Gothic Revival: Romanticism and Roofs
Hearing the word ‘gothic’ conjures up in one’s mind the image of pointed arches, pitched roofs, stone gargoyles and towering steeples. Alternatively, it could conjure up the image of pale figures in Victorian dress with dyed black hair and dark makeup. Today’s article focuses on the former – namely, the Gothic Revival style of architecture which grew popular in England and the western world in the 19th century.
The Gothic Revival began as a reaction to the neoclassical style of architecture. Neoclassical buildings have a Greco-Roman appearance, relying on columns and marble. Notable neoclassical buildings include the White House and the Arc de Triomphe. In the 19th century, neoclassicism had become associated with liberalism and republicanism due to its popularity in Revolutionary France and the United States, and therefore the English upper classes turned their eyes the medieval Gothic style, associated with conservativism, monarchism, religious values, and tradition. The towering heights of most Gothic Revival buildings generated great interest in wind resistant demarcation during the construction process. Gothic Revival was also immensely popular in the Romantic school of art and thought, which ironically also influenced the liberal (and republican!) ideas of continental Europe. Medieval buildings built in the Gothic style inspired a new wave of architecture in the United Kingdom, later spreading to the wider world, and today we will be examining some of the most noteworthy buildings designed in this style.
Houses of Parliament, London
The Palace of Westminster, more commonly known as the Houses of Parliament, has roots in the 11th century Old Palace, a medieval complex which burned down in 1834. After the destruction of the Old Palace, a competition was held for the design of the New Palace, which was won by the architect Charles Barry. Barry designed the New Palace in the Gothic Revival style, basing it on the Old Palace with a more modern interior. The New Palace was completed in 1876 with interior design work carrying on into the early 20th century, and more work had to be done rebuilding the Commons Chamber in 1941 following an aerial raid by the Luftwaffe. Perhaps the most iconic example of Gothic Revivalism, the Houses of Parliament are the centre of British politics today.
New Town Hall, Munich
Das Neues Rathaus, or the New Town Hall in English, hosts the city government of Munich alongside the city council and the offices of the mayors. All parts built by 1905, the building has over 400 rooms and covers 9159 square metres of land. The main façade is richly decorated and hosts a large balcony used for big festivals. There is also a machine clock (the Rathaus-Glockenspiel) which is performed daily at 11am, 12pm, and 5pm.
Woolworth Building, New York City
The Woolworth Building is an American skyscraper sometimes called the Cathedral of Commerce due to its Gothic Revival architecture. Opened in 1913, the Woolworth Building was the tallest building in the world for 17 years and used most of its floors to rent out office space and residency. One notable tenant was the Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla, who was evicted from his flat after 1 year for failing to pay rent. Another was the Kellex Corporation, who assisted with the Allies’ project for the research and development of atomic bombs during the Second World War. Though the Woolworth’s company is long gone, the building itself remains, and many businesses and people today still rent out its floors.