The Georgian period generally covers the eighteenth century. But the style of architecture most commonly associated with the Georgian era is more strongly identifiable in the period between 1715 and about 1790.
A number of crucial factors contributed to the creation of elegant and distinctive Georgian city squares and crescents, and confident classic county houses in a new Arcadia.
Perhaps the first architects of the Georgian style were not designers but rather a generation of young wealthy sons of the British aristocracy. Sent to Europe on the Grand Tour to put final polish to their education, they came back with more than polish, they returned with a strong taste for the classical architecture and design of Greece and Rome.
From these two architectural styles came Baroque, Palladian, Rococo, Neo-Classical, Greek Revival and Italianate. The young Grand Tourists absorbed them all. Moreover they came to inspire, through their own patronage, a century of architectural influence.
During the 18th century landowners enclosed large areas of land to create impressive parks that became ideal settings for grand houses. The new country house estates featured copies of classical temples and other architectural satellites such as bridges and follies and other eye-catchers such as obelisks, mausoleums and temples. All these features were combined into grand landscapes that followed the new classical philosophy.
At the beginning of the period Baroque design was popular but this gave way to the more understated elegance of Palladianism, a philosophy of design based on the writings and work of Andreas Palladio, the 16th century Italian architect inspired to recreate the style and proportions of the buildings of ancient Rome.
Perhaps the type of building that most characterised the Georgian period was the town house. The eighteenth century was a time of great urban growth. But pressure on space and the need for greater financial return demanded that houses be squeezed into smaller areas. Terraces of houses allowed whole streets to be given a feeling of architectural entirety whilst keeping individual house sizes to a minimum. The widespread use of the terrace plan was made possible by the growth of speculative building. Landowners would build rows of terraced houses with the incentive of renting them to the upper classes and nouveau riche.
Against the images of celebrated architecture that developed while Britain was evolving into a global power during the eighteenth century, the vast majority of people lived in very poor housing indeed. Also the Georgian period looks brighter against the darker age of the industrial revolution that was to follow. But despite this, of all British buildings it is those from the Georgian era that remain the most admired worldwide.