Industrial Revolution and Reform Movements: The Red House

By the year 1858, architectural philosophy was a newly conceived concept that allowed freedom in the diagram and construction of houses. This philosophy that allowed architects to focus on fashion and method commenced at a time when craftsmanship, traditional competencies and reverence for local materials embodied the exercise of building. One of the greatest architects of that time is Philip Webb who worked with William Morris as his clothier to create a house that is also revered as an exceptional piece of art called ‘The Red House’. Morris used to be under the influence of the logician John Ruskin while Webb sought to use traditional strategies where there was fusion between artwork and life. Philip Webb’s The Red House complies with the art movement characterized by the exuberance of freedom in the use of materials and craftsmanship in creating personalized pieces.

Philip Webb and William Morris are named as the fathers of Arts and Crafts Movement and they were compelled by the rise of many who challenged the tenets held by the Victorian upper middle class. The Red House has some influences of Gothic art owing to the fact that public buildings, churches and country houses at this time were influenced by this artistic movement. The industrial period brought with it major changes in craftsmanship owing to the improvement of tools among other factors. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the population had increased and people appreciated living in a landscape that is produced industrially as well as expressing the human spirit. This was largely expressed through the various forms of art.

At that time, philosophers such as John Ruskin criticized the poor treatment of factory workers and the owner of the Red House, William Morris was greatly impacted by this thinker. With the commissioning and successful creation of The Red House, Morris and Webb helped in the development of the Arts and Crafts movement. Using John Ruskin’s ideologies, Webb and other architects were focused on reliving the way of life evident during the Pre-Rennaissance Period. Ruskin made it clear that industrialization made people focus on money and get rid of humanity. He said “But now having no true business, we pour our whole masculine energy into the false business of money-making”. The Red House was made in response to the many quotes Ruskin made on human beings pursuing money rather than happiness. The idea was to revive quality and not quantity, and ensuring that art is made for the people.

The critic Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin is particularly outstanding for his contribution to the Art and Craft Movement for his development and maintenance of Gothic art especially in buildings. He made it clear that he was more focused on the little details by saying

“We want to present a different point of view, unlike the highly controlled and choreographed images from architecture journals, here…noticing all those little details that are never shown in in other publications”.

Pugin was converted to Catholicism and he carried the influence of Gothic art with him. This explains the Gothic based decorations in ancient catholic churches.

Through this quote, Pugin makes it clear that he is more focused on detail such that a building will not just appear as a plain piece congealed without any personality. According to him, ornamentation of a building is paramount and it forms part of the essential step of building. In this case, freedom is expressed through the development of details as evidenced by the fenestration of buildings. The Red House is an embodiment of Pugin’s ideologies on freedom in art. The L-shape plan is asymmetrical, the steep rooflines and pointed arches are synonymous to the Gothic style and they add to the ornamentation of the building. Owing to the fact that the Art and Craft Movement was based on negating the ideas of the Victorian class, the peaks and ornamentation of the Red House were a stark contrast to the other buildings. The house was clearly meant to help people understand the importance of architecture and building.

Through his designs and influence on the structure of the Red House, William Morris is one of the major philosophers that made great contributions to the Art and Crafts Movement. Morris was clearly more interested in obtaining pleasure from work, a good reason why he was keen to follow the teachings of John Ruskin. Morris said “I do not want art for a few any more than education…or freedom for a few”. This quote explains various aspects about the building including the choice of material and the ornamentation of each part of the building including the later use of wall paper. Clearly, Morris viewed art as an important educational endeavor.

The Design Reform Movements achieved a lot and especially when it came to shaping the Aesthetic Movement. In a way, this was immensely beneficial in history considering that most of the ideas of the Aesthetic Movement were based on Medieval Islamic and European sources. The Design Reform Movement was focused on criticizing the poor British artistic styles that were cropping up in the nineteenth century. The only shortcoming of this movement may be the fact that people started misusing ornamentation. This can be addressed through training and regulation of artists.

William Morris, John Ruskin and Augustus Pugin are particularly significant for the Arts and Crafts Movement because their ideologies helped in the development of this crusade. Their focus on socialism and ornamentation were effective in helping this movement grow. Through them, most artists were in a better position to relive the Pre-Renaissance period.


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Ashmore, Sonia., and Suga, Yasuko. “Red House and Asia: A House and its Heritage”, The Journal of William Morris Studies vol. 17, no. 1 (2006): pp. 5–26.

Kirk, Sheila. Philip Webb: A Pioneer of Arts and Crafts Architecture. London: Wiley-Academic, 2005.

Lilwall-Smith , Andrew. Period living & traditional homes escapes. Wadsworth: Jarrold publishing, 2004.

Vaninskaya, Anna. William Morris and the Idea of Community: Romance, History and Propaganda, 1880–1914. Edinburgh University Press, 2010.

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