A brief primer on Georgian Revival
A short history of Georgian Revival Architecture
Around the year 1720, something wonderful began to take place across the United Kingdom. Developers and Architects from the urban circus of London to the isolated grouse moors of Ireland began to eschew the popular English Baroque style of architecture that had reigned supreme in the minds of the landed classes and builders for nearly sixty years as the on-trend design doctrine in favor of an austere, dignified style; Georgian Revival.
Marked in it’s homage to Classical Greek and Roman architecture, Georgian revival architecture was notable for it’s devotion to symmetry, balance, and perhaps most importantly, a very restrained ornamentation. Before long, Palladian style Georgian houses began to dominate the landscape of genteel country hamlets, competing for space with the newly christened Gothic style of architecture. The flamboyant elements from the continent began to melt away, at least in the exteriors of the time, and before long ducal inheritors and merchants were tearing down their existing manse to erect a new Georgian one. But enough about merry Old England, let’s take a look at our Colonial compatriots…..
When Builders emigrated to the New World, they brought with them this nascent form of architecture, which became de rigeur for stately homes, court offices and other edifices of note. Much of these magnificent buildings were etched in frame from pattern books carried over from England. These early manuals provided builders a framework to begin from at a time when architectural advice was scarcely found in the crown colonies. After a bit of trial and error, colonial builders had perfected the ratio of symmetry, shape and proportion that signify a Georgian house. These buildings were generally built as an axial structure, with wings jutting from a center hall.
In the northern places, these newly built houses, often of a palatial size, were commonly decorated with wooden clapboard siding or clad with wooden shake shingles (a clever deviation popularized much earlier by early settlers, from the typical European wattle-and-daub, a mixture of clay and animal dung), whereas here in the South they were more often constructed of brick, with a small number of houses being stuccoed fieldstone. Some of the rarer examples of this exquisite masonry include ‘tumbled’ brick, a feast for the eyes consisting of bricks laid abruptly perpendicular to the ones preceding them at a forty-five degree angle, often beginning at the hip of a roof or the midway point of a chimney. 12 light windows, most often of a double hung sash, were standard accessory in these charming buildings, creating a symphony of glass with the added effect of easy repair. Ornamentation was typically limited to broken pediments surrounding entrances and a small amount of window decoration.
These wonderful relics of the past can be found along the eastern seaboard, from the former Providence Plantation to the well-appointed country houses of Southern Royal Governors. The style lasted until after the revolution, when Americans cast off the heavy hand of it’s patrician governors and made way for the distinctly American Federal style of architecture.