Steampunk Architecture [Ultimate Guide] - Reimagining of an Era


You’ve finally found it; the guide to Steampunk Architecture. This may be the most descriptive guide to Steampunk Architecture you’ll find.

The Steampunk subculture is extremely distinct and creative, and here’s what you’ll learn about its architecture:

  • The Art of Steampunk Design
  • The role of Victorian architecture in Steampunk Buildings
  • Steampunk Architecture Characteristics
  • Steampunk Designs you can visit

So where does Steampunk come from?

Put on your bowler hats and take out your monocle, so we can take a look.

The Science Non-Fiction Origins of Steampunk Architecture

So what is Steampunk? You can probably already tell that the subculture has something to do with Steam.

Steampunk is a genre of Science Fiction (sort of). It is the incorporation of technology and design with an emphasis on industrial steam-powered design from the 1800s. 

steam-powered design

Created by: Artem Gansior

Some, including me, call it the “Victorian Era that never was,” but the term “Steampunk” was first coined in 1980.

This is because the fashion, art, and architecture of Steampunk is heavily influenced by Victorian fashion, art, and architecture.

steampunk victorian fashion

Created by: Feist Style

Steampunk Fashion includes Victorian clothes like Blouses, Corsets, Bowler Hats, Monocles.

Some Steampunks even create extremely intricate and even functional mechanical designs that can be worn; giving you the impression that they themselves are steam-powered.

steampunk wearable

Created by: Artem Gansior

Not only do Steampunks dress in unique, steam-powered, victorian outfits, but Steampunk Architecture also follows Victorian age architecture.

Victorian Architecture and its Steampunk Architecture Grandchild

The Steampunk Style took many of its styles and elements from Victorian Architecture, truly designing a Victorian Era that never was.

Victorian architecture refers to the design styles created during the Victorian Era, 1830-1910. A time when Queen Elizabeth ruled alongside beauty and elegance. 

victorian house

Photo credit: Regina Cole

These styles included Gothic Revival Architecture, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Stick Style, and Romanesque.

Now, the reason that Victorian Age Architecture is truly being reimagined by Steampunks is because of the invention of Steam-powered sawmill. Hence the name Steampunks!

That, and well the hundreds of mechanical and steam-powered industries during this industrial revolution in England.

Anyway, the steam sawmill allowed elaborate and cheap materials to be made like wood and iron. Even working class families could afford wooden patterns, iron patterns, and other decorative elements in their homes.

Victorian Architecture’s Elegant Elements

Decorative Trim

victorian decorative elements

Photo credit: David Illif

As you can see, the carving of the wood railing, the pilasters, and the trim in between them is repetitive and modular.

Textured wall surfaces (shingles, masonry, half-timbering)

victorian wall surfaces

These kinds of decorative elements are rarely seen anymore, but they played such an integral role in projecting a family's elegance. And because of the industrial revolution, this style was no longer limited to the wealthy.

Steep, multi-faced roofs

steep victorian house roofs

Photo credit: Jim Carroll

See just how steep that four-sided roof is? The tall roof really gives you a feeling of prestige. And also a little bit of fear.

Porches

victorian house porches

Photo credit: Jay Wilde

The availability of machine cut and carved wood gave each house the opportunity for a porch. Making not only a gathering place outside of one's own home.

Towers

victorian house tower

Something that Victorian Architecture made possible is the opportunity for all homes to take advantage of towers that give this grand and tall illusion.
This idea of the tall building elements to project verticality is seen here in this Steampunk tower.

Colors

victorian colorful house

We see in Victorian Architecture the idea of the building element color not matching the natural color the material was made from. Making a building even more artistic and creative.

Tall Windows

Victorian house tall windows

One of the styles included in the Victorian Era is Gothic Revival. We can see that in the frequency of tall windows and openings. An element rooted in the Gothic style and its revival.

The Response to Industry: The Steampunk Art

In the Steampunk style we can find many of the same elements reimagined on different scales, and building types.

However, industrialized patterns made many people feel as though the art and morals behind crafting had been replaced by mass-production. This called for an art revolution: the Arts and Crafts movement.

An art movement was introduced by philosophers and architects like John Ruskin and William Morrison.

A movement that called for the return of unique, crafted items. Another important theme in Steampunk culture. Especially in the crafting of metal pieces, clocks, and wooden decorative elements.

But the real Steampunk Architecture reinvention of the Victorian Era Architecture is something out of pure fantasy and unique use.

The Response to Industry: The Steampunk Art

Steampunk Architecture is the fusion of these Victorian architectural innovations with new uses and intricate handcrafted design; really defining the Steampunk style as its own brand of architecture.

To start, the Steampunk style was first introduced in 1980, and has been popularized especially in the last 10 years. A whole 170 years since the start of the Victorian era.

Steampunk buildings can be defined as the mixture of industrial metal elements and Victorian ideas of elegance and often includes:

Intricate metal designs and surfaces often brass, copper, or iron

steampunk metal designs

Created by: Josh Reiss

As you can see from the helmet, the sleeve, and the weapon in this picture, the Steampunk have the ability to design metals with even the smallest details.

Intricate Wood designs (often handmade)

wood designs steampunk

Photo credit: Jim Cardon

Here is another great example of a pattern crafted in dark wood for this desk. In Steampunk Designs, nothing goes undecorated!

Steep Roofs

steep roofs steampunk house

Created by: Mike Winkelmann

This image does a great job of showing just how integral the Victorian Steep Roofs and 4-sided roofs are in the Steampunk fantasy. We can see that the dome and arch are also being used.

Turrets

steampunk turrets

Created by: Joe Studzinski

And by turrets, I don’t just mean guns (even though futuristic guns made of brass are a popular accessory for steampunks. Turrets, often on the corners of buildings might make you think about just how prestigious this built environment must be.

Tall, Arched, Windows and Doorway

steampunk vision

See the fantastical scale of these arched doorways and windows! This is exactly the kind of world Steampunk design can create.

Steam-powered/mechanical Devices and Sculptures

steampunk metal designs

Created by: Artem Gansior

You can see here the kind of imaginative wood and metal devices that are steam-powered. Almost like little creatures. Another great reimagining of these devices is in the Dwemer Ruins in Skyrim.

Colored with shades of Brown, Black, Dark Grey

steampunk colors

Created by: Jaehyun Kim

The reason these dark colors are so common in Steampunk Design is because Steampunks are passionate about the natural colors of the Material they are crafting.

That is why the colors often associated with Steampunk are that of brass, bronze, black leather, and dark brown woods.

Red or Green accent colors on exterior and interior

steampunk interior

Photo credit: Steampunk Tendencies

The red carpet and the green color not only adds another element of elegance, but it also pairs well with the kinds of dark woods and metal tones of the detailing.

The most noticeable of these Steampunk building elements being the Turrets and arched tall windows.

The most interesting part of the Steampunk building style is its reimagining of the uses these building elements can have. Often these building elements can be incorporated into vehicles, ships, treehouses, bridges, interior design, and lighting design.

steampunk interior

Interiors of Historic Sci-Fi World

Some popular interior design elements incorporated into Steampunk Interior design include:

Clocks

steampunk clock

Source: u/platz41

Who could imagine a clock that is not just electric or mechanical, but can also be reinvented with steam power?

Since Steampunk is the reimagination of another time with futuristic undertones, there is a distinct interest in time, clocks, and time machines.

Intricate Wooden Stairs

steampunk stairs details

Photo credit: Onor Kuru

These intricately carved stair railings are in every Steampunk interior, sometimes done even in iron and brass.

Gears

steampunk hats

Created by: Artem Gansior

Sometimes even the most mundane things like hats, eye pieces, sometimes even shoes are recreated to be mechanical working sculptures that can be worn or hung in a room to add the Steampunk building interior.

Leather furniture

steampunk furniture

Leather is used often because it pairs well with the metal tones, as well as the Victorian and gothic fashion of Steampunks.

Velvet Furniture

steampunk velvet furniture

Source: Outcast

Not only does the color of the velvet accent beautifully with the dark metals and woods, but the quality and the texture of the velvet add to the idea of beauty and delicacy.

Time Machines

steampunk time machine

Created by:  Alexander Schlesier

Further emphasizing the science fiction origins of Steampunk, time machines offer a mechanical advancement that plays an important role in the Steampunk fantasy world.

AirShips and Submarines

steampunk airship

Steampunk Architecture and Design are fascinated with the things that move and how they move. Even through different mediums like air, water, and ground.

Here is a great example of reimagining the idea of the carriage with steampunk characteristics and new uses.

These designs are becoming more popular especially in the 2000’s. There are a few built projects you can visit soon!

Architecture in Burning Man

Burning Man is one of the largest art gatherings in the US. It attracts so many different sculptors, painters, dancers, musicians, and, of course, Steampunks.

This is a great place to look for Steampunk design. Burning Man is one of the largest collections of Steampunk dirigibles (drivable sculptures), Fashion, and architectural designs.

burning man sculpture

Photo credit: Theresa Christine

These sculptures are HUGE! 

burning man orb

Photo credit: Gypsylands

Burning Man Artists take imagination and scale onto a whole new level including cyberpunk art, Steampunk with a modern twist, Contemporary Art, Art Deco Architecture, and even recreation of classical art in a dystopian form.

Burning Man is not just home to Steampunk design of course, but the reason the Burning Man is so popular amongst Steampunk design is because of Burning Man’s emphasis on the idea of the handcrafted process.

burning man site

Photo credit: Jim Urquhart

Not only that, but just like in any architecture style, the Steampunk style must exist in context. And no site context fits the fantasy ideal of the Steampunk style quite like the dystopian Black Rock Desert, in Nevada.

Neverwas Haul

neverwas haul vehicle

Photo credit: Scott London

Neverwas Haul explores exactly what Steampunk Buildings is all about: the Victorian Era that never was.

In this drivable three-story house, you can see the Steampunk characteristics. It has a steep roof, metal detailing, the tall, arched windows and doorways. It has an even more interesting use as a self-propelled car.

neverwas haul vehicle

Photo credit: Scott London

This Steampunk house drove through many festivals and Burning Mans and can still be seen at Obtainium Works in Vallejo, California.

The Steampunk Treehouse

steampunk treehouse

The steampunk treehouse by the Five Ton Crane Arts collective is an extruded pentagon in a metal tree. It literally looks like a turret in a tree.

This project has a delicate staircase, an intricate, welded tree, wood panel room with metal trim, and arched doorways and stained glass windows. It is even fitted with devices that eject steam from the tree. What’s more Steampunk Architecture than that?

Photo credit: Russ Atkinson

This tree house can currently be visited at the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Delaware.

The Steampunk Pavilion

steampunk pavilion

Photo credit: Tõnu Tunnel

This Project is my personal favorite, it truly is a beautiful representation of Steampunk Architecture art through process and style.

This project is an ode to Steampunk design as it was handcrafted in hope to capture subtleties that would not occur in projects that utilize machine design. This is because the subtlety of the wood bending process would not be possible without human intuition. 

steampunk pavilion

This wood bending process uses steam to make the wood bendable without breaking. Then metal brackets are used to connect the wood pieces and hold the wood bends in place.

The mix of this handcrafted process, the wood detailed curvature, and the metal detailing is a Steampunk Characteristic. 

steampunk pavilion detail

Photo credit: Tõnu Tunnel

The Steampunk Pavilion is a Tallinn Architecture Biennial installation by Fologram, Igor Pantic, and Sooman Hahm Design. It is still on display in Tallinn, Estonia and will be until 2021.

Architecture of a World That Never-was

Steampunk Architecture is the Victorian architecture that never came to life. Until now.

This sci-fi style is a handcrafted style. A style with tall windows, steep roofs, and the beautiful detailing of wood and metal. A style that creates beautiful narratives of a steam-powered fantasy with huge airships, tall turrets that touch the sky, and Giant arched openings.


Comment your favorite Steampunk project or invention below!

About the Author

Dušan Cvetković is a professional architect from Serbia with international experience in the industry. Collaborated with numerous clients all around the world in the field of architecture design, 3D modeling and software education. He's been teaching Rhinoceros3D to thousands of architects through How to Rhino community and various social media channels.