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Nineteenth-Century Architecture

Nineteenth-Century Architecture

Author: Ian McConnell
This lesson will provide an overview of nineteenth-century architecture.
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An overview of Gothic Revival architecture and the architecture inspired by the technological innovations of the 19th-century Industrial Revolutions.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello. I'd like to welcome you to today's episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. And my name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about 19th-centry architecture. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the historical context of 19th-century architectural design, and identify important examples of 19th-century architecture.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is Gothic Revival, a style of architecture popular during the 19th century that incorporates aspects of Gothic architecture. Prefabrication-- in architecture, when the elements of the building are massed produced in a factory and then assembled at the building site.

The big idea for today is that the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century correlated with important technological advances and the development of new construction methods and materials, including reinforced masonry, steel-- through the Bessemer process, and prefabrication.

So we'll be looking at examples of architecture today from between 1823 and 1889. We'll be traveling to London, England, over to Brighton, in England, down to Paris, France, and to Buffalo, New York today.

The Gothic Revival was a response to neoclassicism in the Industrial Revolution. It can be contrasted in neoclassical by it's description as the antithesis of neoclassicism. So neoclassicism versus Gothic revival in a nutshell-- neoclassicism equals democracy and liberalism, while Gothic Revival equals monarchy and conservatism.

Neoclassical secularism and the influence in the Industrial Revolution was met with resistance by many people, and how they felt the focus was being shifted away from Christian values. Gothic Revival in architecture is looked at as a response to this perceived shift, and the fear of Christian values in danger, of being lost in the shuffle.

One of the best examples of Gothic Revival is in the Houses of Parliament, the more familiar name for the Palace of Westminster in London, England. The Houses of Parliament are analogous to our own house of Congress. It's the governmental center of England, and the design ethic would have been an important statement on the part of the British government.

France during this time had been experimenting, to put it lightly, with the revolution. Britain's use of Gothic Revival implies strong ties to tradition. British Royal Pavilion is an example of the design influence from British overseas territories, notably India, on the architecture and culture of 19th-century England. The Royal Pavilion was a royal residence, intended as a vacation home of sorts in the seaside city of Brighton.

Now the Indian influence, particularly the Mughal style of architecture, is unmistakable in its use of the onion dome, the elaborate finals, spires, the keyhole-shaped arches, latticework, and even the inclusion of chhatri, or the dome-shaped pavilions you can see on either side of the central dome, here and here. Blended with aspects of the Gothic Revival, such as pointed arches and vaulted ceilings, this building represents a distinct style often referred to as Indian Gothic.

Technological innovations were rampant in the 19th century, and were important catalysts that began what can be referred to as the First and Second Industrial Revolutions. Now one of these technological innovations was the concept of prefabrication, in which components of the building would be made in a factory and then assembled on site, versus constructing from scratch at the location.

The Crystal Palace in London, England, was one of the most impressive examples of this type of engineering. It was designed to house exhibits of the latest technology produced during the Industrial Revolution, and was for a time the largest artificially enclosed space on earth, with over 1 million square feet of interior space. It made use of advances in cast glass production, and was essentially a metal and wooden skeleton that housed hundreds of panes of glass, and required no interior lighting during the day. The prefabrication allowed it to be assembled in as little six months and disassembled on site, which allowed it to be moved from its original location in Hyde Park in London to the south of London, where it burned down, unfortunately, in 1936.

It's often been said that without the invention of the elevator, the skyscraper would never have existed. And this is probably true, but the same can also be said of advances in steel technology, as well as the invention of reinforced concrete, think rebar, or metal rods covered in concrete. These technologies allowed buildings to be relatively flexible, with a high strength-to-weight ratio, and allowed them to be built quickly, using a modular skeletal design.

One of the earliest examples is the Guaranty, now the Prudential Building, in Buffalo, New York. And Buffalo may seem like a strange place, at least today, for the cutting edge of architectural design. However, during this period of time, Buffalo benefited from its proximity to Niagara Falls and the steady supply of electricity generated by hydroelectric power plants there. The design of the Guaranty Building is a noticeable example of form meeting function, and a precursor of the modern office building.

The advances in metal fabrication production were fundamental to the Industrial Revolution. The Bessemer process, which is the process for producing cheaper steel, developed in the mid-1800s as a way to lower production costs of making steel. Wrought iron was the preferred metal for construction purposes up until this time, and it's popularity continued for decades to come, until almost being completely replaced by the availability of cheap steel.

The Eiffel Tower is an example of puddled iron construction-- puddled iron is a form of wrought iron-- as well as a wonderful example of modular construction. It was constructed in very much the same way as a large scale Tinkertoy set. Parts were prefabricated, brought on site, and bolted together.

It was a process that Gustave Eiffel was well versed in. It was his engineering firm that conceived of and built the tower that bears his name-- although to my knowledge he had very little, if anything to do, with its overall design-- having gained considerable renown for numerous large-scale projects, most notably for Americans probably, his contributions to the armature design for the Statue of Liberty.

His firm was then granted permission to build the Eiffel Tower, which was used as a symbol of science and industry at the Universal Exposition of 1889. Originally met with outright contempt from numerous critics for supposedly ugliness, it's ironic, I feel, that it's now the symbol arguably the most closely associated with Paris, France.

That brings us to the end of our lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives again to see if we met them. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you describe the historical context of 19th-century architectural design? And can you identify important examples of 19th-century architecture?

And once again, our big idea for today is that the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century correlated with important technological advances and the development of new construction methods and materials, including reinforced masonry, steel-- through the Bessemer process, and prefabrication.

There you go. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Nineteenth-Century Architecture"

Key Terms

Gothic Revival

A style of architecture popular during the 19th-century that incorporates aspects of Gothic architecture. 


In architecture, when the elements of a building are mass-produced in a factory and then assembled at the building site.


Image of Parliament Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:London_Parliament_2007-1.jpg; Image of Elizabeth Tower Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Big_Ben_2007-1.jpg; Image of Interior Parliament Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:London_-_The_Parliament_-_2779.jpg; Image of Royal Pavilion Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Brighton_Royal_Pavilion.jpg; Image of Royal Pavilion Night Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pavilion.jpg; Crystal Palace; Public Domain (PD-1923): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Crystal_Palace_General_view_from_Water_Temple.jpg; Prudential Building; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Prudential_buffalo_louis_sullivan.jpg; Image of Eiffel Tower Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tour_Eiffel_Wikimedia_Commons.jpg; Image of Statue of Liberty Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Statue_of_Liberty_7.jpg; Image of Paris Night Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Paris_Night.jpg