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Building Styles

Neo - Gothic (1900 - 1945)

It has been said that the Gothic style is the architectural manifestation of the Christian religion. From Abbé Suger's original Gothic designs in the 11th century at St. Denis to the most recent Gothic churches in Canada, the vaults, lancet windows, and exaggerated verticality of the Gothic style were intended to point the observer heavenwards and produce a spiritually elevating experience. The adoption of Neo-Gothic is perfectly understandable for schools and universities in the early years of the 20th century. The style became so common for

scholastic buildings that it is often called Collegiate Gothic. While the 19th century Gothic Revival style was elaborate, dichromatic, and used for every type of building from the small Gothic Cottage to churches and government buildings, Neo-Gothic was monochromatic and on a much more grand scale. In essence, architects adapted the Gothic vocabulary to the requirements of large modern buildings. Wall buttresses and finials are added, but they are generally far too small to be of any structural benefit.



Despite the fact that Canadian universities are now competing for students over issues such as university centers with multiple fast food outlets and extensive computer labs, the Collegiate Gothic designs such as University Hall at McMaster University, are what is found on the promotional literature. This is what people think a university should look like,in part because the great, old, universities like Cambridge and Oxford are designed in this style.

The tower is supported by large buttresses. The parapet has battlementing and oversized finials. The bay window has tracery, ogee curves, and a multiplicity of muntins. The archway has a beautifully carved reveal and spandrels that contain images to inspire learning. (see next image) Doesn't it make you want to get out a good book?

Neo-Gothic Tower

Hamilton Ontario


Another beautifully kept example, this is the doorway to Hamilton Hall at McMaster University.

The reveal has many carved mouldings that represent the various disciplines studied at the university: the fish represent Biology, the pick ax and shovel for Mining Engineering, the wheelbarrow for Geology, etc.

Within the spandrel are other decorations, also on the educational theme. There is a rectangular hoodmold around the doorway, and at the end of it is a label stop carved in the shape of a student's head, wearing a mortar board.

Neo-Gothic architecture lends itself well to education because of these detailing possibilities. On the men's residences there are carved footballs and soccer balls to emphasize the concept of "a healthy body, a healthy mind."

Neo-Gothic Detail

Hamilton Ontario


Like McMaster, all of the buildings at the University of Western Ontario are of the Neo-Gothic style up until around 1960.

This doorway is flanked by two large bay windows. The door has a pointed lunette creating a Gothic arch which is covered by a drip mold finished by label stops. Above the entrance is a stone balcony with a parapet. On either side are buttresses with finials on the top.

Above the front entrance is a window with a four-centered arch. The window is detailed with stone mullions and muntins on the lower windows. The building has much less tracery than the McMaster examples above, but still gives the impression of being a solid institution with a formidable history and tradition.



Neo-Gothic Detail Bay Window Drip Mold Finial Buttress Mullion Parapet Six Panel Door 12 over 12 Sash Windows Traceried Side Light Traceried Fan Transom Decorative Pilaster

London Ontario


This building, once the Gold Exchange, is currently the home of City TV. The owners have spent a fortune in upkeep and should be given a medal for their efforts.

This is a basically rectangular building, as buildings are apt to be in downtown locations. The magic is in the terra-cotta carving and detailing on the sides.

The walls are divided into bays by carved pilasters. Within each bay are carved mullions and spandrels. The mullions create a vertical thrust and end in ornate finials. Beneath this set of three windows is a large cornice band with carved figures and crests at regular intervals.

You could easily spend a few hours just exploring the exterior of this building.

Neo Gothic in Toronto

Toronto Ontario

Thunder Bay

The Whalen building, built in 1913 by James Whalen, a logging tycoon, was one of the first really high office buildings in the area. At first glance it doesn't appear to have much of a Neo-Gothic flavour, but there are many fine reliefs, reveals, and Gothic arches on the street level as well as detailing along the roofline.

The vertical window separations are rib-like, almost buttresses, and the corners of the building have small tower-like projections with vertical detailing.

Many of the offices on the upper floors have been renovated, but the main floor has been maintained, and there are lovely frescoes, carvings and other details that make a trip to this building certainly worthwhile.

Neo-Gothic Office

Thunder Bay Ontario


Westdale High School in Hamilton has Neo-Gothic detailing on the portal, on the gable, and on the piers that form the frontispiece. The entrance has three segmental arches with large stone molding. The paired piers have ornate finials, giving the impression of weight and stability. The frontispiece forms a unified and impressive scholarly entrance.

School buildings prior to 1970 and Brutalism usually had more windows than wall. In this example the mullions are strong, vertical accents reminiscent of Gothic cathedral design. Massive window surfaces were also used in university designs such as those seen in Cambridge and Oxford. Between the window bands are carved spandrels. The muntin bars are also pronounced.

Neo-Gothic in Hamilton

Hamilton Ontario


Another example of Collegiate Gothic is in University of Toronto. Surely it is not a coincidence that the upper section of the tower shows a marked resemblance to Magdalen College in Oxford. The tower sides are buttressed, the top is battlemented, there are lancet windows with tracery and molded surrounds, and each façade is speckled with loopholes - holes in walls from which arrows were launched in medieval times.

The bottom of the tower is the walkway, or gateway, to the University College, the sports field, and other important buildings. Many medieval towns had similar gateways and towers on their fortifications separating the outside world from the city within.

Neo-Gothic in Toronto

Toronto Ontario

Iron Cresting Modillions or Paired Brackets Bay Quoins Dormer Belvedere Awning Modillions Balconette Paired Windows Cornice Return Cornice Return Spandrel Label Stops Intrados Finial Battlement Parapet Bay Window Spandrel Reveal Finial Pilaster Spandrel Mullions Crest Molding Molding Finial Spandrel Mullion Entrance Crest Battlement Finials Lancet Buttress Parapet