The Colonial Styles of North America – English

The first installment of this article looked at the colonial architecture of North America which originated with the imported styles and influences of France, Germany and the low countries such as the Netherlands. Perhaps the most significant cultural influences on the continent however came from the country which previously owned the colonies which now form most of the US and Canada, Great Britain.

The colonial architecture transported from Great Britain is referred to as English Colonial (due to the slightly archaic use of England to refer to the whole of Britain) and can be broken down into a few genres and sub genres. The two principle genres are First Period and Georgian.

English First Period

Otherwise known as late medieval, this architectural style dates back to the first wave of British settlers in North America at the start of the 17th century. It is therefore is prominent along the Eastern seaboard, and particularly the North East of the US around (logically) New England where the first colonisers set up home. As with all colonial styles the architecture reflects an evolution of the styles and techniques that the settlers would have known from Britain at that time, with adaptations to work with local resources and to suit the local climate.

The buildings therefore carried characteristics that would be recognisable in the UK from the Tudor/Stuart era such as steep roofs, large central chimneys and timber frames and an over-hanging first floor. However, the limitation of some resources in the new colonies as well as the availability of others led to other characteristics such as timber clad walls and small windows to conserve the use of scarce glass. The first houses were functional, sometimes resembling little more than a timber shed, and ornamentation only started to creep in later on as the colonies began to prosper.

English Georgian

The Georgian Colonial architectural style became popular in North America as subsequent British migrants brought with them the popular Georgian and fashions from their homelands in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The style coincided with prosperity and wealth in both the colonies and Britain itself, as a result of its successes in the colonies, during the reigns of George I through to George IV. Grand houses were built with influences harking back to the classical architecture of Greece and Rome and as the wealth permeated the social classes more and more home owners looked to ape the fashions of the upper classes, thus popularising the style. The utilitarian simplicity and functionality of the core style also allowed its use on a broader scale for residential dwellings.

Georgian colonial buildings were characterised by square or rectangular shapes and a strong dependence on symmetry throughout. They were typically made up of two stories with the main entrance doorway in the centre of the building’s facade on the ground floor. Windows were larger than those found on First Period houses and were position symmetrically, sometimes accompanied by interior window shutters. The central chimneys of the early styles were gone and instead positioned on each end of the building. Although the style could be simple and functional, ornate plasterwork was often incorporated where the budget allowed, particularly over entrances and within reception rooms, but its use was more restrained than in English counterparts.

The revival of colonial architecture during the 20th century was primarily a resurgence in popularity for the Georgian Style, or Neo-Georgian as it became known back across the pond.

Stuart Mitchell

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© Stuart Mitchell 2012

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Posted by on Aug 18 2012. Filed under Remodeling. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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