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Last edited 07 Sep 2018
Polite architecture is the term used to describe buildings that incorporate non-local styles and use designed features that go beyond functional requirements. These stylistic features may be used by the architect to make a particular statement or to achieve an aesthetically-pleasing effect.
As a concept of architectural theory it is often used as a contrast with vernacular architecture. The vernacular is a type of architecture which is indigenous to a specific time and place, and historically uses the skills and expertise of local builders as opposed to formally-trained architects. Polite architecture often incorporates national or international architectural fashions, styles and conventions and seldom pays any regard to materials or practices particular to a locality.
Historically, buildings characterised as ‘polite’ were the reserve of wealthy individuals and institutions who could afford buildings that included individual style as opposed to being purely functional. Since the developed world’s industrialisation, elements of ‘the polite’ began to proliferate, due largely to the expansion and professionalisation of the field of architecture. The growing availability of more aesthetically-pleasing materials such as decorative bricks, metals, plastics and glass, as well as the infrastructure to be able to source them from beyond the immediate locale also played a role in the rise of ‘the polite’ form during the late 18th and 19th centuries.
As architects became increasingly influential figures, polite designs have continued to be in demand throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, despite some modernist designers attempting to abandon style altogether. The desire for architectural revivalism of many different styles, such as gothic and classical, has also played an important part in the continuing health of ‘the polite’ form.
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 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Architectural styles.
- Design methodology.
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- Nineteenth century architecture.
- The history of fabric structures.
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