effect on modern life today. For this reason, we see Victorian architecture everywhere we look.

In this article, we will talk about the characteristics and history of Victorian architecture. Furthermore, we will outline some famous examples of the same.

History of Victorian Architecture

As the name suggests, Victorian architecture is a building style that came up during the reign of Queen Victoria. This was the period between 1830 and 1910. Different styles emerged during that period including the Queen Anne style, gothic revival style, second empire style, stick style, Italianate style, and more.

The term Victorian architecture refers more to buildings from a certain period than a style of building. There are different overlapping styles from the Victorian period. With the rise of the middle class during that period, there was enough wealth to go around and make decent and ample living spaces.

History of Victorian Architecture

Image Source: ticketlens.com

Victorian buildings generally had three stories, with the first two occupied by the family and the lower floor by servants, if any. Since the Victorian period is when we are witnessing a huge part of the industrial revolution, workers needed affordable but decent housing. Therefore, we are seeing a housing boom that includes houses closely built together.

Since there was a high demand for housing, there was a mass production of building materials to cater to that. The mass production of materials characterized Victorian architecture with the use of bricks and slates, strongly defining the architectural style.

Characteristics of Victorian Architecture

While different styles overlapped during the Victorian era, there are some common characteristics of the architectural style we can use to identify buildings from the period. Here are a few.

1) High and Steeply Pitched Roofs

High and Steeply Pitched Roofs

Image Source: mydomaine.com

The roof is one of the main features to look at when defining a building. The Victorian period roofs had eaves for the top floor rooms. This meant that the roof needed to accommodate at least an office or a bed. Eaves are a smart way of maximizing space in a house.

2) Two to Three Stories

Two to Three Stories

Image Source: latimes.com

The Victorian era was very industrious, and therefore, the workers needed a place to stay and the middle-class families needed comfort. Two to three stories ensured that a family had enough space to accommodate the kids and a worker if needed. An office could be easily accommodated in such buildings too.

3) Plain or Colored Bricks

Since there was a housing boom in the Victorian era, there was a need for mass production of building materials. Therefore, most houses had similar materials on them, making Victorian architecture a distinct style.

Plain or Colored Bricks

Image Source: thespruce.com

Not only were the walls similar with red bricks on them, but the roofs too, since the slates were all manufactured and transported by rail for building purposes.

4) Ornate Gable

Ornate Gable

Image Source: thoughtco.com

Picking from styles like the Gothic style, Victorian architecture had features like the ornate gable, and other exterior trims like the gate and railings. The shapes were made on terra-cotta-fired clay or wood parts. Metal parts from the period have ornate shapes.

5) Bay Windows

Bay Windows

Image Source: kqed.org

Since most of the houses were clumped together, there was a need for natural lighting for purposes such as reading. Most Victorian-style architecture has large bay windows, sometimes with stylish details on the bricks around the windows.

6) Doors Set to the Side

Doors Set to the Side

Image Source: thespruce.com

Unlike the Georgian doors that were right in the middle of the facade, Victorian houses have their doors on the side and are sometimes deeply set for privacy.

7) Heavy Patterns

Since Victorian architecture is a mix of different styles, there are a lot of patterns and styles to borrow. From patterns on fabric to metal and wooden parts, there is a lot of visual activity going on in the Victorian era.

Heavy Patterns

Image Source: artincontext.org

Some patterns you can see include decorative details on the walls, ceiling cornices, and roses.

8) Ornate Fireplace

Ornate Fireplace

Image Source: pinterest.com

Since Victorian architecture is characterized by a lot of space, the spaces needed to be warmed during winter, and one of the characteristics of a Victorian house is the fireplace. The fireplace is not only a fireplace but an ornate one for that matter.

9) Stained Glass Windows and Doors

Stained Glass Windows and Doors

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One very distinct feature of a Victorian house is the stained glass. Stained glass is one of the church-like architectural elements you will see in a Victorian house.

10) Towers

Towers

Image Source: unsplash.com

A lot of Victorian architecture includes the tower at the top. The tower can be round or octagonal turrets. This is a feature you would see in castles, but they were copied onto buildings in the 19th century.

11) Asymmetry

Asymmetry

Image Source: forbes.com

Asymmetry is the one particular style you will see in Victorian houses because of the need to maximize space. The houses from the nineteenth century have the most octagonal shapes you are going to see anywhere.

12) Porches

Porches

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Victorian houses have a generous wrap-around porch in most cases, and this was to further maximize the already minimal spaces in the cramped neighborhoods. The porches were the perfect spaces for a good pass-time.

13) Small Garden

Image Source: elledecor.com

Not all Victorian homes were in crowded spaces. Some families had spaces with backyards, and the floral and heavily decorated style transferred to the small gardens in different homes. The small gardens were enough to have beautiful flowers in them.

Victorian Architecture Styles

As we mentioned before, the Victorian period saw an overlap of different architectural styles. Here are some styles you can notice on houses from the Victorian era.

i) The Gothic Revival

The Gothic Revival

Image Source: historyhit.com

The gothic revival architecture is heavily influenced by the medieval era. A lot of inspiration is drawn from ancient Greece and Rome, creating an interesting style as a result. You will notice the gothic revival architecture mostly on church buildings. Other government buildings like prisons, schools and hospitals also adopted this architectural style.

ii) The Romanesque Revival

The Romanesque Revival

Image Source: thoughtco.com

This style is also known as the neo-Romanesque. The Romanesque revival can be identified using the round arches, cavernous entries, thick walls, rounded towers, and asymmetrical facades.

The Romanesque style is resilient since it has been around since the 11th century, and its revival in the Victorian era keeps it alive.

iii) Queen Anne Style

Queen Anne Style

Image Source: sfgate.com

Queen Anne style buildings have strong characters that you can use to easily identify them. The buildings have large dormers and a steep roof with cross gables. Apart from the exaggerated features, the buildings have a generous porch.

One feature that stands out in a Queen Anne style building is the round or polygonal front corner tower. The tower further has a conical roof, which sets the building style apart from others.

iv) Second Empire Style

Second Empire Style

Image Source: architecturestyles.org

The name comes from its origin, which was in France during Napoleon III reign (France’s second empire). The style is highly innovative, including different styles and building materials such as iron and glass to make skylights, which were a relatively new approach at the time.

The Second Empire Style buildings have highly stylish decorative details and are at least two storeys high.

v) Italianate Style

Italianate Style

Image Source: mouldingsone.com

Since prince Albert loved touring Italy, he fell in love with the architectural style he saw there. His inspiration led to him proposing the Italianate style for some notable buildings.

The buildings are characterised by large windows and a gently flowing roof. Other features that stand out include the deep overhanging eaves, supported by corbels or brackets.

vi) Stick Style

Stick Style

Image Source: mouldingsone.com

The stick style of building is a cross between carpenter gothic style and the Queen Anne style of building. The buildings mimic a half timbered frame in a house with the overlay board strips exposed on the outside. The layout of the style is plain with trusses included on the gables.

vii) Greek Revival Style

Greek Revival Style

Image Source: mydomaine.com

This form of architecture is inspired by the Greek style of building. The style includes a grand entrance, pillars, large windows, a stable design, symmetry and a low-pitched gable roof.

Famous Victorian Period Buildings

In every period, there are famous architectural structures that emerge and Victorian architecture is no exception. Here are some buildings that epitomize Victorian styles.

a) Royal Albert Hall

Architect: Francis Fowke

Built: 1867-1871

Royal Albert Hall

Image Source: nationalgeographic.co.uk

Being one of the most famous buildings, the Royal Albert hall is a gem from Victorian-era architecture. Victorian-era buildings are characterized by importance, and the Royal Albert Hall is perhaps the most important stage in the UK.

A very important fact about the hall is that Queen Victoria laid down the foundation stone. This makes the Royal Albert Hall perhaps the most Victorian building of them all.

Some features of the Royal Albert Hall include the Italianate style with an iron dome that is glazed. Being the home of the arts and crafts movement, the hall had a huge influence on the Victorian-era creative space, including architecture.

b) The Manchester Town Hall

Architect: Alfred Waterhouse

Built: 1868

The Manchester town hall was completed in 1877, right in the middle of the Victorian era. At the time, the building was an example of a gothic revival. You notice that the town hall is a government building, which is a characteristic of the neo-gothic buildings at the time.

The Manchester Town Hall

Image Source: architectsjournal.co.uk

The low rib vault ceilings are a very strong gothic marker of the building and the tall arched windows are a true testament to the gothic.

c) The Painted Ladies in San Francisco, California

Architect: Butch Kardum

Built: 1892-1896

The name given to these houses is not too far from what a Victorian house is. Victorian architecture architectural styles, fashion, art, and gardens are characterized by colors and shapes as we see in these buildings.

The Painted Ladies in San Francisco, California

Image Source: adglighting.com

The Painted Ladies have rooms in their eaves, which is a strong characteristic of Victorian architecture. Furthermore, the buildings are built in a close-knit manner, showing the industrial revolution and housing bloom in the nineteenth century.

d) Carson Mansion, Eureka, California

Architect: Samuel Newsom

Built: 1884

Victorian culture seems to have had a1884 huge influence on California. One of the most famous buildings in California, the Carson mansion, is made in classic Victorian architecture.

Carson Mansion, Eureka, California

Image Source: loc.gov

Carson mansion, built for Lumber Baron William Carson, is one dramatic building with everything shouting Victorian architecture. The building has high-pitched roofs, and each has an eaves room beneath it. Furthermore, there are pillars on the building, and the mansion is nowhere near symmetrical from all angles. The large windows and ornate wooden shapes capture the attention of anyone viewing the Victorian facades of the mansion.

e) Chhatrapati Shivati Terminus, Mumbai

Architect: Frederick William Stevens/ Axel Haig

Built: 1878

The Victorian era was when the British made a lot of visits and left their influence in many places. India is one of the largest British colonies during the reign of Queen Victoria. One of the great signs of the British presence in this part of the world is their buildings, and Chhatrapati is one of the many examples of Victorian architecture.

Chhatrapati Shivati Terminus, Mumbai

Image Source: planetofhotels.com

The Shivati terminus is a neo-gothic structure with almost all the gothic features, including the rose window, large windows, pillars, and a dome. Furthermore, the building has cone-shaped roofs, which are common in the Victorian gothic revival style.

f) The Palace of Westminster, London

Architect: Sir Charles Barry/ Augustus Pugin

Built: 1016, Rebuilt 1840-1876

The Palace of Westminster has gone through a lot over the years, including a fire that ravaged the building. After the fateful event, there was a competition for the best British architects to rebuild the UK parliament building, and Charles Barry won the bid.

The Palace of Westminster, London

Image Source: archdaily.com

The Westminster palace could be the most popular structure in the United Kingdom. Big Ben, which is the Elizabeth tower, is the most famous part of the building with its four-faced clock. The palace has other towers, including the Victoria Tower.

The Palace of Westminster has pillars, large windows, towers, and other structures, showing that the building is a gothic revival.

It is important to note that the royal family hugely affected Victorian architecture.

g) Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne, Australia

Architect: Joseph Reed

Built: 1879

Australia is one of the places with a British past, and it is written in its architectural styles. The most notable example is the Royal Exhibition building, designed by Joseph Reed. The building hosted the first international fair in Melbourne, showing the artistic importance of the Victorian buildings.

Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne, Australia

Image Source: timetravelturtle.com

The large dome, entrance, and pillars are examples of Victorian architecture manifesting in a Gothic style.

h) Osborne House in East Cowes, England

Architect: Thomas Cubitt

Built: 1845

Osborne house is the place where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert used to spend their summer. The Italianesque style of the house is inspired by the tours the prince had in Italy. The Victorian era brought together many different styles.

Osborne House in East Cowes, England

Image Source: english-heritage.org.uk

The building is no longer in use by the royal family but still retains its elegant interiors, including ornate furniture. The lush gardens outside the building show the grand nature of royal Victorian buildings that are characterized by grand staircases and lawns.

i) The Palm House at the Royal Botanic Gardens

Architect: Richard Turner

Built: 1844

The Palm House is perhaps one of the most astounding houses built in the Victorian era. The building is made only of iron and glass, which was no mean feat at the time. The building has no multiple rooms like the other buildings but it does have a few characteristics that make it a Victorian architectural marvel.

The Palm House at the Royal Botanic Gardens

Image Source: kew.org

The Palm house has a huge dome structure which is a classic gothic building feature. While the building does not conform to a lot of traditional rules, it was built in the Victorian era, making it a rightful Victorian building.

j) Fairmont Banff Springs, Canada

Architect: Bruce Price, Walter Painter, John Orrock

Built: 1886 (Improvements: 1911, 1927)

Fairmont is one of the buildings that neatly capture the Scottish castle design. The building stands out in the woods, which is a classic Victorian characteristic; standing out.

Fairmont Banff Springs, Canada

Image Source: all.accor.com

The building has triangular roofs with eaves rooms in them and is the best exhibition of this feature of Victorian houses. The building is hardly symmetrical and has a lot of rooms in it.

Final Take

There has been great architecture since the Greeks. However, the Victorian era gives every period a chance to stand out in its own right while blending with modern needs. The Victorian era is perhaps one of the most experimental and full of discovery, especially because her kingdom was expanding.

Featured Image Source: veranda.com

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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