The ‘Italianate’ is not a homogenous body of architecture, and had a distinct urban form that was almost entirely unrelated to its more picturesque suburban and rural expressions. Contemporary sources also reveal that the Italianate was not motivated by a strong ethical or academic agenda, but rather evolved chiefly in response to practical and legislative challenges surrounding urban planning. Far from being an historicist expression, the urban Italianate was in fact the 19th-century urban vernacular, achieving a degree of built success throughout the century.
Understanding the Italianate helps open early 19th-century urban architecture to wider debate, by refuting the picturesque as a defining aspect of architectural practice, while demonstrating that, far from seeking to break with the architecture of the previous century, many architects wished to engage with what they saw as the roots of their profession. The urban planning role of the Italianate, including its role in the creation of streets, demonstrates how the terms used to describe it shifted from an ‘Italian’ typology to a firmly modern British one, and how it became the dominant expression of civic and commercial architecture, initially in London.
The conservation and management of Italianate heritage will also be briefly examined, in particular the way in which Italianate building types present their own specific issues of preservation and re-use.
David McKinstry works as a freelance urban design and conservation professional within local government. He is completing a DPhil on metropolitan Italianate architecture at the University of Oxford and teaches the history of design at Imperial College London. His primary research interests are urban design and civic and commercial architecture, particularity in relation to 19th-century Europe.
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