Revivalism (architecture)

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One of the most famous Gothic Revival structures, Elizabeth Tower sits at the Palace of Westminster in London.

Revivalism in architecture is the use of visual styles that consciously echo the style of a previous architectural era. The best-known are the Neoclassical one (the revival of Greco-Roman architecture), and Gothic Revival (the revival of Gothic).


19th-early 20th centuries[edit]

The idea that architecture might represent the glory of kingdoms can be traced to the dawn of civilisation, but the notion that architecture can bear the stamp of national character is a modern idea, that appeared in the 18th century historical thinking and given political currency in the wake of the French Revolution. As the map of Europe was repeatedly changing, architecture was used to grant the aura of a glorious past to even the most recent nations. In addition to the credo of universal Classicism, two new, and often contradictory, attitudes on historical styles existed in the early 19th century. Pluralism promoted the simultaneous use of the expanded range of style, while Revivalism held that a single historical model was appropriate for modern architecture. Associations between styles and building types appeared, for example: Egyptian for prisons, Gothic for churches, or Renaissance Revival for banks and exchanges. These choices were the result of other associations: the pharaohs with death and eternity, the Middle Ages with Christianity, or the Medici family with the rise of banking and modern commerce.

Whether their choice was Classical, medieval, or Renaissance, all revivalists shared the strategy of advocating a particular style based on national history, one of the great enterprises of historians in the early 19th century. Only one historic period was claimed to be the only one capable of providing models grounded in national traditions, institutions, or values. Issues of style became matters of state.[1]

The most well-known Revivalist style is the Gothic Revival one, that appeared in the mid-18th century in the houses of a number of wealthy antiquarians in England, a notable example being the Strawberry Hill House. German Romantic writers and architects were the first to promote Gothic as a powerful expression of national character, and in turn use it as a symbol of national identity in territories still divided. Johann Gottfried Herder posed the question 'Why should we always imitate foreigners, as if we were Greeks or Romans?'.[2]


Modern-day revival styles can be summarized within New Classical architecture. Revivalism is not to be confused with complementary architecture, which looks to the previous architectural styles as means of architectural continuity.


Typical historicist house: Gründerzeit building by Arwed Roßbach in Leipzig, Germany (built in 1892)
Preclassical Revival
1862 lithograph of the Aegyptischer Hof (English: Egyptian court), from the Neues Museum (Berlin), built in the Neo-Egyptian style
Classical Revival
Postclassical Revival
Medieval Revival
Schwerin Palace, historical ducal seat of Mecklenburg, Germany – an example of pompous renaissance revival for representation purposes (built in 1857)
Renaissance Revival
Opera, Paris (Palais Garnier) by Charles Garnier, 1861-1875
Baroque Revival
Modern Revival
Other Revival


  1. ^ Bergdoll, Barry (200). European Architecture 1750-1890. Oxford University Press. p. 139, 140, 141. ISBN 978-0-19-284222-0.
  2. ^ Bergdoll, Barry (200). European Architecture 1750-1890. Oxford University Press. p. 139, 140, 141, 142, 145. ISBN 978-0-19-284222-0.
  • Scott Trafton (2004), Egypt Land: Race and Nineteenth-Century American Egyptomania, Duke University Press, ISBN 0-8223-3362-7. p. 142.

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