Arts and Crafts

The Arts and Crafts Movement was an architectural movement which became prominent at the end of the nineteenth century, and which continued into the beginning of the twentieth century. This movement highly emphasized primitive, vernacular forms over the revivalism popular at the time, focused on the democratic and spiritual aspects of architecture, and in many ways laid the foundations for the development of modernism.

The Arts and Crafts Movement developed in response to the rise of classical and Gothic revivalism in the United Kingdom. Championed by architects William Morris and John Ruskin, the Arts and Crafts style was characterized by a reversion to more primitive and basic forms than were common in neo-gothic and neo-classical styles. To these architects, revivalism did not adequately express the time period and spirit of the age, and they believed that in an era of growing industrialization, art and design were being divorced from regular workers and craftspeople.1 To counter this, Arts and Crafts emphasized handicrafts and the ideals of common laborers, in particular the use of local materials to construct a building, and favored organicism and asymmetry of design, instead of revivalist rationalism and uniformity. In such a way, the Arts and Crafts Movement demanded a return to a basic style, whereby a building is contextualized in its environment and location, and is built with the site in mind. These ideals would lead to the design philosophies of many modern architects to become prominent in the twentieth century.

Red House
Figure 1: Red House (1860). William Morris and Philip Webb. London, England. Photographer: Tony Hisgett

An important example of an Arts and Crafts style building is the Red House, designed by William Morris and Philip Webb. This house, built for Morris, reflects the Arts and Crafts principles in its overall design, most notably in its asymmetry and natural appearance.2 Shown in Figure 1, the building, with no clear façade or front, has an L-shaped plan and consists of several combined volumes. Meant to appear organic and primitive in its construction, Red House does not follow a symmetric or rational pattern; the building’s fenestration is highly irregular with several shapes and sizes, and its adjoined volumes appear to have been built over time. The building very naturally fits into its location, as when it was built it was surrounded by trees and nature. Red House, in its basic forms and presentation, illustrates the techniques of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

The Arts and Crafts Movement was, in many ways, a precursor to modern architecture and design. This Movement’s emphasis on basic forms, asymmetry, and stripped-back design provides a foundation and framework for the later, modern designs to emerge from twentieth century.



Figure 1: Tony Hisgett, Red House 2. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Flickr. Available at Flickr, link (accessed November 24, 2015).

  1. Alan Crawford, “Ideas and Objects: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain,” Design Issues 13, no. 1 (1997): 15-26.
  2. Ray Watkinson, “Red House Decorated,” The Journal of William Morris Studies 7, no. 4 (1988): 10-15.

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