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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
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!
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Interiors of Historic Sci-Fi World
Some popular interior design elements incorporated into Steampunk Interior design include:
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
Photo credit: Onor Kuru
These intricately carved stair railings are in every Steampunk interior, sometimes done even in iron and brass.
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 is used often because it pairs well with the metal tones, as well as the Victorian and gothic fashion of Steampunks.
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.
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 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.
Photo credit: Theresa Christine
These sculptures are HUGE!
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Source: Soomeenhahm Design
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.
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!