Architectural Studies

Out with the New, In with the Old—Pugin’s Contrasts

The son of a Parisian architectural draughtsman who fled to London during the French Revolution, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-52) became the seminal theoretician and practitioner of Gothic Revival architecture in England. A highly prolific designer despite his early death at the age of forty, Pugin converted to Catholicism in 1834, which effectively barred him from working on Anglican projects but opened up many commissions within the minority Catholic community of the United Kingdom.

Some nuances of Pugin’s views on medieval architecture evolved over time, but his fundamental commitment to the Gothic style as the appropriate style for Christian architecture never wavered. Pugin’s most famous text, Contrasts: or, A Parallel Between the Noble Edifices of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, and Similar Buildings of the Present Day, first appeared in 1836, with a second edition published in 1841 containing a new preface and many illustrations to supplement the text. In 1841 he also published a lengthier treatise entitled The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture (1841).

Pugin is chiefly responsible for prioritizing the topics of authenticity and morality in modern design debates, issues that would remain crucial in areas ranging from the Arts & Crafts movement to International Style Modernism.

We will read chapters I, II and V of Contrasts and also peruse Pugin’s illustrations appended to the end of the text, which help advance his argument in a visual format.

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