What Is Gothic Revival Architecture?

Gothic revival architecture in plantation home

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Gothic revival architecture most likely brings to mind pointed arches and frequent use of intricate detailing. Perhaps old churches or historical buildings come to mind. But the reality is that the gothic revival style influenced residential homes and famous governmental or educational buildings as well. Here we will take a look at what defines this fanciful style, where it came from, and how you can identify it.  

Key Characteristics 

Gothic revival architecture is most readily identified by its intricate detailing, tall, vertical emphasis, large windows, and a plethora of pointed arches. These structures have steep gables that are often trimmed with decorative trims or details. The iconic pointed arches are seen in window shapes, doorways, and decorative features. Flying buttresses are common and help to support the soaring ceilings used in this style. This architectural term refers to a support that is perpendicular to the exterior wall. It connects towards the top of the wall and ‘flies’ away to a support on the ground some distance from the structure.

Vertical lines and detailing add to the visual height of this architectural style. Towers are frequently built onto these structures and are topped with finials and parapets. Gothic revival structures were constructed of stone, glass, iron, and steel to capture the feeling of stone construction used in the 16th century and prior. All these features come together to create a castle-like appearance reminiscent of medieval Gothic architecture.  

Some famous buildings in this unique style include The House of Parliament along with Big Ben, All Souls College at the University of Oxford, and Strawberry Hill House


Gothic revival architecture came into existence in the 18th and 19th centuries, beginning in England— where some of the previously mentioned examples of this architectural style still stand proud to this day. At this point in history, nostalgia for medieval times emerged as industrialization began to shape the world. Society as a whole began to take a more modern view of the world, supporting the use and construction of factories and machinery. Gothic revival was a sort of love note to older times and was supported by those who were against this industrial shift. A longing to incorporate old-world views and lifestyles back into daily life brought people back to the architectural designs of medieval times. The use of Gothic elements and a more traditional view of the world spurred on the revival of this old-world architectural style. 

By the late 19th century, new building materials and construction methods put more of an emphasis on function rather than adornment. Fancifully adorned towers and elaborate detailing were no longer the focus. Because of this, Gothic revival architecture faded away.   

Gothic Revival vs. Gothic Architecture

Because Gothic revival architecture is primarily inspired by original Gothic works, the two architectural styles have very similar characteristics and defining factors. Both are identifiable by their intricate details, towering heights, large windows, and pointed arches. The main differences between Gothic architecture and Gothic revival architecture are the time periods in which they were built and the materials and building methods available at the time. 

Gothic Architecture
  • Built in or before the 16th century 

  • Stone and glass

  • Old-world construction methods

Gothic Revival Architecture
  • Built in the 18th and 19th centuries

  • Stone, glass, iron, and steel

  • Newer construction methods

Gothic Revival Houses 

Gothic revival architecture is most known for its large, sprawling, visually-impressive structures, like clock towers, churches, and government buildings. However, this detail-heavy architecture style doesn’t stop there. Gothic architecture made its way to residential buildings in what is now called carpenter Gothic architecture. 

This style of housing usually has fewer details than the traditional Gothic revival, making it more accessible to homeowners. This does not mean it does not keep the main characteristics of Gothic structures, however. Pointed arches, an emphasis on verticality, and intricate detailing are still integral to this style. 

In carpenter Gothic, these features appear scaled-down and simplified. Steep roofs, vertical siding, pointed windows or pointed arch doorways are often used. Decorative or ‘gingerbread’ trim is used around gables to give these homes a similar feeling as the highly detailed Gothic structures without covering the entire structure in ornate detailing. Parapets, towers, and finials are also sometimes added to these homes. Though they lack the large amounts of overlapping details Gothic revival buildings are known for, carpenter Gothic brings an old-world feeling into the realm of residential buildings and simpler designs. 

In addition, recent design trends have incorporated Gothic style or created looks like Goth cottagecore. If you love Gothic revival architecture, try these styles out in your own space to replicate the feel of this unique architectural time period.

Article Sources
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  1. From Medieval to Modern: The Relationship Between Gothic and Modern Design in English Architecture. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln.