What Is Georgian Architecture?

Connecticut Hall, Yale University

Kenneth C. Zirkel / Wikimedia Commons

Georgian architecture is a popular style named for the reigns of the first four King Georges of England. These graciously proportioned classical buildings are marked by an understated elegance. Their pleasing symmetry, in part achieved by applying the golden ratio, is easy on the eyes. Georgian-style homes were built to provide a more generous sense of space and natural light that had been missing from earlier architectural styles. Georgian architecture is a varied category that includes stately English country mansions, London and Dublin terraced townhouse blocks, southern US plantation houses, and New England homes and college campuses. 

Georgian house
Georgian house in New Albany, Ohio. Lisa Hinson / New Albany Community Foundation / Wikimedia Commons

History of Georgian Architecture

Georgian architecture was born under the reign of King Georges I-IV from 1714 to 1830, and was imported to the United States, notably New England, by English colonists.

Georgian architects were inspired by the proportion and symmetry embraced by influential Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio (1508 to 1580), who had been influenced by the building styles of ancient Rome and Greece. Palladianism was a popular style in Britain between 1715 and 1760 that was a revival of Palladio's ideas that came back in full force during the early Georgian period. The next phase of Georgian architecture was the development of Neoclassical architecture in the middle of the 18th century, which looked more directly to the source of Palladio's inspiration, the classical building styles of ancient Rome and Greece. 

In addition to being used in a variety of housing types, Georgian architecture was a popular style for churches and public buildings. The decorative arts and interior design also flourished during the Georgian period.

After the Revolutionary War of 1775, Americans began to turn away from the British associations of Georgian style, asserting their newfound independence on the architectural front by developing a national Federal style (the neoclassical White House is a prime example). Georgian architecture had revival periods in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the US and Britain and is still a popular style today for the building of suburban townhouses and homes. Georgian architecture in the US can be found primarily in the northeast, midwest, and south.

Georgian townhouses in London
Georgian townhouses in London. TonyBaggett / Getty Images

Elements of Georgian Architecture

  • Gracious classical proportions and symmetry as a general rule
  • Originally constructed from brick or stone, with stucco rendering later in the period
  • Simple façades for early examples with more decoration in later periods such as the Regency period
  • Symmetrical chimneys
  • Often two rooms deep and two stories high
  • Can include additional stories and 1/2 stories, with the top floors featuring smaller and/or dormer windows and lower ceilings in spaces that were originally reserved for staff
  • For detached Georgian homes and buildings, grand entrances with decorative features such as arches, columns, pediments, and fanlight windows over a central front door to let light into the front hallway
Georgian townhouses in London
Georgian townhouses in London. mammuth / Getty Images
  • Terraced Georgian townhouses may include doors off to the side as well as steps directly onto the sidewalk
  • Terraced Georgian townhouses often feature partially visible basement kitchens protected by iron railings. 
  • Terraced Georgian townhouses are often built around garden squares to compensate for the lack of personal outdoor space.
  • Symmetrical window placement mirrored on both stories
  • Painted window shutters
  • Multi-pane sash windows that let in lots of natural light
  • -Hipped roofs (meaning that they slope upward from all the sides of the building) that are sometimes concealed by parapets to render the roof invisible from the street for added curb appeal
  • Interiors featuring boxy room volumes, high ceilings, crown moldings, ceiling roses, cornices
Georgian townhouses in Kensington, London
SHansche / Getty Images

Interesting Facts About Georgian Architecture

Because beginnings and endings are rarely as precise as we imagine them to be, buildings constructed under the reign of Queen Victoria’s uncle King William, who ruled until 1837, are sometimes lumped in with the Georgian style and may be referred to as “late Georgian” to distinguish them. 

London architect John Nash designed many Georgian terraced houses as well as Buckingham Palace, a shining example of neoclassical Georgian style.

Some Georgian buildings still contain a quirky artifact of British tax history lore in the form of a bricked-up window. Between 1696 and 1851, taxes were assessed not on income but on the number of windows in a home, which was thought to convey the wealth of the owner. An easy loophole to save money on window taxes was to brick up a window, and some people never got around to opening them back up again. Unfortunately this worked against one of the important principles of Georgian architecture, which was to let in natural light to boost the health and wellbeing of inhabitants.