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Historicism (1840- 1900)

The term Historicism has been described by the Humanists since the middle of the 19th century as the cultural pessimistic stepping back from the present into the past. The term historicism has come recently to architectural criticism, because of the often undefined and undifferentiated cultural and artistic devaluation of the different architectural appearances of the 20th century.

Historicism can be seen as the finale of classic architecture. Despite other styles it used the construction methods and interior designs from antique over Islamic to gothic architecture. But instead of making such techniques visible they added other styles from the past to the facade design.

Westminster Palace

Historicism started with the regained consciousness of the gothic. Great Britain's gothic revivals in the middle ages and similar ones in Germany were a beginning of this regained consciousness.
The obvious turning away from pure classicism to historicism took place in 1840 when the new parliament building in London was going to be built.

Like in the English late gothic, a very perpendicular style, the facade of the building had a latticed decoration. August Welby Pugin structured the long walls optically, but there was neither a gothic room unity nor a powerful rising of the forms. Due to the ledge ribbons, the facades obtained a strong horizontal accent. The same ornaments were laid on the building over and over until it was completely decorated. With that, the essential characteristics of historicism were united. Architects of historicism completed styles from the past, such as gothic, in order to make them pure, and tried to solve the problem of designing of a huge building like a parliament building with that new construction method.
Unlike Renaissance or Gothic where something new was the starting point for original, independent creations, historicism had a schematically, soulless imitation as its beginning. The partly random combination of different style elements from one or more epochs sometimes made the result look wrong and chaotic.
Around 1884 one was parted between progress euphoria and a romanticized past.


Therefore the Berliner Reichstag (parliament building) by Paul Wallot showed some characteristics of the late renaissance, yet did not show any of the gay and noble pomp, but rather made the impression of heaviness and bulkiness. Then the building was topped with a light glass-iron-dome, which even in the 1880s was an aesthetical risk for a building with such an important function.
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