How and why did Pugin reinterpret architectural traditions in the nineteenth century?
Pugin’s approach to post reformation, nineteenth century architecture gained him the label of
dissenter and radicalist. His rejection of the practices of the time led him on a crusade to revive
medieval Gothic architecture in an attempt to establish an overarching national identity while at
the same time detaching itself from the decadent and materialistic ways of the Anglican church
and his view, making for a morally better future. In order to break from the traditions of the past
three centuries he put forward progressive arguments that complimented the buildings he
designed that helped reinvigorate the Gothic style in nineteenth century Britain.
Pugin’s views of the Classical style that had been prevalent since the reformation of the 16th
century were that of antipathy. The style was closely associated with the Protestant church
which Pugin argued “was derived from ancient Greece and Rome and so it was pagan and alien
to northern Europe.” (Richardson et al, 2008, p. 109) He felt that the Gothic style was the
epitome of religious architecture and summarised all that was good with the church. The energy
of the design, he felt, was solely about worshipping God as opposed to Classicism which he
attributed to the recognition of man and financial gain first before spiritual devotion. He believed
it to be shallow, morally degenerate, commercialised and secularist.
Pugin wrote ‘Building without teaching and explaining is almost useless’ (Pugin, cited in
McKellar 2008 ). In order to help re-establish the medieval Gothic architecture of the
pre-reformation, Pugin published the book ‘Contrasts’, with the aim to show the difference
between medieval and modern design. The book was entirely bias towards his ideals and took a
heavily critical stance against the Classical style but it gained him instant recognition for the
radical principles he put forward. He argued that the Classical style embodied the decline of
architecture. While the designs may have been elaborate and ornate, they were self-serving and
hedonistic, ill-serving of a house of God. The illustrations within Contrasts were drawn by Pugin
himself. In his work ‘Contrasted Chapels’ (Illustrations Book, Plate 2.4.9) his depiction of Bishop
Skirwals Chapel in Yorkshire appears heavily shaded giving the illusion of depth and intricacy.
Comparatively it appears much more inviting than the cold, basic and imposing lines of St. Mary,
Somers Town. His persuasive views are also cleverly shown in his illustration showing the
contrast between Chapel Royal in Brighton and St. Georges Chapel in Windsor (Illustrations
Book, Plate 2.4.7). There is a defined hostility in the way he portrays the former. Aside from the
focal point being the centralised pulpit there isn’t much, if any indication it is a place of worship.
Pugin exaggerates the scale of the congregation in an attempt to recapitulate the secularity of...