In the heart of a suburb just east of London stands an incongruous red brick villa. With its pointed arched window frames and towering chimneys, the house was designed to appear like a relic of the Middle Ages. In reality, its vintage dates to the 1860’s. This is Red House, the Arts and Crafts home of artist William Morris and his family. Built as a rebuttal to an increasingly industrialized age, Red House’s message has been both diminished by the passage of time and, over the course of the centuries, been cast in greater relief against its context.
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At 6:20pm on the evening of October 16, 1834, a fire began in the old Palace of Westminster in London – the foremost seat of parliamentary governance for both the United Kingdom and the British Empire across the seas. The inferno, which burned until the early hours of the morning, destroyed so much of the medieval complex that neither restoration nor preservation were considered viable options – a new palace would have to rise from the ashes to surround the largely undamaged Westminster Hall. The fire gave the United Kingdom a chance not only to replace what was considered as an outdated, patchwork of government buildings, but to erect a Gothic Revival landmark to spiritually embody the pre-eminence of the United Kingdom across the world, and the roots of modern democracy.
Looming over the small Bavarian town of Hohenschwangau are the turrets and towers of one of the world’s most famous “fairytale” castles. Schloß Neuschwanstein, or “New Swan Stone Castle,” was the fantastical creation of King Ludwig II – a monarch who dreamed of creating for himself an ideal medieval palace, nestled in the Alps. Though designed to represent a 13th-century Romanesque castle, Neuschwanstein was a thoroughly 19th-century project, constructed using industrial methods and filled with modern comforts and conveniences; indeed, without the technological advancements of the time, Ludwig could never have escaped into his medieval fantasy.