History of architecture  

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1872 photograph of the western face of the Greek Parthenon
1872 photograph of the western face of the Greek Parthenon

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Timeline of architecture

The History of architecture traces the changes in the history of architecture through various countries and dates.


Ancient architecture

Prehistoric architecture

Neolithic architecture is the architecture of the Neolithic period. In Southwest Asia, Neolithic cultures appear soon after 10000 BC, initially in the Levant (Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B) and from there spread eastwards and westwards There are early Neolithic cultures in Southeast Anatolia, Syria and Iraq by 8000 BC, and food-producing societies first appear in southeast Europe by 7000 BC, and Central Europe by c. 5500 BC (of which the earliest cultural complexes include the Starčevo-Koros (Cris), Linearbandkeramic, and Vinča). With very small exceptions (a few copper hatchets and spear heads in the Great Lakes region), the people of the Americas and the Pacific remained at the Neolithic level of technology up until the time of European contact.

The neolithic peoples in the Levant, Anatolia, Syria, northern Mesopotamia and Central Asia were great builders, utilising mud-brick to construct houses and villages. At Çatalhöyük, houses were plastered and painted with elaborate scenes of humans and animals. The Mediterranean neolithic cultures of Malta worshiped in megalithic temples. In Europe, long houses built from wattle and daub were constructed. Elaborate tombs for the dead were also built. These tombs are particularly numerous in Ireland, where there are many thousand still in existence. Neolithic people in the British Isles built long barrows and chamber tombs for their dead and causewayed camps, henges flint mines and cursus monuments.

Ancient Egypt

In Ancient Egypt and other early societies, people believed in the omnipotence of Gods, with many aspects of daily life were carried out with respect to the idea of the divine or supernatural and the way it was manifest in the mortal cycles of generations, years, seasons, days and nights. Harvests for example were seen as the benevolence of fertility deities. Thus, the founding and ordering of the city and her most important buildings (the palace or temple) were often executed by priests or even the ruler himself and the construction was accompanied by rituals intended to enter human activity into continued divine benediction. Ancient architecture is characterised by this tension between the divine and mortal world. Cities would mark a contained sacred space over the wilderness of nature outside, and the temple or palace continued this order by acting as a house for the gods. The architect, be he priest or king, was not the sole important figure; he was merely part of a continuing tradition


Pre-Columbian architecture south of the current United States territory mainly consists of Mesoamerican architecture and Incan architecture. Inside US territory, the Mississippians created substantial public architecture. Impermanent buildings, which were often architecturally unique from region to region, continue to influence American architecture today. In his summary, "The World of Textiles", North Carolina State's Tushar Ghosh provides one example: the Denver International Airport's roof is a fabric structure that was influenced by and/or resembles the tipis of local cultures. In writing about Evergreen State College, Lloyd Vaughn lists an example of very different native architecture that also influenced contemporary building: the Native American Studies program is housed in a modern-day longhouse derived from pre-Columbian Pacific Northwest architecture.

Mesoamerican architecture is the set of architectural traditions produced by pre-Columbian cultures and civilizations of Mesoamerica, traditions which are best known in the form of public, ceremonial and urban monumental buildings and structures. The distinctive features of Mesoamerican architecture encompass a number of different regional and historical styles, which however are significantly interrelated. These styles developed throughout the different phases of Mesoamerican history as a result of the intensive cultural exchange between the different cultures of the Mesoamerican culture area through thousands of years. Mesoamerican architecture is mostly noted for its pyramids which are the largest such structures outside of Ancient Egypt.

Incan architecture consists of the major construction achievements developed by the Incas. The Incas developed an extensive road system spanning most of the western length of the continent. Inca rope bridges could be considered the world's first suspension bridges. Because the Incas used no wheels (It would have been impractical for the terrain) or horses, they built their roads and bridges for foot and pack-llama traffic.

Much of present day architecture at the former Inca capital Cuzco shows both Incan and Spanish influences. The famous lost city Machu Picchu is the best surviving example of Incan architecture. Another significant site is Ollantaytambo. The Inca were sophisticated stone cutters whose masonry used no mortar.

Greek architecture

The architecture and urbanism of the Greeks and Romans were very different from those of the Egyptians or Persians in that civic life gained importance. During the time of the ancients, religious matters were the preserve of the ruling order alone; by the time of the Greeks, religious mystery had skipped the confines of the temple-palace compounds and was the subject of the people or polis. Greek civic life was sustained by new, open spaces called the agora which were surrounded by public buildings, stores and temples. The agora embodied the new found respect for social justice received through open debate rather than imperial mandate. Though divine wisdom still presided over human affairs, the living rituals of ancient civilizations had become inscribed in space, in the paths that wound towards the acropolis for example. Each place had its own nature, set within a world refracted through myth, thus temples were sited atop mountains all the better to touch the heavens.

The Romans conquered the Greek cities in Italy around three hundred years before Christ and much of the Western world after that. The Roman problem of rulership involved the unity of disparity — from Spanish to Greek, Macedonian to Carthaginian — Roman rule had extended itself across the breadth of the known world and the myriad pacified cultures forming this ecumene presented a new challenge for justice. One way to look at the unity of Roman architecture is through a new-found realisation of theory derived from practice, and embodied spatially. Civically we find this happening in the Roman forum (sibling of the Greek agora), where public participation is increasingly removed from the concrete performance of rituals and represented in the decor of the architecture. Thus we finally see the beginnings of the contemporary public square in the Forum Iulium, begun by Julius Caesar, where the buildings present themselves through their facades as representations within the space. As the Romans chose representations of sanctity over actual sacred spaces to participate in society, so the communicative nature of space was opened to human manipulation. None of which would have been possible without the advances of Roman engineering and construction or the newly found marble quarries which were the spoils of war; inventions like the arch and concrete gave a whole new form to Roman architecture, fluidly enclosing space in taut domes and colonnades, clothing the grounds for imperial rulership and civic order.

This was also a response to the changing social climate which demanded new buildings of increasing complexity — the coliseum, the residential block, bigger hospitals and academies. General civil construction such as roads and bridges began to be built.

Roman architecture

The Romans widely employed, and further developed, the arch, vault and dome (see the Roman Architectural Revolution), all of which were little used before, particularly in Europe.

The Romans were the first builders in Europe, perhaps the first in the world, fully to appreciate the advantages of the arch, the vault and the dome.(Robertson, D.S.: Greek and Roman Architecture, 2nd edn., Cambridge 1943, p.231) Their innovative use of Roman concrete facilitated the building of the many public buildings of often unprecedented size throughout the empire. These include Roman temples, Roman baths, Roman bridges, Roman aqueducts, Roman harbours, triumphal arches, Roman amphitheatres, Roman circuses palaces, mausolea and in the late empire also churches. Roman domes permitted construction of vaulted ceilings and enabled huge covered public spaces such as the public baths like Baths of Diocletian or the monumental Pantheon in the city of Rome. Art historians such as Gottfried Richter in the 20's identified the Roman architectural innovation as being the Triumphal Arch and it is poignant to see how this symbol of power on earth was transformed and utilised within the Christian basilicas when the Roman Empire of the West was on its last legs: The arch was set before the altar to symbolize the triumph of Christ and the after life. It is in their impressive aqueducts that we see the arch triumphant, especially in the many surviving examples, such as the Pont du Gard, the aqueduct at Segovia and the remains of the Aqueducts of Rome itself. Their survival is testimony to the durability of their materials and design.


Medieval architecture

Western European architecture in the Early Middle Ages may be divided into Early Christian and Pre-Romanesque, including Merovingian, Carolingian, Ottonian, and Asturian. While these terms are problematic, they nonetheless serve adequately as entries into the era. Considerations that enter into histories of each period include Trachtenberg's "historicising" and "modernising" elements, Italian versus northern, Spanish, and Byzantine elements, and especially the religious and political maneuverings between kings, popes, and various ecclesiastic officials.

Surviving examples of medieval secular architecture mainly served for defense. Castles and fortified walls provide the most notable remaining non-religious examples of medieval architecture. Windows gained a cross-shape for more than decorative purposes: they provided a perfect fit for a crossbowman to safely shoot at invaders from inside. Crenelated walls (battlements) provided shelters for archers on the roofs to hide behind when not shooting.

Renaissance architecture

The Renaissance often refers to the Italian Renaissance that began in the 14th century, but recent research has revealed the existence of similar movements around Europe before the 15th century; consequently, the term "Early Modern" has gained popularity in describing this cultural movement. This period of cultural rebirth is often credited with the restoration of scholarship in the Classical Antiquities and the absorption of new scientific and philosophical knowledge that fed the arts.

The development from Medieval architecture concerned the way geometry mediated between the intangibility of light and the tangibility of the material as a way of relating divine creation to mortal existence. This relationship was changed in some measure by the invention of Perspective which brought a sense of infinity into the realm of human comprehension through the new representations of the horizon, evidenced in the expanses of space opened up in Renaissance painting, and helped shape new humanist thought.

Perspective represented a new understanding of space as a universal, a priori fact, understood and controllable through human reason. Renaissance buildings therefore show a different sense of conceptual clarity, where spaces were designed to be understood in their entirety from a specific fixed viewpoint. The power of Perspective to universally represent reality was not limited to describing experiences, but also allowed it to anticipate experience itself by projecting the image back into reality.

Donato Bramante's Cortile del Belvedere project is one such instance where spaces were pictured/designed together before being built. Such a space was only possible due to the powers of abstraction, offered by perspective, that allowed the composition of heterogeneous activities into a metaphor for the legitimacy of current rule. The commission was set by Pope Julius II to connect an ancient pontifical palace on the right of St Peter's with the palace, built by Pollaiolo for Innocent VIII. In doing so Bramante organised the ascent through three courts that sees the lower, theatrical level move into the upper level through increasingly planned gardens thereby creating a tension between the human realm and an idealised vision of the "ideal city", Jerusalem, this is explicitly shown in Bramante's depiction of the ascent from the perspective of Pope Julius's bedroom window.

The Renaissance spread to France in the late 15th century, when Charles VIII returned in 1496 with several Italian artists from his conquest of Naples. Renaissance chateaux were built in the Loire Valley, the earliest example being the Château d'Amboise, and the style became dominant under Francis I(1515–47). (See Châteaux of the Loire Valley). The Château de Chambord) is a combination of Gothic structure and Italianate ornament, a style which progressed under architects such as Sebastiano Serlio, who was engaged after 1540 in work at the Château de Fontainebleau. At Fontainebleau Italian artists such as Rosso Fiorentino, Francesco Primaticcio, and Niccolo dell' Abbate formed the First School of Fontainebleau.

Architects such as Philibert Delorme, Androuet du Cerceau, Giacomo Vignola, and Pierre Lescot, were inspired by the new ideas. The southwest interior facade of the Cour Carree of the Louvre in Paris was designed by Lescot and covered with exterior carvings by Jean Goujon. Architecture continued to thrive in the reigns of Henri II and Henri III.

In England the first great exponent of Renaissance architecture was Inigo Jones (1573–1652), who had studied architecture in Italy where the influence of Palladio was very strong. Jones returned to England full of enthusiasm for the new movement and immediately began to design such buildings as the Queen's House at Greenwich in 1616 and the Banqueting House at Whitehall three years later. These works with their clean lines and symmetry, were revolutionary in a country still enamoured with mullion windows, crenellations and turrets.

Baroque architecture

If Renaissance architecture announced a rebirth of human culture, the periods of Mannerism and the Baroque that followed signalled an increasing anxiety over meaning and representation. Important developments in science and philosophy had separated mathematical representations of reality from the rest of culture, fundamentally changing the way humans related to their world through architecture.

The Age of Enlightenment

Rationality and the universals lead to the emancipation of history, Gottfried Semper leads the fray, filleting of "beauty" leads to contemporary notions of form, the seed of Modernity.

Beaux-Arts architecture

"What Style Shall We Build In?" [Heinrich Huebsch])

Beaux-Arts architecture denotes the academic classical architectural style that was taught at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. The style "Beaux-Arts" is above all the cumulative product of two and a half centuries of instruction under the authority, first of the Académie royale d'architecture, then, following the Revolution, of the Architecture section of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. The organization under the Ancien Régime of the competition for the Grand Prix de Rome in architecture, offering a chance to study in Rome, imprinted its codes and esthetic on the course of instruction, which culminated during the Second Empire (1850–1870) and the Third Republic that followed. The style of instruction that produced Beaux-Arts architecture continued without a major renovation until 1968.

Early Modern architecture

Modern architecture

Early Modern architecture began with a number of building styles with similar characteristics, primarily the simplification of form and the elimination of ornament, that first arose around 1900. By the 1940s these styles had largely consolidated and been identified as the International Style.

The exact characteristics and origins of modern architecture are still open to interpretation and debate. An important trigger appears to have been the maxim credited to Louis Sullivan: "form follows function". Functionalism, in architecture, is the principle that architects should design a building based on the purpose of that building. This statement is less self-evident than it first appears, and is a matter of confusion and controversy within the profession, particularly in regard to modern architecture.

Expressionist architecture

Expressionist architecture

Expressionist architecture was an architectural movement that developed in Northern Europe during the first decades of the 20th century in parallel with the expressionist visual and performing arts.

The style was characterised by an early-modernist adoption of novel materials, formal innovation, and very unusual massing, sometimes inspired by natural biomorphic forms, sometimes by the new technical possibilities offered by the mass production of brick, steel and especially glass. Many expressionist architects fought in World War I and their experiences, combined with the political turmoil and social upheaval that followed the German Revolution of 1919, resulted in a utopian outlook and a romantic socialist agenda. Economic conditions severely limited the number of built commissions between 1914 and the mid-1920s, resulting in many of the most important expressionist works remaining as projects on paper, such as Bruno Taut's Alpine Architecture and Hermann Finsterlin's Formspiels. Ephemeral exhibition buildings were numerous and highly significant during this period. Scenography for theatre and films provided another outlet for the expressionist imagination, and provided supplemental incomes for designers attempting to challenge conventions in a harsh economic climate.

Art Deco

Art Deco

International Style

International style (architecture)

The International style was a major architectural trend of the 1920s and 1930s. The term usually refers to the buildings and architects of the formative decades of modernism, before World War II. The term had its origin from the name of a book by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson which identified, categorised and expanded upon characteristics common to modernism across the world. As a result, the focus was more on the stylistic aspects of modernism. The basic design principles of the International Style thus constitute part of modernism.

The ideas of Modernism were developed especially in what was taught at the German Bauhaus School in Weimar (from 1919), Dessau (between 1926–32) and finally Berlin between 1932–33, under the leadership first of its founder Walter Gropius, then Hannes Meyer, and finally Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Modernist theory in architecture resided in the attempt to bypass the question of what style a building should be built in, a concern that had overshadowed 19th-century architecture, and the wish to reduce form to its most minimal expression of structure and function. In the USA, Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock treated this new phenomenon in 1931 as if it represented a new style - the International Style, thereby misrepresenting its primary mission as merely a matter of eliminating traditional ornament. The core effort to pursue Modern architecture as an abstract, scientific programme was more faithfully carried forward in Europe, but issues of style always overshadowed its stricter and more puritan goals, not least in the work of Le Corbusier.

Contemporary architecture

Contemporary architecture

Modern architecture

Modern architecture

Modern architecture is generally characterized by simplification of form and creation of ornament from the structure and theme of the building. It is a term applied to an overarching movement, with its exact definition and scope varying widely. Modern architecture has continued into the 21st century as a contemporary style, especially for corporate office buildings. In a broader sense, modern architecture began at the turn of the 20th century with efforts to reconcile the principles underlying architectural design with rapid technological advancement and the modernization of society. It would take the form of numerous movements, schools of design, and architectural styles, some in tension with one another, and often equally defying such classification.

Critical regionalism

Critical regionalism

Critical regionalism is an approach to architecture that strives to counter the placelessness and lack of meaning in Modern Architecture by using contextual forces to give a sense of place and meaning. The term critical regionalism was first used by Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre and later more famously by Kenneth Frampton.

Frampton put forth his views in "Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six points of an architecture of resistance." He evokes Paul Ricœur's question of "how to become modern and to return to sources; how to revive an old, dormant civilization and take part in universal civilization". According to Frampton, critical regionalism should adopt modern architecture critically for its universal progressive qualities but at the same time should value responses particular to the context. Emphasis should be on topography, climate, light, tectonic form rather than scenography and the tactile sense rather than the visual. Frampton draws from phenomenology to supplement his arguments.

Postmodern architecture

Postmodern architecture

Postmodern architecture is an international style whose first examples are generally cited as being from the 1950s, and which continues to influence present-day architecture. Postmodernity in architecture is generally thought to be heralded by the return of "wit, ornament and reference" to architecture in response to the formalism of the International Style of modernism. As with many cultural movements, some of postmodernism's most pronounced and visible ideas can be seen in architecture. The functional and formalized shapes and spaces of the modernist movement are replaced by unapologetically diverse aesthetics: styles collide, form is adopted for its own sake, and new ways of viewing familiar styles and space abound.

Classic examples of modern architecture are the Lever House and the Seagram Building in commercial space, and the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright or the Bauhaus movement in private or communal spaces. Transitional examples of postmodern architecture are the Portland Building in Portland and the Sony Building (New York City) (originally AT&T Building) in New York City, which borrows elements and references from the past and reintroduces color and symbolism to architecture. A prime example of inspiration for postmodern architecture lies along the Las Vegas Strip, which was studied by Robert Venturi in his 1972 book Learning from Las Vegas celebrating the strip's ordinary and common architecture. Venturi opined that "Less is a bore", inverting Mies Van Der Rohe's dictum that "Less is more".

Deconstructivist architecture


Deconstructivism in architecture is a development of postmodern architecture that began in the late 1980s. It is characterized by ideas of fragmentation, non-linear processes of design, an interest in manipulating ideas of a structure's surface or skin, and apparent non-Euclidean geometry, (i.e., non-rectilinear shapes) which serve to distort and dislocate some of the elements of architecture, such as structure and envelope. The finished visual appearance of buildings that exhibit the many deconstructivist "styles" is characterised by a stimulating unpredictability and a controlled chaos.

Important events in the history of the deconstructivist movement include the 1982 Parc de la Villette architectural design competition (especially the entry from Jacques Derrida and Peter Eisenman and Bernard Tschumi's winning entry), the Museum of Modern Art's 1988 Deconstructivist Architecture exhibition in New York, organized by Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley, and the 1989 opening of the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, designed by Peter Eisenman. The New York exhibition featured works by Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Rem Koolhaas, Peter Eisenman, Zaha Hadid, Coop Himmelblau, and Bernard Tschumi. Since the exhibition, many of the architects who were associated with Deconstructivism have distanced themselves from the term. Nonetheless, the term has stuck and has now, in fact, come to embrace a general trend within contemporary architecture.

See also

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