Architecture's History In A Nutshell

Introduction to historical periods and styles of the West

Periods and styles complement one another. The two elements sometimes integrate different ideas, at times, create new approaches and often re-envision and re-invent old movements. While dates are always approximate, architecture is a fluid changing art. As such, present-day buildings have radically evolved from medieval times. In tracing the history of architecture of the Western world, we discover that many significant buildings in the modern era were inspired by the majestic structures of the Mediterranean Sea. So let us explore the evolution of architecture made by humankind. From the first known structures to the soaring skyscrapers of the present day through a quick review, illustrating how each new movement builds upon its predecessor.

Urban city

11,600 BC to 3,500 BC – Prehistoric Times

The prehistoric times saw human beings constructing earthen mounds, stone circles, boulders, and structures, which fascinates contemporary archaeologists. Göbekli Tepe in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of Turkey is an excellent example of archaeological architecture. The structure is made up of 20 T-shaped stone towers each carved with illustrations of snakes, scorpions, lions, bears, foxes and other animals. Other prehistoric architectures include Stonehenge, cliff dwellings in the Americas as well as thatch and mud structures that have since been lost to the sands of time.


Stonehenge Leftover rocks of Stonehenge


3,050 BC to 900 BC – Ancient Egypt

Powerful rulers in ancient Egypt used to build monumental pyramids, temples, and shrines. Unlike most primitive structures, enormous constructions like the Pyramids of Giza were of excellent engineering capabilities. The most prominent feature of ancient Egyptian architecture is perhaps the noticeable absence of wood in the structures. This was because of the lack of abundant timber to use in construction due to the dry Egyptian climate. Thus, other materials such as sun-baked mud brick and limestone were used as a substitute.

850 BC to 476 AD – Classical

Magnificent buildings from the rise of ancient Greece up till the fall of the Roman Empire were built according to precise rules. Architectural order refers to a style of building. In classical architecture, each order is distinguishable utilizing its proportions and profiles in addition to various details. The columns are situated such that they provide a useful index of the style itself. Identifying the order of the column can then locate the order employed in the overall structure. The classical laws that define column styles and entablature are still being used to guide building design in the present day.


Remains of Parthenon The remains of Parthenon, an iconic Greece architecture


527 to 565 AD – Byzantine

Byzantine architecture thrived under the rule of Roman Emperor Justinian. The considerable use of interior mosaics and the dome height are the two defining characteristics of that era. Byzantine architecture features square-shaped, central floor plan churches designed after the Greek cross instead of the Latin one found in Gothic cathedrals. Its central domes are of great height stretching from a square base on half-dome pillars or pendentives. Mosaic decorations and narratives are aplenty. An example is a mosaic image of Justinian located in the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. The Byzantine Empire also rescinded the Classical order in place of Middle Eastern-inspired designs such as decorative impost blocks.


Mosaic image of Justinian The mosaic image of Justinian, located in Basilica of San Vitale, Italy


800 to 1200 AD – Romanesque

Romanesque architecture was influenced by the spread of Rome across Europe. Stocky Romanesque architecture with rounded arches emerged during this period. This is evident in churches and castles during the early medieval periods that were constructed with thick walls and massive piers. This style of architecture is defined by its colossal quality, its thick walls, round arches, sturdy piers, groin vaults, large towers, and decorative arcading. Every structure is clearly defined forms and often boasts very regular and symmetrical designs. The overall aesthetics are simple in comparison to the succeeding Gothic buildings. This form of architecture is distinct across Europe albeit with differing regional characteristics and materials used, one such architecture being the Cathedral of Our Lady Immaculate.

1100 to 1450 AD – Gothic

Pointed arches, ribbed vaulting, flying buttresses and taller, more graceful buildings are the defining factors of Gothic architecture. Gothic ideas have inspired the construction of impressive cathedrals like Chartres and Notre Dame. The most significant feature of Gothic style architecture, the fine art, was borrowed from Islamic architecture rife in Spain during that time. The pointed arch helps to relieve some of the stress placed on other structural elements making it possible to have smaller columns or piers that support the arch.


Notre-Dame The Notre-Dame, located in Paris


1400 to 1600 AD – Renaissance

The Renaissance period marked the return of classical ideas in Italy, France, and England. Architects in the Renaissance period did not employ the intricate and vertical Gothic style in their designs. Instead, they favored the simplicity and balanced proportions of classicism. Rounded arches, domes and the classical orders were repopularised through renaissance architecture. The revival was made possible with an observation of Roman ruins alongside the study of the “Ten Books on Architecture” treatise written by Roman architect-engineer Vitruvius. The dissertation was the only surviving work on ancient architecture at that time.


The Château de Chantilly The Château de Chantilly, an architecture designed during the Renaissance period


1600 to 1830 AD – Baroque

The Baroque style can differ from country to country. In Italy, this style is manifested through grand and elaborate churches adorned with irregular shapes and extravagant ornamentation. In France, it is articulated by incorporating a highly ornamented Baroque style with classical restraint. However, most Baroque architectures share a unique feature of having richly sculpted surfaces. Baroque architects used to mold surfaces to achieve three- dimensional sculpted classism. Unlike the facade of a renaissance building where the surface is typically neatly divided into sections, a Baroque surface is treated as a continuous whole.


Church of the Gesù An interior view of the Church of the Gesù decorated Baroque style


1650 to 1790 AD – Rococo

Rococo refers to a type of art and architecture that started in France during the mid-1700s. Some characteristics of Rococo buildings are its elaborate use of curves and scrolls, ornaments shaped like shells and plants as well as oval form rooms. Patterns were also intricate with delicate details. Rococo architecture comes with complex shapes that are asymmetrical. They are typically found with light and pastel colors with bold dashes of brightness and light and a purposeful amount of gold. Rococo decorative arts prospered before Neoclassicism came into a trend within the Western world.

1730 to 1925 AD – Neoclassicism

Neoclassicism was inspired by the ideas of Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. This era brought about a return of classic shapes in Europe, Great Britain, and the United States. Neoclassicism structures were proportioned based on the classical orders and designs borrowed from ancient Greece and Rome. Many Neoclassical buildings have a symmetrical floor plan shape and congruent fenestration styles with tall columns that occupy the entire depth of the building. A double portico, triangular pediment and centered domed roof are also present in residential neoclassical architectures.


The Lincoln Memorial The Lincoln Memorial, located in the USA


1890 to 1914 AD – Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau first appeared in fabric and graphic design. The style spread to architecture and furniture in the 1890s. Art Nouveau architectures frequently hold asymmetrical shapes, arches and decorative surfaces that have curved, plant-like designs. It is most prominently recognized for its graceful curving lines. Some buildings appear to rise from the ground in a harmoniously swelling and undulating fashion. Lines are stretched and then bent back on them in a whiplash fashion. This style is known as a whiplash curve, which has since become a hallmark of Art Nouveau architecture.


Grand Hotel Europa A section of Grand Hotel Europa


1895 to 1925 AD – Beaux-Arts

Beaux-Arts architecture is known for its order, symmetry, and extensive ornamentation. Beaux-Arts buildings are usually large, stone-constructed structures with symmetrical façades and either front and flat or low-pitched roofs. The façade of these buildings is commonly adorned with Greek, and Roman architecture inspired fixtures. Balconies with vertical posts, held in position by large decorative columns alongside arched windows and grandly arched entryways, finished off with triangular roofs were a common sight. Building details and decorations are over-the-top with three-dimensional carved panels dubbed bas-relief and cartouches, which are, rounded convex surfaces. The building is surrounded by choice of garlands, decorative swags, and medallions or medal-like ornamentation. The interior of Beaux-Arts style government buildings also consists of high, vaulted ceilings and central domes.


Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille An outdoor area of the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille


1905 to 1930 AD – Neo-Gothic

Gothic styles from the 1100 to 1450 AD re-emerged in the early twentieth century. Gargoyles, arched windows, and other medieval details punctuated the soaring skyscrapers from the Gothic Revival era. Early neo-Gothic differs from the actual neo-Gothic also called rationalist neo-Gothic. Neo-Gothic was not a resurgence of Gothic but rather a rebirth of that particular style. One main difference between the two forms is that old neo-Gothic borrowed elements from Gothic for decorative purposes. Neo-Gothic, on the other hand, tried to grasp the basic principles behind Gothic before using them. Early neo-Gothic also had ties to neo-Classicism regarding the general shape of buildings and materials used. While early neo-Gothic churches often used imitations of natural materials, this practice was utterly unacceptable in neo-Gothic architecture. Early neo-Gothic also closely mirrors English Gothic styles although French and German Gothic examples first influenced neo-Gothic before the original ones at a later stage. Lastly, neo-Gothic churches were not plastered or painted, unlike early neo-Gothic churches.


The Lednice Chateau The Lednice Chateau, located in Lednice, Czechia


1925 to 1937 AD – Art Deco

Zigzag patterns and vertical lines are used to form a spectacular effect on Art Deco buildings. Many Art Deco motifs stem from ancient Egypt architecture. Here a beautiful combination of bold geometric shapes and bright colors can be seen in furniture, textiles, ceramics, sculpture, and architecture. Similar to Modernism, Art Deco architecture use clean lines and minimal decoration. The design lends itself to buildings for entertainment purposes in addition to glamorous interiors for luxury hotels, restaurants, and apartments. Lighting is also an integral aspect of Art Deco architecture with a significant portion being made of neon strip lighting that emphasizes the majestic nature of the designs.

1900 to Present – Modernist Styles

The 20th and 21st centuries were known to have some of the most dramatic changes and diversity. Modernist styles have slipped in and out of trend, and they continue to evolve. The modern look entails simplicity in form and design. It places importance on abstraction, which is formed by clean lines, basic shapes, and forms. The simple, plain, geometric forms, rectangular shapes, and linear elements sum up modernist architecture. This form is perceptible in the Weissenhof Estate located within Stuttgart, Germany. The structure comes in a box-like building with cubic volume, a flat roof, and clean lines.


Entrance of Weissenhof Estate The entrance of Weissenhof Estate


1972 to Present – Postmodernism

Postmodernism architectures were a result of the reaction against Modernist approaches. This generation drove new buildings imbued with historical details and familiar motifs to be built. Many architectural movements contain designs with roots dating back to the classical and ancient periods. Postmodernist architects do not draw their inspiration from a single source. They are likely to be highly decorative and somewhat whimsical since they embody a combination of several design elements across different architectural styles into a single structure. This makes Postmodernism architecture one of the most eclectic of its kind. Since it is designed with the idea of form over function, deviating from the usual formal rules that govern a particular style.


The Berliner Philharmonie The Berliner Philharmonie, located in Berlin, Germany


21st Century — Neo-Modernism and Parametricism

Neo-Modernism encompasses a variety of architectural styles and designs. Ranging from Frank Gehry's sculpted designs to 'Blobitecture,' also known as blob architecture, whereby buildings feature an organic, amoeba-shaped building form. With Neo-Modernism, the possibilities for architecture are endless.

Meanwhile, Parametricism is an architectural style created by computer technology and algorithms. The concept arose in the mid-1990s from digital animation techniques and has since risen to prominence in the early twenty-first century with the advancement of parametric design. This design approach has led to the formation of many curved, non-rectilinear buildings being built during the last couple of decades.


The Dalian International Conference Center The Dalian International Conference Center, created with Parametricism


Bring Different Architectural Periods into Your Home

Different historical periods and styles can influence the generations that precede or succeed it. You can even bring these ancient architectural styles right into the comfort of your homes with the Neo-Modernism and Parametricism style of architecture being presently available.