The Berlage


Building Nineteenth-Century London: A Fresh Look

Andrew Saint

When people think about the history of housing in London, they tend to think of the ‘terrace house’. This typology took recognizable shape after the Great Fire of London in 1666, and dominated the city’s streetscape up until the First World War at all scales, large and small. The London terrace house has a curiously mixed reputation. On the one hand, following the studies of Steen Eiler Rasmussen and John Summerson, it has been represented as a symbol of the independence of British urban family life, distinct from the continental pattern of living in apartments, and championed as a kind of rational vehicle whose severity and starkness anticipated the methodologies of twentieth-century modernist housing for the masses. On the other hand it has been condemned as mean, minimal and inconvenient—a commodity that was the outcome of a building system which put no value on architecture, individuality or permanence.

The lecture will begin by exploring these contradictory viewpoints. It will go on to explore how as nineteenth-century London grew into the biggest city in the world, it developed its housing in various different typological directions before eventually abandoning terrace housing except at the lower end of the market. The talk will also touch on how and why it embraced apartment-building after about 1880; and will ask why London is so strongly associated with the terrace type, which can also be found in so many European and American cities.

This lecture is part of The Berlage Sessions, a thematic Friday afternoon seminar series entitled “Architectures of Speculation,” which considers architecture’s historical and contemporary relationship to real estate speculation, from urban developments associated with nineteenth-century London, fin-de-siècle Paris, and postwar Rome; to land ownership, the spatial ordering of property, and buildings as financial instruments. Lecturers will include Gabriel Cuéllar, Patrice Derrington, Florian Hertweck, Forbes Massie, Andrew Saint, Davide Spina, and Alexia Yates.

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