London’s crazy paving of different architectural styles and eras is the result of a number of catacylsms throughout its history, from the rise and fall of the Roman city to the Great Fire of London, the industrial revolution and World War II.
The City of London may still have a few remaining Roman ruins and medieval alleys, but it was the Georgian period from 1714 to 1830 that brought architectural distinction to London. The work of native architects, inspired by classical principles and clean lines, can still be admired today in the shape of the elegant flat-fronted terraces found in pockets of the Capital, such as Spitalfields and Greenwich. In the late-Georgian Regency era, 1813-1825, architect John Nash created hundreds of homes for the wealthy, such as the grand stucco-fronted terraces that overlook Regent’s Park, and his properties remain among the most expensive and stateliest in London.
The 1800s ushered in an epoch of massive expansion for the Capital as a whole, its population practically doubling from around 490,000 to 950,000 during a century that transformed the urban landscape. As the industrial revolution took hold, factories, canals and railways were built. Architectural style for public buildings tended towards grand and ornate with Greek or Gothic influences, eptitomised by landmark buildings like the Natural History Museum in South Kensington and the Midland Hotel at St Pancras. From 1838, when the London and Birmingham Railway opened, the Capital spread outwards, swallowing up surrounding villages and creating the suburbs, and the swathes of Victorian terraces that make up the bulk of London’s housing were built to serve a rapidly expanding economy and growing population.
The modern world
Following the end of the Victorian era in 1901, the Edwardian age added another attractive strand of housing, generously proportioned red-brick villas typical of areas like Crouch End and Muswell Hill, to London’s classic housing stock. But as the century wore on in the place of terraced uniformity came experimentation and variety – the 1920s and 1930s brought the Egyptian flourishes of Art Deco as well as Modernist schemes and housing developments that built on the principles of the Garden City movement.
The major event of the 20th century to affect London was the intensive bombing the city suffered during World War II. Thousands lost their lives, hundreds of thousands lost their homes and vast tracts of the city were laid to waste. After 1945, rebuilding lasted well into the 1960s, with one legacy being much of London’s social housing and concrete high-rise estates – one of the most famous examples being the Trellick Tower in North Kensington designed by Brutalist architect Erno Goldfinger.
Onwards and upwards
In the past 20 years or so, we have witnessed many post-war developments themselves being replaced by more upscale apartment blocks as well as ex-industrial and brownfield sites, including large areas of Docklands, being snapped up for residential development as demand for housing intensifies.
Illustration: Mister Mourao