Jacobean Era Architecture: Design, Style & Examples

Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, explore the architecture that developed during the reign of Jacob in England. Learn about the main characteristics of this style, and discover the most remarkable examples of this period in architecture.

Jacobean Era Architecture

By the end of the 16th century, James I became king of England, and he saw the development of newer ideas in architecture that combined the preceding style with elements coming from Europe. A new style emerged, and it was named after him because this is one of the few times in English architecture when a style was so clearly defined by its time period. Let's find out more.

The artistic style known as Jacobean, developed in Great Britain during the last years of the 16th century and the first half of the 17th century, covering King James I's reign. It is considered to be the second part of the Renaissance period of British architecture, coming after the Elizabethan style; it was later replaced by newer styles, like the English Baroque.

Jacobean architecture is considered an intensification of the Elizabethan concepts. The Renaissance ideas arrived in England during that period, but they were interpretations of different influences coming mostly from Holland. Inigo Jones was the pioneer of a more formal Italian style. He had studied architecture in Italy and brought Palladian ideas about architecture. (Andrea Palladio was an important Italian architect during the Renaissance). Jones' ideas were combined with French and Flemish elements in the Jacobean style, giving buildings a unique local character.

Elevation drawing from books about architecture written by Palladio
Elevation drawing from the books about architecture written by Palladio

The Prodigy House

The Jacobean style showed opulence and was chosen by wealthy class members for their dwellings. Prodigy houses were the main theme of architecture during this period. Many of these luxurious residences were built all over England for members of the court and influential families. There was very little construction of churches or any other types of buildings, however.

Although most constructions at the time were made of wood, the nobility could afford the use of better materials. Therefore, brick and stone were commonly used as construction materials for the prodigy houses. Limestone and slate were used for decorative elements on the facades. The buildings had the color of the materials used. Noble materials, such as granite and fine woodwork, were commonly used in the interiors.

In Jacobean designs, symmetry was used. The layout of houses consisted of a central volume and symmetrical wings on each side; this distribution gave origin to H- and U-shaped buildings. The facades were designed using classical elements; they were composed by a base level, a main floor for social areas, and a finishing upper level for the more private areas of the residence.

Jacobean architecture incorporated the Palladian classical orders. Columns and pilasters with classical capitals (the upper part of the column) were widely used. They were frequently included just for decoration rather than for structural support. In larger constructions, round arches (known as arcades) were built along the main facade, supporting the hallway's roof.

The Flemish gable roof was an element incorporated into the Jacobean architecture. Buildings often had a combination of flat roofs and gable roofs. It was common to see one type of roof for the central area and a different one for the side wings. Flat roofs were enclosed by fences or low walls, known as parapets, which were built with ornaments.

The staircase was usually a focal point of the building, and it was located in the center, articulating all the interior areas. Large staircases were a piece of art on their own, and they were created to impress. Windows with vertical elements, known as mullioned windows, were common in Jacobean architecture.

Although buildings in the Jacobean style had relatively simple facades, interior areas were ornamented. Carvings with French and Flemish influences were the most common interior ornament. The carved interiors were also known as strapwork, and they consisted of stylized representations of ribbon-like forms. Wood carvings were particularly abundant on ceilings. Other elements like fireplaces, walls, and window frames could have either wood or plaster carvings.

View of a Jacobean interior, in the Knole House
View of a Jacobean interior, in the Knole House

During the first years of the 17th century, England had established the first colonies in North America and the Caribbean. Therefore, early architecture in the colonies followed the Jacobean style from Great Britain. However, the distance and the need to adapt quickly to local conditions led to a simpler style in North America, known as First Period architecture.

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