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A brief history of London's architecture

By Daisy Mason

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Millions of tourists flock to London every year to enjoy the capital's rich history and culture. Part of this attraction are the eye-catching buildings that can be seen all over the city. But how much do you know about London's architecture? Today, we talk you through the architectural styles that you can see around you every day.

Baroque architecture; 1600-1750

Although not the first architectural style introduced to the capital, Baroque designs are some of the oldest that we can see in London today. Following the Great Fire of London in 1666, nearly all of London's buildings were destroyed and one of the most prominent figures responsible for rebuilding the city was Christopher Wren.

Wren was one of Britain's most influential architects, who designed many of the UK's most important 17th century buildings. His most notable works in London are parts of Hampton Court and Kensington Palace and world-famous, St Paul's Cathedral.

Back when the capital was only the size of the City of London, Wren was tasked with rebuilding a great number of the city's churches and most importantly, St Paul's Cathedral.

St Paul's Cathedral at night

The cathedral is a great example of British Baroque architecture and although there are few examples of residential Baroque architecture in London, there are many outside the capital in some of Britain's most famous stately homes.

Georgian architecture; 1714-1830

The Georgians were responsible for expanding London beyond the City of London's boundaries in the wake of the Great Fire of London and many examples of their architecture can be found across the capital. This was the first time that housing was built for profit making and multiple properties were constructed in one go, rather than individual dwellings.

They focused on building London's great estates – such as the still privately-owned Grosvenor Estate and the Bedford Estate – and you'll mainly find London's Georgian buildings in central parts of the capital.

Grosvenor Square, Mayfair. The residence of choice for American diplomats.

Back when the Georgians were building London, these estates were bounded by countryside and the garden squares provided green space directly on the doorstep of these grand city homes. The properties were mostly red brick and terraced, with tall windows and built in a symmetrical style.

The best examples of Georgian architecture can be found around Grosvenor Square in Mayfair and Bedford Square in Bloomsbury.

Regency architecture; 1811-1820

Park Crescent, Regent's Park. Prime example of Regency architecture, designed by John Nash and completed in 1821.

Regency architecture is defined as the period at the end of the Georgian era. Although only spanning around nine years, many of London's central residential buildings were erected at this time and unlike earlier examples of Georgian architecture, homes of this period are marked by their white stucco front.

John Nash was a leading architect at the time, who was responsible for designing and laying out Regent Street and the great parks Regent's and St James's.

His most notable work was the redesign of Buckingham Palace for King George IV. However, his plans were elaborate and the King sacked Nash because he couldn't afford to build to his designs. You'll find that regency architecture is more intricate in design than the simpler Georgian style that preceded it.

Areas such as Belgravia and the roads surrounding Regent's Park display examples of London's grand Regency architecture.

Victorian architecture; 1837-1901

Following the Industrial Revolution and in light of the country's increased prosperity, the Victorian era is defined by its revival of elaborate and intricate architectural styles. Buildings like St. Pancras Station and the Houses of Parliament are perfect examples of Victorian grandeur, designed in a Gothic style.

St Pancras International. A Grade I listed, internationally recognised railway terminal.

The Victorian period also brought with it the introduction of mass housing, which means many of you reading this will find examples of Victorian architecture on your street. Most Victorian homes in London were built for the expanding middle classes, who were experiencing real wealth for the first time.

However, at the other end of the scale, the Victorians were responsible for building homes for those working in the factories and the first permanent properties were constructed for the poor.

This period was a huge turning point for London's residents, with all cross sections of society able to live in properly constructed homes with appropriate sanitation.

However, in the east of the city in areas like Whitechapel and Spitalfields, slums started to develop, as more and more people moved to the city in search of work.

Edwardian architecture; 1901-1910

A typical Edwardian home

Following in the footsteps of the Victorians, the Edwardians were responsible for building many more of London's houses in the terraced style that proved effective for the Victorians.

The mass construction of housing for the middle classes continued, although the style was larger than that favoured in the previous century and the design removed staff quarters, as fewer people required staff in their home.

Edwardian houses are generally roomier than their Victorian counterparts and built on larger plots, with many fine examples of Edwardian architecture found in areas such as Dulwich and Hampstead Garden Suburb.

Art Deco architecture; 1920s and '30s

Battersea Power Station. Famously featured on the cover of Pink Floyd album 'Animals'. Photo by Gaetan Lee, licensed under CC BY 2.0

From Southgate Underground Station's spaceship-like design, to Balham's Du Cane Court – famously saved from bombing in WWII because the German's planned to use it as military offices if they were successful in their efforts – there are many striking examples of Art Deco architecture in London.

Some great examples of Art Deco design include the capital's apartment blocks, of which there are a number in St John's Wood.

Post-war architecture; 1950s onwards

Many parts of London were bombed during the Second World War, which meant swathes of residential housing had to be rebuilt. In an effort to do this quickly and efficiently, high rise blocks were introduced to London.

Trellick Tower, Kensal Town. Initially known as a controversial eyesore, now seen as a brutalist icon.

Some of the most famous examples of post-war architecture in London include the Barbican, which was built on an area destroyed by the Blitz, as well as Trellick Tower, designed by brutalist architect Erno Goldfinger in 1972.

Present day

The Gherkin and The Shard: these two iconic modern landmarks dominate the London skyline.

Inspired by the post-war trend of building upwards, developers continue to construct tall apartment blocks and London is now dominated by high rise buildings. However, unlike the practical, unattractive designs of the '60s and '70s, developments are now more luxurious and lifestyle led.

While new houses can be found dotted around the capital, these are mainly built on plots of demolished buildings or within larger development projects in areas where there is more space, like at Barking Riverside.

Not sure which period your home was built in? Take a look at our article on how to tell if your property is Georgian, Victorian or Edwardian.

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