From Edward Augustus Freeman in the mid-nineteenth century to Herbert Baker in early twentieth, notions concerning cultural and racial superiority have run through British architectural discourse like a crimson thread. These ideas, where they arose, were often pegged to Britain’s expansion overseas through empire and colonisation, including the concept of ‘Greater Britain’. They appear in a range of media, from a variety of actors, including architects, critics, and historians, in books, pamphlets, articles, lectures, and private correspondence.
This paper will explore some of these notions across an approximately seventy-year period, considering how they developed, what their key points of reference were, and how they were different yet similar. The aim will be to ask whether such ideas constituted a recognisable and consistent line of thought in the British architectural imagination, or if they were more isolated incidents, uttered by individual architects and critics otherwise unconnected, that in hindsight only appear to constitute a form of knowing. In discussing this, I will trace the emphasis these actors placed on the process of form giving in architecture, from ‘proto-symbolism’ to ‘Grand Mannerism’. In so much as architecture was seen to embody cultural essences for these actors, in turn reflecting concepts of civilizational attainment and superiority, it was through an underlying ‘spirit’ or primacy of form that was understood as holding the key.
- Herbert Baker
- Edward Freeman
- Reginald Blomfield