Moving Architecture: Economic Shifts and the Victorian Building World

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Abstract / Description of output

As the noted architectural historian Sigfried Giedion once observed, to understand modernity we must ‘begin with the concept of Movement’. Increased speed and frequency of movement was one of the key features of the energy revolution resulting from industrial-scale combustion of carbon during the nineteenth century. The new efficiencies brought by steam-powered propulsion enabled the Victorian building industry to revolutionise in terms of scale, precision, and variety. Victorian architecture was fundamentally, and at base, an architecture of energy and movement.

This paper seeks to draw out this understanding of Victorian architecture by emphasising its ontology, positing it as the by-product of movement on a previously unimagined scale: of materials coming from far away, procured under increasingly mechanised conditions, entailing the consumption of fossil-fuel energy in huge quantities. The argument will be that this ontology made Victorian architecture – both objectively and conceptually – a profoundly different type of architecture from anything that had come before, made possible only by the full and beneficial transfer of Britain from an organic to a mineral-based economy. Central to the new economy was a systems ecology that underpinned networks of people, places, processes, and products involved in making architecture. This ecology facilitated not only the mechanised procurement of materials but also the circulation of raw and processed building products around Britain, throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, and into the wider British world. In making this argument, the paper will highlight representative examples of this new dynamic in action, focusing on the substance rather than the appearance of buildings.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2018
EventArt on the Move: A Conference on Mobility in the Long Nineteenth Century - Barber Institute, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom
Duration: 12 Jan 201813 Jan 2018


ConferenceArt on the Move: A Conference on Mobility in the Long Nineteenth Century
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • architecture
  • economics
  • energy
  • movement
  • Victorian


Dive into the research topics of 'Moving Architecture: Economic Shifts and the Victorian Building World'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this