History of London construction

London has a rich architectural history going back hundreds of years. As the needs and lifestyles of London’s residences have changed over the centuries, so too have the architectural styles that house them.

As a construction business collaborating with architects, we find ourselves frequently working within different styles of architecture – each style has it’s different challenges and benefits for the end resident.

Before running through today’s prime residential architecture in London, below is a run down of the different construction spanning London’s history:

  • As far as residential construction history is concerned, one of the oldest seen in London today is the Baroque style, covering 1600-1750.  If you love ornate and extravagant architecture, this is for you.
  • Georgian overlaps with Baroque, coming into being in 1714 and lasting until the 1830s.  The Georgians went outside of the old City Of London boundaries and built some of the great estates.  Good examples are the Bedford and Grosvenor estates.  There are also many Georgian style buildings in the centre of the capital.

  • Regency appeared from 1811 until 1820.  Whilst lasting for a short time, many of London’s residential buildings in the city centre came to life during this period.  A good way of identifying them is by their white stucco front.  Check out the examples in Belgravia and Regent’s Park.

  • Victorian architecture reigned from 1837 – 1901. Now that the Industrial Revolution had passed and there was far more money around, we see the revival of intricate styling.  This can be seen at St. Pancras Station and the Houses of Parliament, all of which are wonderfully Gothic.  At the other end of the scale, the Victorians also built residential dwellings for the less wealthy – many of which resulted in tight knit communities flourishing in areas such as Whitechapel and Spitalfields.

  • Edwardian architecture followed in 1901-1910.  Many terraced style houses were built with the style. being roomier and covering larger plots.  Great examples can be spotted in Dulwich and the Hampstead Garden Suburb.

  • Art Deco architecture surfaced in the 1920s and lasted until the 1930s. You only have to look at Southgate’s Underground Station and Balham’s Du Cane Court to see several wonderful examples of this type of architectural design.

  • From the 1950s onwards, many parts of London had to be rebuilt quickly and the high-rise blocks reared their heads.  The Barbican Centre and Trellick Tower were all built within this period.

That brings us to the present day.   Properties from all the eras mentioned above are continually in great demand and often the subject of luxury refurbishments and renovations that we work on.

We still see the construction of tall apartment blocks but gone are the unattractive designs of the 60s and instead we see luxurious penthouse creations, built with the idea of a luxury lifestyle in mind.



Penthouses – historically and today

The concept of the modern day penthouse apartment can be traced right back to the 1920s when wealthier Londoner’s liked the idea of having a luxury space on the top floor of the tall buildings. 

If we look at the architectural definition of ‘penthouse’ it purely means a structure contained on the roof of a building, set back from the outer walls. The living space does not occupy the whole of the roof deck. Many will have elevators included, coining the term ‘mechanical penthouse’.

Most of these were seen in places like New York but it was not long before European designers also realised that there was much to be said for creating living spaces within rooftop areas.

Today, the modern penthouse is characterised as being a luxury space with amenities that may not be found elsewhere.  Here are just a few of the things that you might expect to find in a luxury penthouse in London today:

  • Its own private entrance with a lift
  • Vaulted high ceilings
  • Feature fireplaces
  • Extensive floor area
  • Large windows
  • Swimming pool
  • Jacuzzi

More recently, as penthouses have had a bigger focus on design and modernity as designers and architects have got more in penthouse construction projects. A penthouse no longer has to be on the top floor but can be set anywhere within the upper floors.  Now apartments are built in a way that multiple floor tops are created, allowing more luxury penthouses to be created.  Not always on the top floor, they may be called sub-penthouses.



Townhouses – historically and today

Now our look at residential construction history takes us to the town houses and large residential buildings.   When we talk about a ‘townhouse’ in the UK we are usually referring to a town or city residential building, quite often in London.  When the nobility used to have several properties, with one being in the countryside, their city dwelling would be their ‘townhouse’.  In London, the grandest townhouses stand-alone but many of them are terraced.

Gray’s Inn, London, was the townhouse of Reginald de Grey, 1st Baron Grey de Wilton back in the 13th century.  It was common for the wealthy to move to their townhouse during the London social season in order to attend the main society gatherings.

From the 18th century onwards, most of the townhouses began to be terraced.  Building them in garden squares encouraged the rich to buy. With very few being detached, even aristocrats who had thousands of acres in the countryside would retire to their terraced house in town. We can see this if we look at the Duke of Norfolk; he owned Arundel Castle out in the rolling countryside but in 1722 his London house was a terraced one in St James’s Square, named Norfolk House.  Whilst it is over 100 feet wide, it is still terraced.

Whatever your preferred style, townhouses in London are still incredibly popular.  If you don’t mind climbing lots of stairs, you may like to seek out a wonderful Regency terraced townhouse or a red-brick version in Belgravia in London.

In 2019, they epitomise the pinnacle of urban sophistication and buyers are prepared to pay a premium for them, particularly in the most sought-after locations in the city.

Research indicates that over the past ten years, luxury townhouses in London have risen in value by 22% whilst large manors in the countryside have dropped in price by 14.5%.  Townhouse prices continue to outpace the remainder of the prime property market.

People are prepared to pay more for a townhouse due to their individual history, wonderful elegance and large provision of space.

Today’s builders and estate agents often use the term ‘townhouse’ when referring to new buildings in the cities or towns.  In London, this is a much-used term, inferring luxury and elegance rather than a cheaper terraced home.  If you want to see great examples of terraced town housing in London, check out St James’s Square in Westminster.



Conclusion

London’s residential construction history is rich in detail and for those looking to buy a prime property, there can be no better area in which to invest.  Whether your choice is a modernised property from a bygone era, built in a style that you adore or a modern luxury penthouse or roomy townhouse, London is the place to be and it has a wealth of must-have properties.

As the cultural and business capital of the world, London is a great attraction with phenomenal amenities and entertainment options. With people all over the world wanting to reside in London, buying a property in the City of London is always going to be a great investment, no matter your choice of architectural style.

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