Explore architecture through the ages. This page provides a quick history of architecture in the Western world, from prehistoric megaliths to modernist skyscrapers. Follow the links to find articles and photos for each period and style. Please note that architecture is a fluid art. Architectural styles do not start and stop at precise times, and the dates listed here are approximate.
Much of what we know about ancient Egypt is based on great temples and tombs, which were made with granite and limestone and decorated with hieroglyphics, carvings, and brightly colored frescoes. The ancient Egyptians didn't use mortar, so the stones were carefully cut to fit together. The development of the pyramid form allowed Egyptians to build enormous tombs for their kings. The sloping walls could reach great heights because their weight was supported by the wide pyramid base. An innovative Egyptian named Imhotep is said to have designed one of the earliest of the massive stone monuments, the Step Pyramid of Djoser (2,667 BC - 2,648 BC).
Archaeological discoveries in Egypt reawakened an interest in the ancient temples and monuments. Egyptian Revival architecture became fashionable during the 1800s. In the early 1900s, the discovery of King Tut's tomb stirred a fascination for Egyptian artifacts and the rise of Art Deco architecture.
Classical architecture of ancient Greece
and Rome has
shaped the way we build today.
How Classical Architecture Began?
From the rise of ancient Greece until the fall of the Roman empire, great buildings were constructed according to precise rules. The Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius, who lived during first century BC, believed that builders should use mathematical principles when constructing temples. "For without symmetry and proportion no temple can have a regular plan," Vitruvius wrote in his famous treatise De Architectura, or Ten Books on Architecture (compare prices).
The Classical Orders
In his writings, Marcus Vitruvius introduced the Classical orders, which defined column styles and frieze designs used in Classical architecture. The earliest Classical orders were Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.
700 BC-323 BC: Greek. The Doric column was first developed in Greece and it was used for great temples, including the famous Parthenon in Athens. Simple Ionic columns were used for smaller temples and building interiors.
323 BC-146 BC: Hellenistic. When Greece was at the height of its power in Europe and Asia, the empire built elaborate temples and secular buildings with Ionic and Corinthian columns. The Hellenistic period ended with conquests by the Roman Empire.
44 BC-476 AD: Roman. The Romans borrowed heavily from the earlier Greek and Hellenistic styles, but their buildings were more highly ornamented. They used Corinthian and composite style columns along with decorative brackets. The invention of concrete allowed the Romans to build arches, vaults, and domes. A famous example of Roman architecture is the Roman Colosseum.
Classical to Neoclassical
More than 1,500 years after the Roman architect Vitruvius wrote his important book, the Renaissance architect Giacomo da Vignola outlined Vitruvius's ideas in a treatise titled The Five Orders of Architecture. Published in 1563, The Five Orders of Architecture became a guide for builders throughout western Europe.
In 1570, another Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio, used the new technology of movable type to publish I Quattro Libri dell' Architettura, or The Four Books of Architecture. In this book, Palladio showed how Classical rules could be used not just for grand temples but also for private villas. Palladio's ideas spread across Europe and into the New World, giving rise to a variety of Neoclassical styles.
Between 373 and 500 A.D., European architecture moved from the rectangular basilica forms to the classically inspired Byzantine style. Heavier, stocky Romanesque architecture, with rounded arches and other Roman features, became popular between 700 and 1200 A.D.
The world-famous Cathedral of Chartres which Rodin called the Acropolis of France, is a remarkable testament to medieval architecture. Must sees include the sculpture, the 12' and 13' century stained glass and the amazing collection of ancient musical instruments. The Old Town of medieval cobbled streets, gabled houses and charming footbridges lies at the foot of the cathedral.
architecture is the term that is used to describe the architecture of Medieval
Europe, characterised by semi-circular arches, and evolving into the Gothic
style, characterised by pointed arches, beginning in the 12th century. The term
"Romanesque", meaning "descended from Roman", was first
used to describe the style in the early 19th century. Although there is no consensus
for the beginning date of the style, with proposals ranging from the 6th to the
10th centuries, examples can be found across the continent, making Romanesque
architecture the first pan-European architectural style since Imperial Roman
Architecture. The Romanesque style in England is more traditionally
referred to as Norman architecture.
Combining features of Western Roman and Byzantine buildings, Romanesque architecture is known by its massive quality, its thick walls, round arches, sturdy piers, groin vaults, large towers and decorative arcading. Each building has clearly defined forms and they are frequently of very regular, symmetrical plan so that the overall appearance is one of simplicity when compared with the Gothic buildings that were to follow. The style can be identified right across Europe, despite regional characteristics and different materials.
Many castles were built during this period, but they are greatly outnumbered by churches. The most significant are the great abbey churches, many of which are still standing, more or less complete and frequently in use
the 12th century, new ways of building meant that cathedrals and other large
buildings could reach soaring heights.
How Gothic Architecture Began?
Gothic architecture began mainly in France where builders began to adapt the earlier Romanesque style. Builders were also influenced by the pointed arches and elaborate stonework of Moorish architecture in Spain. One of the earliest Gothic buildings was the ambulatory of the abbey of St. Denis in France, built between 1140 and 1144.
Originally, Gothic architecture was known as the French Style. During the Renaissance, after the French Style had fallen out of fashion, artisans mocked it. They coined the word Gothic to suggest that French Style buildings were the crude work of German (Goth) barbarians. Although the label wasn't accurate, the name Gothic remained.
architecture has many of these features:
-Pointed Arches. Gothic builders found that pointed arches could support more weight than perpendicular walls. With pointed arches supporting the roof, walls could be thinner.
-Ribbed Vaulting. Instead of solid walls, builders used a series of columns that branched up into arches. With fewer solid walls, buildings appeared lighter and more delicate.
-Flying Buttresses. Free-standing brick and stone arches helped support exterior walls, allowing them to reach greater heights.
-Stained Glass Windows. Since the walls were no longer the only supports, Gothic buildings could include large areas of glass.
-Elaborate Sculptures. Gargoyles and other sculptures had both practical and decorative functions.
Between 1400 and 1600, Classical ideas were reborn in Italy and northern Europe. This period is known as the Renaissance, which means born anew in French. Before the dawn of the Renaissance, Europe was dominated by asymmetrical and ornate Gothic architecture. During the Renaissance, however, architects were inspired by the highly symmetrical and carefully proportioned buildings of Classical Greece and Rome.
-Symmetrical arrangement of windows and doors
-Extensive use of Classical columns and pilasters
-Niches with sculptures
Artists in Northern Italy were exploring new ideas for centuries before the period we call the Renaissance. However, the 1400s and 1500s brought an explosion of talent and innovation. During the early 1400s, the painter and architect Filippo Brunelleschi designed the great Duomo (cathedral) dome. Brunelleschi also rediscovered the principles of linear perspective.
During the 1500s, the great Renaissance painter Michelangelo Buonarroti painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and designed the dome for St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. A Classical approach to architecture spread through Europe, thanks to books by two important Renaissance architects:
The Five Orders of Architecture (compare prices) by Giacomo da Vignola
The Four Books of Architecture (compare prices) by Andrea Palladio
As Renaissance approaches to building spread to France, Spain, Holland, Germany, Russia, and England, each country incorporated its own building traditions and created its own version of Classicism. By the 1600s, ornate Baroque architecture emerged and became the dominant style in Europe.
Long after the Renaissance period ended, however, architects were inspired by Renaissance ideas. At the turn of the twentieth century, American architects like Richard Morris Hunt designed grand Renaissance Revival style homes that resembled palaces and villas from Renaissance Italy.
Rococo architecture was a variation of baroque. It began in the eighteenth century at Versailles. It was lighter, more graceful, and more subdued than baroque architecture. Rococo got its name from the French word rocaille, meaning rocks and shells. Most of the rococo decorations were natural forms such as tree branches, clouds, flowers, sea shells, surf, coral, seaweed, spray, and scrolls. Many colors that were used were pastels, but they also used lots of gold. Most rococo rooms were rectangular with rounded corners, and the walls were mostly flat, and smooth. Doors and woodwork had minor carvings, the carvings were not deep like in baroque buildings. The often had decorations and gilding on the walls, doors, and draperies. Windows, wall panels, and doors often went all the way from the floor to the ceiling. Mirrors were also common. Rococo architecture was common among the French aristocracy. For that reason, it was unpopular among the common people, and did not last long.
the word barocco means bizarre, and Baroque architecture certainly was extravagant.
Buildings in the Baroque style have many of these features:
Large curved forms
Trompe l'oeil paintings
Large curved forms
Trompe l'oeil paintings
the elaborate Baroque style are found throughout Europe and also traveled to Latin America and European settlements around the world.
While Baroque architecture was always highly decorated, it found expression in
Italian Baroque: Catholic Popes in Italy wanted architecture to express holy splendor. They commissioned churches with enormous domes, swirling forms, huge spiraled columns, multicolored marble, and lavish murals. The same exuberance was expressed in non-religious buildings. Example: The Trevi Fountain in Rome.
French Baroque: The Baroque style became more restrained in France. While lavish details were used, French buildings were usually symmetrical and orderly. The Palace of Versailles shown above is a landmark example.
English Baroque: Baroque architecture emerged in England after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Architect Christopher Wren used restrained Baroque styling when he helped rebuild the city. Example: St. Paul's Cathedral
Spain and Latin America: Builders in Spain, Mexico, and South America combined Baroque ideas with exuberant sculptures, Moorish details, and extreme contrasts between light and dark. Called Churrigueresque after a Spanish family of sculptors and architects, Spanish Baroque architecture was used through the mid-1700s, and continued to be imitated much later. Example: Casa del Prado in California is a lavish re-invention of Spanish Baroque, or Churrigueresque, architecture.
Rococo: In Germany, Austria, Eastern Europe, and Russia, Baroque ideas were often applied with a lighter touch. Pale colors and curving shell shapes gave buildings the delicate appearance of a frosted cake. The term Rococo is often used to describe these softer versions of the Baroque style. Example: Hermitage Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia
Period in History
Music. Famous names include Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi.
Art. Famous names include Caravaggio, Bernini, Rubens, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Velázquez.
Science and Inventions. Famous names include Blaise Pascal and Isaac Newton.
1690s - 1830: Georgian Colonial House Styles
Georgian Colonial homes usually have these features: Square, symmetrical shape, Paneled front door at center, Decorative crown over front door, Flattened columns on each side of door, Five windows across front, Paired chimneys, Medium pitched roof, Minimal roof overhang, Square, symmetrical shape, Paneled front door at center, Decorative crown over front door, Flattened columns on each side of door, Five windows across front, Paired chimneys, Medium pitched roof, Minimal roof overhang, Many Georgian Colonial homes also have: Nine or twelve small window panes in each window sash, Dentil molding (square, tooth-like cuts) along the eaves, Nine or twelve small window panes in each window sash, Dentil molding (square, tooth-like cuts) along the eaves, About the Georgian Colonial Style
Georgian Colonial became the rave in New England and the Southern colonies during the 1700's. Stately and symmetrical, these homes imitated the larger, more elaborate Georgian homes which were being built in England. But the genesis of the style goes back much farther. During the reign of King George I in the early 1700's, and King George III later in the century, Britons drew inspiration from the Italian Renaissance and from ancient GreeceRome. Georgian ideals came to New England via pattern books, and Georgian styling became a favorite of well-to-do colonists. More humble dwellings also took on characteristics of the Georgian style. America's Georgian homes tend to be less ornate than those found in Britain.
or "new" classical, architecture describes buildings that are
inspired by the classical architecture of ancient Greece
and Rome. During the
1700s, architects began to turn away from elaborate Baroque and Rococo styles.
The Classical architecture of ancient Greece
and Rome became
a model for restrained Neoclassical, or Neo-classical, styles.
A Neoclassical building may have some (but not necessarily all) of these features:
Tall columns that rise the full height of the building
The Rise of Neoclassical Architecture
In 1563, Renaissance architect Giacomo da Vignola outlined the principles of Classical architecture in a treatise titled The Five Orders of Architecture. A few years later, another Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio, described his own approach to Classical architecture in The Four Books of Architecture. These books were widely translated and inspired builders throughout western Europe. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the newly-formed United States also drew upon classical ideals to construct grand government buildings and smaller private homes.
The word Neoclassical is often used to describe an architectural style, but Neoclassicism is not actually any one distinct style. Neoclassicism is a trend, or approach to design, that can describe several very different styles. You will find Neoclassicsm in: Antebellum Architecture, Stately plantation homes built before America's Civil War were often inspired by classical architecture, Beaux Arts Architecture
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, ancient Greek and Roman ideas were combined with balustrades, balconies, and lavish decoration.
1825 - 1860: Greek Revival
details reminiscent of the Parthenon, stately, pillared Greek Revival homes
reflect a passion for antiquity.
Greek Revival houses usually have these features: Pedimented gable, Symmetrical shape, Heavy cornice, Wide, plain frieze, Bold, simple moldings, Pedimented gable, Symmetrical shape, Heavy cornice, Wide and plain frieze, Bold and simple moldings
Many Greek Revival houses also have these features:
Entry porch with columns, Decorative pilasters, Narrow windows around front door, Entry porch with columns, Decorative pilaster, Narrow windows around front door
About the Greek Revival Style
In the mid-19th century, many prosperous Americans believed that ancient Greece represented the spirit of democracy. Interest in British styles had waned during the bitter War of 1812. Also, many Americans sympathized with Greece's own struggles for independence in the 1820s. Greek Revival architecture began with public buildings in Philadelphia. Many European-trained architects designed in the popular Grecian style, and the fashion spread via carpenter's guides and pattern books. Colonnaded Greek Revival mansions - sometimes called Southern Colonial houses - sprang up throughout the American south. With its classic clapboard exterior and bold, simple lines, Greek Revival architecture became the most predominant housing style in the United States. During the second half of the 19th century, Gothic Revival and Italianate styles captured the American imagination. Grecian ideas faded from popularity. However, front-gable design - a trademark of the Greek Revival style - continued to influence the shape of American houses well into the 20th century. You will notice the classic front-gable design in simple "National Style" farm houses throughout the United States.
Victorian Architecture 1840 to 1900
exactly, is a Victorian? Many people use the term to describe an architectural
style. However, Victorian is not really a style but a period in history. The
Victorian era dates from about 1840 to 1900. During this time,
industrialization brought many innovations in architecture. There are a variety
of Victorian styles, each with its own distinctive features.
The most popular Victorian styles spread quickly through widely published pattern books. Builders often borrowed characteristics from several different styles, creating unique, and sometimes quirky, mixes. Buildings constructed during the Victorian times usually have characteristics of one or more these styles:
-Gothic Revival Architecture
Victorian Gothic buildings feature arches, pointed windows, and other details borrowed from the middle ages. Masonry Gothic Revival buildings were often close replicas of Medieval cathedrals. Wood-frame Gothic Revival buildings often had lacy "gingerbread" trim and other playful details.
-Victorian Italianate Architecture
Rebelling against formal, classical architecture, Italianate became the one of the most popular styles in the United States. With low roofs, wide eaves, and ornamental brackets, Italianate is sometimes called the bracketed style
-Second Empire or Mansard Style
Characterized by their boxy mansard roofs, these buildings were inspired by the architecture in Paris during the reign of Napoleon III.
-Victorian Stick Architecture
Trusses and stickwork suggest medieval building techniques on these relatively plain Victorian buildings.
Just plain folk could afford these no-fuss homes, using trimwork made possible by mass production.
-Shingle Style Architecture
Often built in costal areas, these shingle-sided homes are rambling and austere. But, the simplicity of the style is deceptive. The Shingle Style was adopted by the wealthy for grand estates.
-Richardsonian Romanesque Architecture
Architect Henry Hobson Richardson is often credited with popularizing these romantic buildings. Constructed of stone, they resemble small castles. Romanesque was used more often for large public buildings, but some private homes were also built in the imposing Romanesque style.
-Victorian Queen Anne Architecture
Queen Anne is the most elaborate of the Victorian styles. Buildings are ornamented with towers, turrets, wrap around porches, and other fanciful details.
Arts and Crafts Architecture
Crafts was a late 19th-century movement to revive handicrafts. Arts and Crafts
architecture sought a spiritual connection with the surrounding environment,
both natural and manmade.
When we speak of Craftsman houses, we often think of bungalows. But in the early 1900s, many types of homes were inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement.
A Bungalow is an early 20th century home with these features:
One and a half stories
Most of the living spaces on the ground floor
Low-pitched roof and horizontal shape
Living room at the center
Connecting rooms without hallways
Efficient floor plan
Built-in cabinets, shelves, and seats
Bungalow houses may relect many different architectural styles, and the word Bungalow is often used for any small 20th century home that uses space efficiently.
Art Nouveau Architecture
During the late 1800s, many European artists, graphic designers, and architects rebelled against formal, classical approaches to design. They believed that the greatest beauty could be found in nature. Art Nouveau (French for "New Style") was popularized by the famous Maison de l'Art Nouveau, a Paris art gallery operated by Siegfried Bing. Art Nouveau art and architecture flourished in major European cities between 1890 and 1914. In the United States, Art Nouveau ideas were expressed in the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
buildings have many of these features:
Extensive use of arches and curved forms
Curving, plant-like embellishments
Other Names for Art Nouveau:
As it moved through Europe, Art Nouveau went through several phases and took on a variety of names. Style Moderne, in France
Style Nouille (Noodle Style), in France
Jugendstil, in Germany
Sezession, in Austria
Stile Liberty, in Italy
Arte Noven, in Spain
In Riga, Art Nouveau
1885-1925: Beaux Arts
classical Greek and Roman architecture with Renaissance ideas, Beaux Arts was a
favored style for grand public buildings and opulent mansions.
Beaux Arts buildings have many of these features: Massive and grandiose, Constructed with stone, Balustrades, Balconies, Columns, Cornices, Pilasters. Triangular pediments, Lavish decorations, Grand stairway, Large arches, Symmetrical façade
Beaux Arts Style
The Beaux Arts (French for "fine art") style originated in the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. Many American architects studied at this legendary architectural school, where they learned about the aesthetic principles of classical design and brought them to the United States.
Also known as Beaux Arts Classicism, Academic Classicism, or Classical Revival, Beaux Arts is a late and eclectic form of Neoclassicism. It combines classical architecture from ancient Greece and Rome with Renaissance ideas. Beaux Arts is characterized by order, symmetry, formal design, grandiosity, and elaborate ornamentation. In the United States, the Beaux Arts style led to planned neighborhoods with large, showy houses, wide boulevards, and vast parks. Due to the size and grandiosity of the buildings, the Beaux Arts style is most commonly used for public buildings like museums, railway stations, libraries, banks, courthouses, and government buildings.
The popularity of the Beaux Arts style waned in the 1920's, and within 25 years the buildings were considered ostentatious. Later in the 20th century, postmodernists rediscovered an appreciation of the Beaux Arts ideals.
century Neo-Gothic skyscrapers borrowed details from medieval Gothic
architecture. The Tribune Tower in Chicago
is an example of Neo-Gothic design.
Gothic Revival was a Victorian style that borrowed details from Gothic cathedrals and other medieval architecture. In the early twentieth century, Gothic Revival ideas were applied to modern skyscrapers. Twentieth Century Gothic Revival buildings are often called Neo-Gothic.
buildings have many of these features: Strong
vertical lines and a sense of great height, Pointed
windows with decorative tracery, Gargoyles
and other carvings, Pinnacles
Famous Neo-Gothic Buildings:
The Chicago Tribune Tower shown here was built in 1924. The architects Raymond Hood and John Howells were selected over many other architects to design the building. Their Neo-Gothic design may have appealed to the judges because it reflected a conservative (some critics said "regressive") approach.
1925-1937: Art Deco
sleek forms and zigzag designs, Art Deco buildings embraced the machine age.
The Art Deco style evolved from many sources. The austere shapes of the Bauhaus School and streamlined styling of modern technology combined with patterns and icons taken from the Far East, classical Greece and Rome, Africa, Ancient Egypt, India, and Mayan and Aztec cultures.
buildings have many of these features:
Ziggurat shapes: Terraced pyramid with each story smaller than the one below it
Complex groupings of rectangles or trapezoids
Bands of color
Strong sense of line
Illusion of pillars
By the 1930s, Art Deco evolved into a more simplified style known as Streamlined Moderne, or Art Moderne. The emphasis was on sleek, curving forms and long horizontal lines. These buildings did not feature zigzag or colorful designs found on earlier Art Deco architecture.
-The Chrysler Building in New York City was built in 1930. For a few months, this Art Deco skyscraper was the tallest structure in the world. It was also one of the first buildings composed of stainless steel over a large exposed surface.
-The architect, William Van Alen, drew inspiration from machine technology for the ornamental details on the Chrysler Building: There are eagle hood ornaments, hubcaps and abstract images of cars.