Gothic Revival architecture

Gothic architecture was common in Europe during the Middle Ages. However, it regained its fame between the 18th and 19th centuries, contrasting the neoclassical styles prevalent at the time.

The identifying features of the Gothic Revival style are pointed arch windows, steeply pitched roofs, and ornamental tracery.

Its designs were based on forms and motifs used in the Middle Ages. Gothic Revival buildings had rich color and decoration, irregular appearance and vertical emphasis.

Passion Façade of La Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain. Bernard Gagnon – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Gothic Revival was a conscious movement that began in England to revive Gothic style. Although, it would be fair to say that the Gothic style never really died in England after the end of the medieval period.

James Wyatt was the most important 18th century English architect who used the Gothic style in many of his buildings. His best surviving work is Ashridge Park.

In the early 19th century, Classical style was considered more appropriate for public and commercial buildings, while churches and university buildings were constructed in Gothic design.

The greatest work of authentic Gothic Revival is the Palace of Westminster in London (The Houses of Parliament).

Rebuilt by Sir Charles Barry and A.W. Pugin after a fire destroyed the old buildings in 1834, it is the largest and most theatrical Gothic revival building in the world.

Pugin had a major effect on the style and theory of the Gothic Revival style. He urged the other architects to stay true to the basic principles of Medieval art, Pugin believed Gothic was true Christian architecture.

Palace of Westminster, London. Andreas Kambanis – Flickr, CC0 1.0

John Ruskin was the most influential art critic of that period. Two of his most significant books, The Seven Lamps of Architecture  (1849) and The Stones of Venice (three volumes, 1851-1853), had a major impact on the Gothic Revival architecture.

Ruskin supported the return to the spiritual values of the Middle Ages, which he felt had been lost in the material world in which he lived.

William Burges was one of the most original English architects of the 19th century. His work was influenced by a number of sources, including artwork of the Middle Ages, East Asia, and the Islamic world.

Burge’s most grandiose Gothic Revival buildings in Britain are Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch, both inspired by French Medieval castles.

Cardiff Castle, Wales. Million Moments – Own work, CC BY 3.0.


Castell Coch, Wales. Hchc2009, CC BY-SA 4.0

During the 19th century, architects in the United States started to lose interest in Greco-Roman Classicism and adopted the Gothic Revival architecture coming from England.

Alexander Jackson Davis was the first American architect to promote the Gothic style, especially in his book: “Rural Residences” published in 1837. He built the first American Gothic house in Baltimore, MD. The first Gothic Revival church in the USA was Trinity Church on the Green in New Haven, Connecticut.

Trinity Church on the Green, New Haven, CT, c. 1865, showing its original appearance

In the United States, the style is divided into two phases – the early phase was preferred amongst the upper classes for their country estates and the later style was popular in the public buildings.

One prominent landmark of New York City – St. Patrick’s Cathedral is probably one of the best-known works of Gothic Revival architecture.

St Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City.

In Canada, Gothic Revival architecture was also widespread, especially in Ottawa, the capital city.

In 1824, the first structure of Gothic Revival style was built – Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, Quebec, it was the largest church in North America upon its completion.

Exterior of Notre-Dame de Montréal Basilica. Wilfredor, CC0


Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. Coolcaesar, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The Gothic Revival architecture was to remain one of the most powerful and popular of the 19th century styles.

Buildings such as churches and universities were constructed in the Gothic Revival style in Europe, South Africa, Australia and in the Americas.

This architecture remained the most prominent until the 20th century when new materials were used for construction.