London architecture cheat sheet: everything you ever wanted to know

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Londoners are spoilt for choice when it comes to architecture. The city is bursting with hundreds of years worth of history carved out of stone, brick and glass.

But it can all be a bit confusing. At one point or another, even Londoners will stare at one of these buildings whilst eating their jellied eels and think “That’s well nice but what the bleedin’ ‘eck d’you call it?”

Have no fear. We’ve condensed info about some of the major architectural styles found in London today with info on what to look for and famous examples. You’ll be an architecture expert in no time.


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English Gothic

Time period: 1190-1520
How to recognise English Gothic architecture: Old stone buildings, usually cathedrals, that stretch with horizontal lines to the sky. They have massive light-filled spaces with vaulted ceilings inside, and pointed arches all over the place. Ornate details like statues of saints and gargoyles everywhere, with flying buttresses often supporting the building outside.
Where to see classic examples: Westminster Abbey in Parliament Square  


Time period: 1533-1603 (early Renaissance era)
How to recognise Elizabethan architecture: Less ornate than the Gothic style, with more emphasis on horizontal lines. First time glass became cheaply available and many buildings use lots of it. Brick began being used more than stone, with marble floors often a feature of upper class buildings (poorer homes were made from wattle and timber). Decorative strapwork as well as scrolls and lozenge shapes were very popular in reliefs.
Where to see classic examples: Charterhouse in Smithfield.



Time period: 1603-1625 (mid Renaissance era)
How to recognise Jacobean architecture: Similar to Elizabethan but often with lots of pilasters (fake columns in walls) and parapets on the roof.
Where to see classic examples: Charlton House in Charlton, (the remains of) Holland House in Holland Park  


English Baroque

Time period: 1666-1713. Most famously associated with Sir Christopher Wren. After much of London was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, many Baroque projects sprouted up including over fifty churches.
How to recognise English Baroque architecture: Ornate version of classic Roman or Greek architecture, often grey in colour due to use of Portland stone. Massive porticos held up by Corinthian columns (that just means they had fancy leaf decorations at the top end). First time dome structures were used in English architecture.
Where to see classic examples: St Paul’s Cathedral in Ludgate Hill, Royal Naval College in Greenwich. St John’s in Smith Square, St Paul’s in Deptford  


Queen Anne style

Time period: 1702-1714 (the late Baroque era)
How to recognise Queen Anne style architecture: Instead of civic and religious buildings, the Queen Anne style was applied to large domestic buildings. London’s Queen Anne examples are usually from the revival period in the late 19th century. Most notable is the use of red brick and terracotta tiles, white plaster and woodwork, ribbed chimney stacks, and wrought iron gates.
Where to see classic examples: Much of Maida Vale, Bedford Park in Chiswick, and the area around Chelsea Physic Garden



Time period: 1714-1830 – four kings called George ruled in succession, so the Georgian period was pretty long and loads of London comes under this bracket and its variants. There was a lot of expansion during this period as surrounding villages were subsumed into becoming boroughs of London, with the areas between them being filled with Georgian houses.
How to recognise Georgian architecture: Anywhere you see a crescent road, that’s almost bound to be Georgian. Otherwise another big giveaway is sash windows with rectangular 2:1 panes.
Where to see classic examples: Bedford Square in Bloomsbury, The William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, Clapham Common




Time period: 1715-1760 (early Georgian era)
How to recognise Neo-Palladian architecture: Inspired by the 16th-century Roman architecture of Palladio, but using an abundance of acanthus leaf and shell designs, as well as faces for decoration. Lots of columns and pediments and symmetry.
Where to see classic examples: Chiswick House in Chiswick  


Time period: 1750s-1860s (mid and late Georgian era)
How to recognise Neoclassical architecture: Strongly influenced by Ancient Greek architecture (the late Neoclassical period was known as Greek Revival) due to the vast amount of archaeological discoveries during this period in Greece. Seen as a reaction against Rococo, an extremely lavish style popular in mainland Europe.
Where to see classic examples: The British Museum, The Bank of England, Somerset House in Aldwych




Time period: 1811-1820 (late Georgian era). Most famously associated with John Nash. Named after the period when George IV was Prince Regent.
How to recognise Regency architecture: Variant of classic Georgian that usually featured large expensive terraced houses with white or cream facades made from stucco, and columns framing the entrances.
Where to see classic examples: All around Regent’s Park, particularly Park Crescent and Cumberland Terrace; Carlton House Terrace in St James’s




Time period: 1837-1901
How to recognise Victorian architecture: The Victorian era was mostly a string of revivals of previous styles incorporating materials that had become available due to the industrial revolution, namely cast iron and steel, but also glass which led to increasingly detailed window designs. There was also a mix of Asian influences due to the spread of British colonialism. Due to the advances in technology and power, many famous London stations were built during this period and are good examples.
Where to see classic examples: Smithfield Market in Smithfield, Royal Albert Hall in Knightsbridge, Paddington Station, Victoria Station, St Pancras International, Palm House in Kew Gardens  



Tudor Revival

Time period: 1860ish and the early 1900s
How to recognise Tudor Revival architecture: Houses with half-timbering on the front that mimics the appearance of wooden support frames used in the Tudor era. Other features often also copied were dormer windows and jettying. Sometimes known as Mock Tudor.
Where to see classic examples: Liberty London in Regent Street, most of the houses between North Ealing and West Acton tube stations  

Art Nouveau

Time period: 1890-1915. A backlash against all the revivals that dominated the Victorian era.
How to recognise Art Nouveau architecture: Sometimes called “whiplash” due to the undulating lines found throughout the style. Strong colours and contrasts, due to influence from Japanese wood block prints. Mathematical curves used in seemingly organic ways. Asymmetric plaster and glass decorations incorporating subjects from nature such as plants and waves.
Where to see classic examples: Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, Harrods in Knightsbridge, The Black Friar pub in Blackfriars




Time period: 1900 – present
How to recognise Modern architecture: Modernism incorporates a lot of architectural movements but the best way to recognise it is when a building is really plain and simple, sometimes even machine-like, with lots of horizontal and vertical lines at right angles. “Form follows function” is the style’s mantra.
Where to see classic examples: The Shell Centre near Waterloo, the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, New Zealand House in Haymarket,  


Time period: 1901-1914
How to recognise Edwardian architecture: Similar to Victorian architecture but less ornate, with lighter colours and less clutter and complexity. Large buildings often had reinforced concrete frames. The use of lighter colours was due to changes in technology and reduction in coal use – there was much less soot everywhere to spoil the walls so architects could finally use broader palettes.
Where to see classic examples: The Ritz London Hotel in Piccadilly, Whitechapel Gallery in Aldgate, much of Ealing and west Putney


Edwardian Baroque

Time period: 1901-1910
How to recognise Edwardian Baroque architecture: Like the name suggests, a combination of Edwardian lightness and the exaggerated grandness of Baroque.
Where to see classic examples: The Old Bailey, Methodist Central Hall, and several West End theatres such as the London Palladium, the Novello Theatre, and the Shaftsbury Theatre.  


Art Deco

Time period: 1920s and 1930s
How to recognise Art Deco architecture: A bit like Art Nouveau but with technology motifs instead of nature ones. Geometric shapes with streamlined edges, sunbursts, machine elements, highly contrasted colours (often green against white).
Where to see classic examples: The Golden Mile in Brentford, The Hoover Building in Perivale, The Gaumont State Building in Kilburn, Battersea Power Station




Time period: 1950s to 1970s
How to recognise Brutalist architecture: Modernism taken up a notch, with the materials used seeming to be the basis for designs, particularly raw concrete (“beton brut” in French). So unadorned and undecorated, it’s almost wilfully ugly.
Where to see classic examples: The Barbican Complex, Trellick Tower in Westbourne Park, Alexandra Road Estate in St John’s Wood, most of The South Bank  




Time period: 1950ish but 1970s onwards properly
How to recognise Post-Modern architecture: The functionality of Modernism, but with the addition of whatever style the architect felt like. Essentially, a clash of every architectural form to create something new, perhaps puzzling, but still trying to keep it practical.
Where to see classic examples: The MI6 Building in Vauxhall, Charing Cross railway station, Alban Gate in London Wall  



Time period: 1970s to present day
How to recognise High-Tech architecture: Modernism and Post-Modernism influenced by the advancement of technology, with buildings looking like enlarged pieces of technological equipment. Glass often dominates the outer surfaces.
Where to see classic examples: City Hall near Tower Bridge, The Gherkin and Tower 42 in Bishopsgate, the Lloyd’s Building

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(Feature image: Davide D’Amico)

London architecture cheat sheet: everything you ever wanted to know was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Adam Zulawski