Polite architecture

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Polite architecture, or "the Polite" comprises buildings designed to include the artifice of non-local styles for decorative effect by professional architects. The term can be used to describe any number of non-vernacular architectural styles. The opposite in architectural terms being vernacular architecture.


Polite architecture is characterised by stylistic and romantic features which have been intentionally incorporated by an architect for affectation. A building of polite design is conceived to make a stylistic statement which goes beyond its functional requirements. Its design is deferential to national or international architectural fashions, styles, and conventions; paying little or no regard to the conventional building practices and materials particular to a locality.

'The polite' is also a concept of architectural theory used to differentiate from 'the vernacular'.

Architectural theory[edit]

The term is used by architectural historians to contrast with vernacular architecture, which refers to buildings which are constructed from materials and building conventions particular to their locality.

The architectural historian Ronald Brunskill has offered the following definition:

The ultimate in polite architecture will have been designed by a professional architect or one who has acted as such through some other title, such as surveyor or master mason; it will have been designed to follow a national or even an international fashion, style, or set of conventions, towards an aesthetically satisfying result; and aesthetic considerations will have dominated the designer's thought rather than functional demands.[1]

As a theoretical term, the differences between "the polite" and "the vernacular" can be a matter of degree and subjective analysis. Between the extremes of the wholly vernacular and the completely polite, there are buildings which illustrate vernacular and polite content.[2]

The growth of polite architecture[edit]

Although originally only accessible to wealthy individuals and institutions, since the developed world's industrialisation buildings characterised by elements of 'the polite' have become prevalent throughout the building stock of developed countries. The rise in the number of buildings reflecting polite architectural features has been influenced by the expansion of the profession of architecture, the invention and production of man-made building materials, and the availability of transport networks capable of delivering materials produced outside of a building's immediate locality. The growth of these elements in the late 18th and 19th centuries, led to an expansion in the proportion of buildings which are of polite design. This trend has continued into the 20th and 21st centuries.


  1. ^ Brunskill, 2000, page 27
  2. ^ Brunskill, 2000, page 28

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