Hamilton Halton Construction Association   Ontario Architecture  
Contact Building Terms Building Styles Building Terms

Building Styles

Octagon (1830 - 1900)

Unlike any other style, the popularity of the Octagon can be attributed to one person, the American Orson Squire Fowler, who is much better known for his work in phrenology - the study of analyzing a person's character traits by studying the configuration of the skull. Fowler's book A Home for All (1849) first illustrates mathematically that an octagon provides one-fifth more room than a comparably sized square house. Then the popular pseudoscientist explains how the octagon shape satisfies two phrenological needs, "inhabitiveness and constructiveness."

Given these unusual roots, it is surprising how many lovely Octagon buildings there are in Ontario.

The first octagonal buildings in North America appeared in the 1650s in Eastern United States. Some examples of Octagons built in the 1840s clearly predate Fowler, but it was his enthusiasm that made the design popular. A full list of Ontario polygonal buildings can be found in John Rempel's excellent book Building with Wood.



St Andrew's United Church was built in 1855 on the grounds of an earlier church built in 1822. There is no evidence that Fowler's book and theories were the basis of the design, but architects of ecclesiastical architecture were always concerned with the maximum "receptivity" of light (see Gothic) and any possible spiritual benefits that could be derived from the geometry of the design. This church is a lovely compact structure made of local field stone with lancet arches on all windows and a pointed two- centered arch on the transom of the main entrance .

Octagonal Church

Speedside Ontario


The layout for this Octagon house in Picton is taken from A Home for All. It is a plain, two storey octagon shape with single-pane sash windows and a veranda that sweeps around three sides of the building on the street level. The finish is white stucco, and the roof is a pleasing contrast in black. A lacquered cottage-style door in natural wood with side lights is the only ornament.

A central fireplace is suggested by the octagonal shaped chimney in the center of the house.

Octagonal House

Picton Ontario


For contrast, this octagonal house is exactly the same as the one above, but with different accents. The door is not in the center of the veranda, but off to one side. The columns at the corners of the veranda are paired and have abacuses. The veranda also has a balustrade and an architrave (or fascia.)

The roof of the octagon has a squared belvedere instead of the chimney shown in the above example.


Octagonal Chapel

Bowmanville Ontario


This lovely building at Dundurn Castle was originally a cock fighting pit. It is set within a natural dell overlooking Lake Ontario and makes good use of the belvedere. The windows on the belvedere are done in a Renaissance style with simple surrounds and keystones over half-round windows. Atop the belvedere is a lantern.

The building has a pedimented portico with clustered, stylized, Doric columns and a full, plain, entablature. French doors, used frequently in Regency designs, are used for the front entrance. The entire building is a gentle off-white colour.

The chapel was built in 1820 for the private use of the MacNab family who owned Dundurn Castle.

Octagonal Chapel

Hamilton Ontario



Octagonal Chapel

Simcoe Ontario

This website was

belvedere Veranda Veranda Chimney Pediment Belvedere Lantern Entablature Doric Campanile Two Centered Pointed Arch Lancet Gable Door