History of architecture

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History of architecture
The Architect's Dream, by Thomas Cole, 1840, oil on canvas, in the Toledo Museum of Art (Toledo, Ohio, USA)

The history of architecture traces the changes in architecture through various traditions, regions, overarching stylistic trends, and dates. The beginnings of all these traditions is thought to be humans satisfying the very basic need of shelter and protection.[1] The term "architecture" generally refers to buildings, but in its essence is much broader, including fields we now consider specialized forms of practice, such as urbanism, civil engineering, naval, military,[2] and landscape architecture.


Carved stone pillar at Göbekli Tepe (Turkey), circa 8500 BC

Architectural advances are an important part of the Neolithic period (10,000-2000 BC), during which some of the major innovations of human history occurred. The domestication of plants and animals, for example, led to both new economics and a new relationship between people and the world, an increase in community size and permanence, a massive development of material culture and new social and ritual solutions to enable people to live together in these communities. New styles of individual structures and their combination into settlements provided the buildings required for the new lifestyle and economy, and were also an essential element of change.[3]

Although many dwellings belonging to all prehistoric periods and also some clay models of dwellings have been uncovered enabling the creation of faithful reconstructions, they seldom included elements that may relate them to art. Some exceptions are provided by wall decorations and by finds that equally apply to Neolithic and Chalcolithic rites and art.

In South and Southwest Asia, Neolithic cultures appear soon after 10,000 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).[4][5][6][7]

Neolithic settlements and "cities" include:

West Asia and the Mediterranean[edit]

The Neolithic people in the Levant, Anatolia, Syria, northern Mesopotamia and Central Asia were great builders, utilizing 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.

South Asia/Indus Valley[edit]

The first Urban Civilization in the Indian subcontinent is traceable originally to the Indus Valley Civilisation mainly in Mohenjodaro and Harappa, now in modern-day Pakistan as well western states of the Republic of India. The earliest settlements are seen during the Neolithic period in Merhgarh, Balochistan. The civilization's cities were noted for their urban planning with baked brick buildings, elaborate drainage and water systems, and handicraft (carnelian products, seal carving). This civilisation transitioned from the Neolithic period into the Chalcolithic period and beyond with their expertise in metallurgy (copper, bronze, lead, and tin).[8] Their urban centres possibly grew to contain between 30,000 and 60,000 individuals,[9] and the civilisation itself may have contained between one and five million individuals.[10]


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 thousands 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.



Mesopotamia is most noted for its construction of mud-brick buildings and the construction of ziggurats, occupying a prominent place in each city and consisting of an artificial mound, often rising in huge steps, surmounted by a temple. The mound was no doubt to elevate the temple to a commanding position in what was otherwise a flat river valley. The great city of Uruk had a number of religious precincts, containing many temples larger and more ambitious than any buildings previously known.[11]

The word ziggurat is an anglicized form of the Akkadian word ziqqurratum, the name given to the solid stepped towers of mud brick. It derives from the verb zaqaru, ("to be high"). The buildings are described as being like mountains linking Earth and heaven. The Ziggurat of Ur, excavated by Leonard Woolley, is 64 by 46 meters at base and originally some 12 meters in height with three stories. It was built under Ur-Nammu (circa 2100 B.C.) and rebuilt under Nabonidus (555–539 B.C.), when it was increased in height to probably seven stories.[12]

Assyrian palaces had a large public court with a suite of apartments on the east side and a series of large banqueting halls on the south side. This was to become the traditional plan of Assyrian palaces, built and adorned for the glorification of the king.[13] Massive amounts of ivory furniture pieces were found in some palaces.

Ancient Egyptian[edit]

The Pyramid of Djoser (Saqqara, Egypt), 2667-2648 BC, by Imhotep. This was the first Egyptian pyramid ever built, being a step pyramid
The well preserved Temple of Isis from Philae (Egypt), one of the best preserved temples from ancient Egypt, 380 BC-117 AD

Modern imaginings of ancient Egypt are heavily influenced by the surviving traces of monumental architecture. Many formal styles and motifs were established at the dawn of the pharaonic state, around 3100 BC. The inspiration for many of these styles lay in the organic elements used in early buildings made from perishable materials. While the original structures are almost totally unknown, stylised motifs of plants continued to be replicated and adapted well into the Roman period. The endurance of forms over such a long period means that pharaonic architecture is easily recognisable today, and has been sometimes imitated by architects in modern times.[14]

The Ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife. They also believed that in order for their soul (known as ka) to live eternally in their afterlife, their bodies would have to remain intact for eternity. So, they had to crate a way to protect the deceased from damage and grave robbers. This way, the mastaba was born. These were adobe structures with flat roofs, which had underground rooms for the coffin, about 30 m down. Imhotep, an ancient Egyptian priest and architect, had to design a tomb for the pharaoh Djoser. For this, he placed five mastabas, one above the next, this way creating the first Egyptian pyramid, the Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara. The most iconic Ancient Egyptian buildings are the pyramids. They were built during the Old and Middle Kingdoms (circa 2600-1800 BC). The most imposing one was the Great Pyramid of Giza, made for Pharaoh Khufu in circa 2589-2566 BC. The Ancient Egyptian pyramids were built with precision, their massive stones so finely joined that the edge of a knife cannot fit between them. The stone blocks were held together by mortar, and the entire structure was covered with highly polished white limestone, with their tops topped in gold. What we see today is actually the core structure of the pyramid. Despite being highly associated with the Ancient Egyptians, pyramids have been built by other civilisations to, like the Mayans or the Aztecs.

Due to the lack of resources and a shift in power towards priesthood, ancient Egyptians steeped away from pyramids, and temples became the focal point of cult construction. Just like the pyramids, Ancient Egyptian temples were also spectacular and monumental. They evolved from small shrines to large complexes, and by the New Kingdom (circa 1550-1070 BC) they have become massive stone structures consisting of halls and courtyards.[15] Ancient Egyptian temples in general consisted of four parts: the entrance with a massive pylon, a peristyle courtyard, a hypostyle hall, and a sanctuary. The pylons had avout 40 m. In front of them were obelisks and sculptures of the pharaoh.

An architectural element specific to ancient Egyptian architecture is the cavetto cornice (a concave moulding), introduced by the end of the Old Kingdom. It was widely used to accentuate the top of almost every formal pharaonic building. Because of how often it was used, it will latter decorate many Egyptian Revival buildings and objects. No formal plans or pattern books survive, and the question of exactly how the pyramids were built continues to provoke debate. Similar with the Ancient Greek and Roman orders, there were certain types of Ancient Egyptian columns, like Composite, Hathoric, Lotiform, Palmiform, Papyriform, and other ones. The temples were decorated with reliefs and painted in bright colours, mainly red, blue, yellow, green, orange, and white. Because of the desert climate of Egypt, parts of these painted surfaces were preserved well.


Unlike how most of us see them today, all Egyptian, Greek and Roman sculptures and temples were initially painted in bright colours. They became white because of hundreds of years of neglect and vandalism provoked by Christians during the Early Middle Ages, who saw them as 'pagan' and believed that they promoted idolatry.[17] To us they look odd, although all of them were very colourful back in Ancient times
The Temple of Hephaestus on the Agoraios Kolonos Hill (Athens, Greece), circa 449 BC, unknown architect
Illustration of Doric (left three), Ionic (middle three) and Corinthian (right two) columns and entablatures

Without a doubt, ancient Greek architecture, together with Roman, is one of the most influential styles of all time. Since the advent of the Classical Age in Athens, in the 5th century BC, the Classical way of building has been deeply woven into Western understanding of architecture and, indeed, of civilization itself.[18] From circa circa 850 BC to circa 300 AD, ancient Greek culture flourished on the Greek mainland, on the Peloponnese, and on the Aegean islands. Five of the Wonders of the World were Greek: the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria. However, Ancient Greek architecture is best known for its temples, many of which are found throughout the region, and the Parthenon is a prime example of this. Later, they will serve as inspiration for Neoclassical architects during the late 18th and the 19th century. The most well-known temples are the Parthenon and the Erechtheion, both on the Acropolis of Athens. Another type of important Ancient Greek buildings were the theatres. Both temples and theatres used a complex mix of optical illusions and balanced ratios.

Ancient Greek temples usually consist of a base with continuous stairs of a few steps at each edges (known as crepidoma), a cella (or naos) with a cult statue in it, columns, an entablature, and two pediments, one on the front side and another in the back. By the 4th century BC, Greek architects and stonemasons had developed a system of rules for all buildings known as the orders: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian. They are most easily recognised by their columns (especially by the capitals). The Doric column is stout and basic, the Ionic one is slimmer and has four scolls (called volutes) at the corners of the capital, and the Corinthian column is just like the Ionic one, but the capital is completely different, being decorated with acanthus leafs and four scrolls.[19] Besides columns, the frieze was different based on order. While the Doric one has metopes and triglyphs with guttae, Ionic and Corinthian friezes consist of one big continuous band with reliefs.

Besides the columns, the temples were highly decorated with sculptures, in the pediments, on the friezes, metopes and triglyphs. Ornaments used by Ancient Greek architects and artists include palmettes, vegetal or wave-like scrolls, lion mascarons (mostly on lateral cornices), dentils, acanthus leafs, bucrania, festoons, egg-and-dart, rais-de-cœur, beads, meanders, and acroteria at the corners of the pediments. Pretty often, ancient Greek ornaments are used continuously, as bands. They will later be used in Etruscan, Roman and in the post-medieval styles that tried to revive Greco-Roman art and architecture, like Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical etc.

Looking at the archaeological remains of ancient and medieval buildings it is easy to perceive them as limestone and concrete in a grey taupe tone and make the assumption that ancient buildings were monochromatic. However, architecture was polychromed in much of the Ancient and Medieval world. One of the most iconic Ancient buildings, the Parthenon (c. 447-432 BC) in Athens, had details painted with vibrant reds, blues and greens. Besides ancient temples, Medieval cathedrals were never completely white. Most had colored highlights on capitals and columns.[20] This practice of coloring buildings and artworks was abandoned during the early Renaissance. This is because Leonardo da Vinci and other Renaissance artists, including Michelangelo, promoted a color palette inspired by the ancient Greco-Roman ruins, which because of neglect and constant decay during the Middle Ages, became white despite being initially colorful. The pigments used in the ancient world were delicate and especially susceptible to weathering. Without necessary care, the colors exposed to rain, snow, dirt, and other factors, vanished over time, and this way Ancient buildings and artworks became white, like they are today and were during the Renaissance.[21]


The Maison Carrée from Nîmes (France), one of the best-preserved Roman temples, circa 2 AD

The architecture of ancient Rome has been one of the most influential in the world. Its legacy is evident throughout the medieval and early modern periods, and Roman buildings continue to be reused in the modern era in both New Classical and Postmodern architecture. It was particularly influenced by Greek and Etruscan styles. A range of temple types was developed during the republican years (509–27 BC), modified from Greek and Etruscan prototypes.[23]

Wherever the Roman army conquered, they established towns and cities, spreading their empire and advancing their architectural and engineering achievements. While the most important works are to be found in Italy, Roman builders also found creative outlets in the western and eastern provinces, of which the best examples preserved are in modern-day North Africa, Turkey, Syria and Jordan. Surpassing most civilisations of their time, the Romans have developed new engineering skills, architectural techniques and materials. Among the many Roman architectural achievements were domes, which were created for temples, baths, villas, palaces and tombs. The most well known example is the one of the Pantheon in Rome, being the largest surviving Roman dome and having a large oculus at its centre. Another important innovation is the rounded stone arch, used in arcades, aqueducts and other structures. Besides the Greek orders (Doric, Ionic and Corinthian), the Romans invented two more. The Tuscan order was influenced by the Doric, but with un-fluted columns and a simpler entablature with no triglyphs or guttae, while the Compsoite was a mixed order, combining the volutes of the Ionic order capital with the acanthus leaves of the Corinthian order.

Between 30 and 15 BC, the architect and engineer Marcus Vitruvius Pollio published a major treatise, De architectura, which influenced architects around the world for centuries. As the only treatise on architecture to survive from antiquity, it has been regarded since the Renaissance as the first book on architectural theory, as well as a major source on the canon of classical architecture.[24]

Just like the Greeks, the Romans built amphiteatres too. The largest amphitheatre ever built, the Colosseum in Rome, could hold around 50,000 sectators. Another iconic Roman structure that demonstrates their precision and technological advancement is the Pont du Gard in southern France, the highest surviving Roman aqueduct.[25]

Americas (Pre-Columbian)[edit]

From over 3,000 years before the Europeans 'discovered' America, complex societies had already been established across North, Central and South America. The most complex ones were in Mesoamerica, notably the Mayans, the Olmecs and the Aztecs, but also Incas in South America. Although knowledge of astronomy and engineering was limited, structures and buildings were often aligned with astronomical features or with the cardinal directions. Much of the architecture developed through cultural exchange - for example the Aztecs learnt much from earlier Mayan architecture.

Many cultures built entire cities, with monolithic temples and pyramids decoratively carved with animals, gods and kings. Most of these cities had a central plaza with governmental buildings and temples, plus public ball courts, or tlachtli, on raised platforms. Just like in ancient Egypt, here were built pyramids too, being generally stepped. They were probably not used as burial chambers, but had important religious sites at the top.[26] They had few rooms, as interiors mattered less that the ritual presence of these imposing structures and the public ceremonies they hosted; so, platforms, altars, processional stairs, statuary, and carving were all important.[27]

South Asia[edit]

After the fall of the Indus Valley, South Asian architecture entered the Dharmic period which saw the development of Ancient Indian architectural styles which further developed into various unique forms in the Middle Ages, along with the combination of Islamic styles, and later, other global traditions.

Ancient Buddhist[edit]

Buddhist architecture developed in the Indian subcontinent during the 4th and 2nd century BC, and spread first to China and then further across Asia. Three types of structures are associated with the religious architecture of early Buddhism: monasteries (viharas), places to venerate relics (stupas), and shrines or prayer halls (chaityas, also called chaitya grihas), which later came to be called temples in some places. The most iconic Buddhist type of building is the stupa, which consists of a domed structure containing relics, used as a place of meditation to commemorate Buddha. The dome symbolised the infinite space of the sky.[28]

Buddhism had a significant influence on Sri Lankan architecture after its introduction,[29] and ancient Sri Lankan architecture was mainly religious, with over 25 styles of Buddhist monasteries.[30] Monasteries were designed using the Manjusri Vasthu Vidya Sastra, which outlines the layout of the structure.

After the fall of the Gupta empire, Buddhism mainly survived in Bengal under the Palas, and has had a significant impact on pre-Islamic Bengali architecture of that period.

Ancient Hindu[edit]

Across the Indian subcontinent, Hindu architecture evolved from simple rock-cut cave shrines to monumental temples. From the 4th to 5th centuries AD, Hindu temples were adapted to the worship of different deities and regional beliefs, and by the 6th or 7th centuries larger examples had evolved into towering brick or stone-built structures that symbolise the sacred five-peaked Mount Meru. Influenced by early Buddhist stupas, the architecture was not designed for collective worship, but had areas for worshippers to leave offerings and perform rituals.[31]

Many Indian architectural styles for structures such as temples, statues, homes, markets, gardens and planning are as described in Hindu texts.[32][33] The architectural guidelines survive in Sanskrit manuscripts and in some cases also in other regional languages. These include the Vastu shastras, Shilpa Shastras, the Brihat Samhita, architectural portions of the Puranas and the Agamas, and regional texts such as the Manasara among others.[34][35]

Since this architectural style emerged in the classical period, it has had a considerable influence on various medieval architectural styles like that of the Gurjaras, Dravidians, Deccan, Odias, Bengalis, and the Assamese.

Maru Gurjara[edit]

This style of North Indian architecture has been observed in Hindu as well as Jain places of worship and congregation. It emerged in the 11th to 13th centuries under the Chaulukya (Solanki) period.[36] It eventually became more popular among the Jain communities who spread it in the greater region and across the world.[37] These structures have the unique features like a large number of projections on external walls with sharply carved statues, and several urushringa spirelets on the main shikhara. Sikh architecture that emerged later, also has considerable influences from this architectural style.


The Himalayas are inhabited by various people groups including the Paharis, Sino-Tibetans, Kashmiris, and many more groups. Being from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, the architecture has also had multiple influences. Considering the logistical difficulties and slower pace of life in the Himalayas, artisans have that the time to make intricate wood carvings and paintings accompanied by ornamental metal work and stone sculptures that are reflected in religious as well as civic and military buildings. These styles exist in different forms from Tibet and Kashmir to Assam and Nagaland.[38] A common feature is observed in the slanted layered roofs on temples, mosques, and civic buildings.[39]


This is an architectural style that emerged in the southern part of the Indian subcontinent and in Sri Lanka. These include Hindu temples with a unique style that involves a shorter pyramidal tower over the garbhagriha or sanctuary called a vimana, where the north has taller towers, usually bending inwards as they rise, called shikharas. These also include secular buildings that may or may not have slanted roofs based on the geographical region. In the Tamil country, this style is influenced by the Sangam period as well as the styles of the great dynasties that ruled it. This style varies in the region to its west in Kerala that is influenced by geographic factors like western trade and the monsoons which result in sloped roofs.[40] Further north, the Karnata Dravida style varies based on the diversity of influences, often relaying much about the artistic trends of the rulers of twelve different dynasties.[41]


The ancient Kalinga region corresponds to the present-day eastern Indian areas of Odisha, West Bengal and northern Andhra Pradesh. Its architecture reached a peak between the 9th and 12th centuries under the patronage of the Somavamsi dynasty of Odisha. Lavishly sculpted with hundreds of figures, Kalinga temples usually feature repeating forms such as horseshoes. Within the protective walls of the temple complex are three main buildings with distinctive curved towers called deul or deula and prayer halls called jagmohan.[44]

East and Southeast Asia[edit]


The main hall of the Nanchan Monastery (Wutai, Xinzhou, Shanxi, China), renovated in 782

What is recognised today as Chinese culture has its roots in the Neolithic period (10,000-2000 BC), covering the cultural sites of Yangshao, Longshan, and Liangzhu in central China. Sections of present-day north-east China also contain sites of the Neolithic Hongshan culture that manifested aspects of proto-Chinese culture. Native Chinese belief systems included naturalistic, animistic and hero worship. In general, open-air platforms (tan, or altar) were used for worshipping naturalistic deities, such as the gods of wind and earth, whereas formal buildings (miao, or temple) were for heroes and deceased ancestors.

Most early buildings in China were timber structures. Columns with sets of brackets on the face of the buildings, mostly in even numbers, made the central intercolumnal space the largest interior opening. Heavily tiled roofs sat squarely on the timber building with walls constructed in brick or pounded earth.

The transmission of Buddhism into China around the 1st century AD led to a new era of religious practices, and so to new building types. Places of worship in form of cave temples appeared in China, based on Indian rock-cut ones. Another new building type introduced by Buddhism was the Chinese form of stupa (ta) or pagoda. In India, stupas were erected to commemorate well-known people or teachers: consequently, the Buddhist tradition adapted the structure to remember the great teacher, the Buddha. In The Chinese pagoda shared a similar symbolism with the Indian stupa and was built with sponsorship mainly from imperial patrons who hoped to gain earthly merits for the next life. Buddhism reached its peak from the 6th to the 8th centuries when there was an unprecedented number of monasteries thought China. More than 4,600 official and 40,000 unoffficial monasteries were built. They varies in size by the number of cloisters they conatined, ranging from 6 to 120. Each cloister consisted of a main stand-alone building - a hall, pagoda of pavilion - and was surrounded by a covered corridor in a rectangular compounded served by a gate building.[46]

Chinese and Confucian culture has had a significant influence on the art and architecture in the Sinosphere (mainly Vietnam, Korea, Japan).[47] Korean architecture, especially post Choson period showcases Ming-Qing influences.[48]


Traditionally, Japanese architecture was made of wood and fusuma (sliding doors) in place of walls, allowing internal space to be altered to suit different purposes. The introduction of Buddhism in the mid 6th century, via the neighbouring Korean kingdom of Paekche, initiated large-scale wooden temple building with an emphasis on simplicity, and much of the architecture was imported from China and other Asian cultures. By the end of this century, Japan was constructing Continental-style monasteries, notably the temple, known as Horyu-ji in Ikaruga.[49] In contrast with Western architecture, Japanese structures rarely use stone, except for specific elements such as foundations. Walls are light, thin, never load-bearing and often movable.[24]


From the start of the 9th century to the early 15th century, Khmer kings rules over a vad Hindu-Buddhist empire in Southeast Asia. Angkor, in present-day Cambodia, was its capital city, and most of its surviving buildings are east-facing stone temples, many of them constructed in pyramidal, tiered form consisting of five square structures with towers, or prasats, that represent the sacred five-peaked Mount Meru of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist doctrine. As the residences of gods, temples were made of durable materials such as sandstone, brick or laterite, a clay-like substance that dries hard.[50]

Cham architecture in Vietnam also follows a similar style.[51]

Sub-Saharan Africa[edit]

Traditional Sub-Saharan African architecture is diverse, varying significantly across regions. Included among traditional house types, are huts, sometimes consisting of one or two rooms, as well as various larger and more complex structures.

West African and Bantu styles[edit]

In much of West Africa, rectangular houses with peaked roofs and courtyards, sometimes consisting of several rooms and courtyards, are also traditionally found (sometimes decorated, with adobe reliefs as among the Ashanti of Ghana,[53][54] or carved pillars as among the Yoruba people of Nigeria, especially in palaces and the dwellings of the wealthy)[55] Besides the regular rectangular type of dwelling with a sharp roof, wide-spread in West Africa and Madagascar, there also other types of houses: beehive houses made from a circle of stones topped with a domed roof, and the round one, with a cone-shaped roof. The first type, which also existed in America, is characteristic especially for Southern Africa. These were used by Bantu-speaking groups in southern and parts of east Africa, which was made with mud, poles, thatch, and cow dung (rectangular houses were more common among the Bantu-speaking peoples of the greater Congo region and central Africa). The round hut with a cone-shaped roof is wide-spread especially in Sudan and Eastern Africa, but is also present in Colombia and New Caledonia, as well as in the Western Sudan and Sahel regions of west Africa, where they are sometimes arranged into compounds.[56] A distinct style of traditional wooden architecture exists among the Grassland peoples of Cameroon, such as the Bamileke.

In several West African societies, including the kingdom of Benin (and of other Edo peoples), and the kingdoms of the Yoruba, Hausa, at sites like Jenne-Jeno (a pre-Islamic city in Mali),[58][59] and elsewhere, towns and cities were surrounded by large walls of mud brick or adobe,[60] and sometimes by monumental moats and earthworks, such as Sungbo's Eredo (in the Nigerian Yoruba kingdom of Ijebu) and the Walls of Benin (of the Nigerian Kingdom of Benin).[61][62] In medieval southern Africa, a tradition existed of fortified stone settlements such as Great Zimbabwe and Khami.

The famed Benin City of southwest Nigeria (capital of the Kingdom of Benin) destroyed by the Punitive Expedition, was a large complex of homes in coursed clay, with hipped roofs of shingles or palm leaves. The Palace had a sequence of ceremonial rooms, and was decorated with brass plaques. It was surrounded by a monumental complex of earthworks and walls whose construction is thought to have began by the early Middle Ages.[61][62][63][64]


In the Western Sahel region, Islamic influence was a major contributing factor to architectural development from the later ages of the Kingdom of Ghana. At Kumbi Saleh, locals lived in domed-shaped dwellings in the king's section of the city, surrounded by a great enclosure. Traders lived in stone houses in a section which possessed 12 beautiful mosques, as described by al-bakri, with one centered on Friday prayer.[65] The king is said to have owned several mansions, one of which was sixty-six feet long, forty-two feet wide, contained seven rooms, was two stories high, and had a staircase; with the walls and chambers filled with sculpture and painting.[66]

Sahelian architecture initially grew from the two cities of Djenné and Timbuktu. The Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu, constructed from mud on timber, was similar in style to the Great Mosque of Djenné. The rise of kingdoms in the West African coastal region produced architecture which drew on indigenous traditions, utilizing wood, mud-brick and adobe. Though later acquiring Islamic influences, the style also had roots in local pre-Islamic building styles, such as those found in ancient settlements like Jenne-Jeno, Dia, Mali, and Dhar Tichitt,[67] some of which employed a traditional sahelian style of cylindrical mud brick.[58]


Ethiopian architecture (including modern-day Eritrea) expanded from the Aksumite style and incorporated new traditions with the expansion of the Ethiopian state. Styles incorporated more wood and rounder structures in domestic architecture in the center of the country and the south, and these stylistic influences were manifested in the construction of churches and monasteries. Throughout the medieval period, Aksumite architecture and influences and its monolithic tradition persisted, with its influence strongest in the early medieval (Late Aksumite) and Zagwe periods (when the rock-cut monolithic churches of Lalibela were carved). Throughout the medieval period, and especially from the 10th to 12th centuries, churches were hewn out of rock throughout Ethiopia, especially during the northernmost region of Tigray, which was the heart of the Aksumite Empire. The most famous example of Ethiopian rock-hewn architecture are the eleven monolithic churches of Lalibela, carved out of the red volcanic tuff found around the town.[68] During the early modern period in Ethiopia, the absorption of new diverse influences such as Baroque, Arab, Turkish and Gujarati style began with the arrival of Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries.


Most Oceanic buildings consist of huts, made of wood and other vegetal materials. Art and architecture have often been closely connected—for example, storehouses and meetinghouses are often decorated with elaborate carvings—and so they are presented together in this discussion. The architecture of the Pacific Islands was varied and sometimes large in scale. Buildings reflected the structure and preoccupations of the societies that constructed them, with considerable symbolic detail. Technically, most buildings in Oceania were no more than simple assemblages of poles held together with cane lashings; only in the Caroline Islands were complex methods of joining and pegging known.

An important Oceanic archaeological site is Nan Madol from the Federated States of Micronesia. Nan Madol was the ceremonial and political seat of the Saudeleur Dynasty, which united Pohnpei's estimated 25,000 people until about 1628.[69] Set apart between the main island of Pohnpei and Temwen Island, it was a scene of human activity as early as the first or second century AD. By the 8th or 9th century, islet construction had started, with construction of the distinctive megalithic architecture beginning 1180–1200 AD.[70]

Islamic world[edit]

Due to the extent of the Islamic conquests, Islamic architecture encompasses a wide range of architectural styles from the foundation of Islam (7th century) to the present day. Early Islamic architecture was influenced by Roman, Byzantine, Persian, Mesopotamian architecture and all other lands which the Early Muslim conquests conquered in the 7th and 8th centuries.[71][72] Further east, it was also influenced by Chinese and Indian architecture as Islam spread to Southeast Asia. This wide and long history has given rise to many local architectural styles, including but not limited to: Umayyad, Abbasid, Persian, Moorish, Fatimid, Mamluk, Ottoman, Indo-Islamic (particularly Mughal), Medieval Bengali, Sino-Islamic and Sahelian architecture.

Some distinctive structures in Islamic architecture are mosques, madrasas, tombs, palaces, baths, and forts. Notable types of Islamic religious architecture include hypostyle mosques, domed mosques and mausoleums, structures with vaulted iwans, and madrasas built around central courtyards. In secular architecture, major examples of preserved historic palaces include the Alhambra and the Topkapi Palace. Islam does not encourage the worship of idols; therefore the architecture tends to be decorated with Arabic calligraphy (including Qur'anic verses or other poetry) and with more abstract motifs such as geometric patterns, muqarnas, and arabesques, as opposed to illustrations of scenes and stories.[73][74][75][76]



Surviving examples of medieval secular architecture mainly served for defense across various parts of Europe. Castles and fortified walls provide the most notable remaining non-religious examples of medieval architecture. New types of civic, military, as well as religious buildings of new styles begin to pop up in this region during this period.


Byzantine architects built city walls, palaces, hippodromes, bridges, aqueducts, but most importantly, churches. They left us many types of churches, including the basilica (the most wide-spread type, and the one that reached the greatest development). From basilica derive other two types, the circular one and the octagonal one. Another monumental type of church is the one in shape of an Orthodox cross, and with five domes. In Mainland Greece, the most wide-spread type of church was the cruciform one, with one or more domes. Also, a big number of churches of these shapes exist in Moscow, Novgorod or Kiev, as well as in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania. Through modifications and adaptations of local inspiration, the Byzantine style will be used as the main source of inspiration for architectural styles in Eastern Orthodox countries.[77] For example, in Romania, the Brâncovenesc style is highly based on Byzantine architecture, but also has individual Romanian characteristics.

Just like how the Parthenon is the most famous monument of the Ancient Greek religion, Hagia Sophia remained an iconic church of Christianity. The temples of both religions differ substantially in terms of their exterior and interior aspect. In Antiquity, the exterior was the most important part of the temple, because in the interior, where the cult statue of the deity to whom the temple was built was kept, only the priest had access. The ceremonies here held outside, and what the worshipers view was the facade of the temple, consisting of columns, with an entablature and two pediments. Meanwhile, Christian liturgies were held in the interior of the churches, the exterior usually having little to no ornamentation.[78]

Byzantine architecture often featured marble columns, coffered ceilings and sumptuous decoration, including the extensive use of mosaics with golden backgrounds.[79] The building material used by Byzantine architects was no longer marble, which was very appreciated by the Ancient Greeks. They used mostly stone and brick, and also thin alabaster sheets for windows.[80] Mosaics were used to cover brick walls, and any other surface where fresco wouldn't resist. Good examples of mosaics from the proto-Byzantine era are in Hagios Demetrios in Thessaloniki (Greece), the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo and the Basilica of San Vitale, both in Ravenna (Italy), and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.


Interior of the Durham Cathedral (Durham, UK), 1093-1133

The term 'Romanesque' is rooted in the 19th century, when it was coined to describe medieval churches built from the 10th to 12th century, before the rise of steeply pointed arches, flying buttresses and other Gothic elements. For 19th-century critics, the Romanesque reflected the architecture of stonemasons who evidently admired the heavy barrel vaults and intricate carved capitals of the ancient Romans, but whose own architecture was considered derivative and degenerate, lacking the sophistication of their classical models.

Scholars in the 21st century are less inclined to understand the architecture of this period as a 'failure' to reproduce the achievements of the past, and are far more likely to recognise its profusion of experimental forms, as a series of creative new inventions. At the time, however, research has questioned the value of Romanesque as a stylistic term. On the surface, it provides a convenient designation for buildings that share a common vocabulary of rounded arches and thick stone masonry, and appear in between the Carolingian revival of classical antiquity in the 9th century and the swift evolution of Gothic architecture after the second half of the 12th century. One problem, however, is that the term encompasses a broad array of regional variations, some with closer links to Rome than others. It should also be noted that the distinction between Romanesque architecture and its immediate predecessors and followers is not at all clear. There is little evidence that medieval viewers were concerned with the stylistic distinctions that we observe today, making the slow evolution of medieval architecture difficult to separate into neat chronological categories. Nevertheless, Romanesque remains a useful word despite its limitations, because it reflects a period of intensive building activity that maintained some continuity with the classical past, but freely reinterpreted ancient forms in a new distinctive manner.[3]

Romanesque cathedrals can be differentiated pretty easy from Gothic and Byzantine ones, since they are characterized by the wide use of thick piers and columns, round arches and severity. Here, the possibilities of the round-arch arcade in both a structural and a spatial sense were once again exploited to the full. Unlike the sharp pointed arch of the later Gothic, the Romanesque round arch required the support of massive piers and columns. In comparison to Byzantine churches, Romanesque ones tend to lack complex ornamentation both on the exterior and interior. An example of this is the Périgueux Cathedral (Périgueux, France), built in the early 12th century and designed on the model of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, but lacking mosaics, leaving its interior very austere and minimalistic.[81]


The Sainte-Chapelle (Paris) and a few details, 1243-1248, by Pierre de Montreuil[82]

Gothic architecture began with a series of experiments, which were conducted to fulfil specific requests by patrons and to accommodate the ever-growing number of pilgrims visiting sites that housed precious relics. Pilgrims in the high Middle Ages (circa 1000 to 1250 AD) increasingly travelled to well-known pilgrimage sites, but also to local sites where local and national saints were reputed to have performed miracles. The churches and monasteries housing important relics therefore wanted to heighten the popularity of their respective saints and build appropriate shrines for them. These shrines were not merely gem-encrusted reliquaries, but more importantly took the form of powerful architectural settings characterised by coloured light emitting from the large areas of stained glass. The use of stained glass, however, is not the only defining element of Gothic architecture and neither are the pointed arch, the ribbed vault, the rose window or the flying buttress, as many of these elements were used in one way or another in preceding architectural traditions. It was rather the combination and constant refinement of these elements, along with the quick response to the rapidly changing building techniques of the time, that fuelled the Gothic movement in architecture.

Consequently, it is difficult to point to one element or the exact place where Gothic first emerged; however, it is traditional to initiate a discussion of Gothic architecture with the Basilica of St Denis (circa 1135–1344) and its patrons, Abbot Suger, who began to rebuild the west front and the choir of the church. As he wrote in his De Administratione, the old building could no longer accommodate the large volumes of pilgrims who were coming to venerate the relics of St Denis, and the solution for this twofold: a west façade with three large portals and the innovative new choir, which combined an ambulatory with radiating chapels that were unique as they were not separated by walls. Instead a row of slim columns was inserted between the chapels and the choir arcade to support the rib vaults. The result enabled visitors to circulate around the altar and come within reach of the relics without actually disrupting the altar space, while also experiencing the large stained-glass windows within the chapels. As confirmed by Suger, the desire for more stained-glass was not necessarily to bring more daylight into the building but rather to fill the space with a continuous ray of colorful light, rather like mosaics or precious stones, which would make the wall vanish. The demand for ever more stained-glass windows and the search for techniques that would support them are constant throughout the development of Gothic architecture, as is evident in the writings of Suger, who was fascinated by the mystical quality of such lighting.[3]


The architectural history of Russia is conditioned by Orthodox Eastern Europe: unlike the West, yet similarly, if tenuously, linked with the traditions of classical antiquity (through Byzantium). It has experienced from time to time westernising movements that culminated in the comprehensive reforms of Peter the Great (around 1700). From prehistoric times the material of vernacular Russian architecture was wood. Byzantine churches and the architecture of Kievan Rus were characterized by broader, flatter domes without a special framework erected above the drum. In contrast to this ancient form, each drum of a Russian church is surmounted by a special structure of metal or timber, which is lined with sheet iron or tiles. Some characteristics taken from the Slavic pagan temples are the exterior galleries and the plurality of towers.


Various Renaissance ornaments and architectural elements, in Toulouse (France)

During the Renaissance, Italy wasn't a big country, like today, consisting of many states, and intense rivalry between them generated and increase in technical and artistic developments. The Medici Family, an Italian banking family and political dynasty, is notorious for its financial support of Renaissance art, science, and architecture, notably for the construction of Saint Peter's Basilica and the Santa Maria del Fiore among many other things.

The period began in around 1452, when the architect and humanist Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) completed his treatise De Re Aedificatoria (On the Art of Building) after studying the ancient ruins of Rome and Vitruvius's De Architectura. His writings covered numerous subjects, including history, town planning, engineering, sacred geometry, humanism and philosophies of beauty, and set out the key elements of architecture and its ideal proportions. In the last decades of the 15th century, artists and architects began to visit Rome to study the ruins, especially the Colosseum and the Pantheon. They left behind precious records of their studies in the form of drawings. While humanist interest in Rome had been building up over more than a century (dating back at least to Petrarch in the 14th century), antiquarian considerations of monuments had focused on literary, epigraphic and historical information rather than on the physical remains. Although some artists and architects, such as Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), Donatello (circa 1386–1466) and Leon Battista Alberti, are reported to have made studies of Roman sculpture and ruins, almost no direct evidence of this work survives. By the 1480s, prominent architects, such as Francesco di Giorgio (1439-1502) and Giuliano da Sabgallo (circa 1445–1516), were making numerous studies of ancient monuments, undertaken in ways that demonstrated that the process of transforming the model into a new design had already begun. In many cases, drawing ruins in their fragmentary state necessitated a leap of imagination, as Francesco himself readily admitted in his annotation to his reconstruction of the Campidoglio, noting 'largely imagined by me, since very little can be understood from the ruins.[83]

Soon, grand buildings were constructed in Florence using the new style, like the Pazzi Chapel (1441-1478) or the Palazzo Pitti (1458-1464). The Renaissance begun in Italy, but slowly spread to other parts of Europe, with varying interpretations.[84]

Since Renaissance art is an attempt of reviving Ancient Rome's culture, it uses pretty much the same ornaments as the Ancient Greek and Roman. However, because most if not all resources that Renaissance artists had were Roman, Renaissance architecture and applied arts widely use certain motifs and ornaments that are specific to Ancient Rome. The most iconic one is the margent, a vertical arrangement of flowers, leaves or hanging vines, used at pilasters. Another ornament associated with the Renaissance is the round medallion, containing a profile of a person, similar with Ancient cameoes. Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, and other post-medieval styles use putti (chubby baby angles) much more often compared to Greco-Roman art and architecture. An ornament reintroduced during the Renaissance, that was of Ancient Roman descend, that will also be used in later styles, is the cartouche, an oval or oblong design with a slightly convex surface, typically edged with ornamental scrollwork.


The Brâncovenesc [brɨŋkovenesk] style (aka Brâncovenesc Baroque) is a style of Romanian art and architecture, more specifically in Wallachia during the reign of Constantin Brâncoveanu (1688-1714). Brâncovenesc buildings are characterised by the use of gazebo-like porticos and loggias (mainly the entrances of churches), trilobate or kokoshnik arches, columns (usually Corinthian) with twisted flutings, and ceramic or metallic tile roof. The main ornaments used for decoration are interlaces and complex rinceaux. Some of the features of Brâncovenesc architecture derive from Byzantine and Ottoman architecture.



The Palace of Versailles (Versailles, France), one of the most iconic Baroque buildings, c. 1660 - 1715, by Louis Le Vau and Jules Hardouin-Mansart
The Marble Court
The Royal Chapel
The Place Vendôme (Paris), an example of Baroque urbanism, commissioned in 1677,[86] by Jules Hardouin-Mansart

The Baroque emerged out of the Counter Reformation as an attempt by the Catholic Church in Rome to convey its power and to emphasize the magnificence of God. The Baroque and its late variant the Rococo were the first truly global styles in the arts. Dominating more than two centuries of art and architecture in Europe, Latin America and beyond from circa 1580 to circa 1800. Born in the painting studios of Bologna and Rome in the 1580s and 1590s, and in Roman sculptural and architectural ateliers in the second and third decades of the 17th century, the Baroque spread swiftly throughout Italy, Spain and Portugal, Flanders, France, the Netherlands, England, Scandinavia, and Russia, as well as to central and eastern European centres from Munich (Germany) to Vilnius (Lithuania). The Portuguese, Spanish and French empires and the Dutch treading network had a leading role in spreading the two styles into the Americas and colonial Africa and Asia, to places such as Lima, Mozambique, Goa and the Philippines.[87] Due to its spread in regions with different architectural traditions, multiple kinds of Baroque appeared based on location, different in some aspects, but similar overall. For example, French Baroque appeared severe and detached by comparison, preempting Neoclassicism and the architecture of the Age of Enlightenment.[88] Hybrid Native American/European Baroque architecture first appeared in South America (as opposed to Mexico) in the late 17th century, after the indigenous symbols and styles that characterize this unusual variant of Baroque had been kept alive over the preceding century in other media, a very good example of this being the Jesuir Church in Arequipa (Peru).[89]

The first Baroque buildings were cathedrals, churches and monasteries, soon joined by civic buildings, mansions, and palaces. Being characterized by dynamism, for the first time walls, façades and interiors curved,[90] a good example being San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome. Baroque architects took the basic elements of Renaissance architecture, including domes and colonnades, and made them higher, grander, more decorated, and more dramatic. The interior effects were often achieved with the use of quadratura, or trompe-l'œil painting combined with sculpture: the eye is drawn upward, giving the illusion that one is looking into the heavens. Clusters of sculpted angels and painted figures crowd the ceiling. Light was also used for dramatic effect; it streamed down from cupolas and was reflected from an abundance of gilding. Solomonic columns were often used, to give an illusion of upwards motion and other decorative elements occupied every available space. In Baroque palaces, grand stairways became a central element.[91] Besides architecture, Baroque painting and sculpture are characterized by dynamism too. This is in contrast with how static and peaceful Renaissance art is.

Besides the building itself, the space where it was placed had a role too. Both Baroque and Rococo buildings try to seize viewers' attention and to dominate their surroundings, whether on a small scale such as the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome, or on a massive one, like the new facade of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, designed to tower over the city. A manifestation of power and authority on the grandest scale, Baroque urban planing and renewal was promoted by the church and the state alike. It was the first era since antiquity to experience mass migration into cities, and urban planners took idealistic measures to regulate them. The most notable early example was Domenico Fontana's restructuring of Rome's street plan of Pope Sixtus V. Architects had experimented with idealized city schemes since the early Renaissance, examples being Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472) planning a centralized model city, with streets leading to a central piazza, or Filarete (Antonio di Pietro Aver(u)lino, c. 1400-c. 1469) designing a round city named Sforzinda (1451-1456) that he based on parts of the human body in the idea that a healthy city should reflect the physiognomy of its inhabitants. However, none of these idealistic cities has ever been built. In fact, few such projects were put into practice in Europe as new cities were prohibitively costly and existing urban areas, with existing churches and palaces, could not be demolished. Only in the Americas, where architects often had a clean space to work with, were such cities possible, as in Lima (Peru) or Buenos Aires (Argentina). The earliest Baroque ideal city is Zamość, built north-east of Krakow (Poland) by the Italian architect Bernardo Morando (c. 1540-1600), being a centralized town focusing on a square with radiating streets. Where entire cities could not be rebuilt, patrons and architects compensated by creating spacious and symmetrical squares, often with avenues and radiating out at perpendicular angles and focusing on a fountain, statue or obelisk. A good example of this is the Place des Vosges (formerly Place Royale), commissioned by Henry IV probably after plans by Baptiste du Cerceau (1545-1590). The most famous Baroque space in the world is Gianlorenzo Bernini's St. Peter's Square in Rome.[92] Similar with ideal urban planning, Baroque gardens are characterized by straight and readapting avenues, with geometric spaces.


Some of the Rococo rooms of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles, France)

The name Rococo derives from the French word rocaille, which describes shell-covered rock-work, and coquille, meaning seashell. Rococo architecture is fancy and fluid, accentuating asymmetry, with an abundant use of curves, scrolls, gilding and ornaments. The style enjoyed great popularity with the ruling elite of Europe during the first half of the 18th century. It developed in France out of a new fashion in interior decoration, and spread across Europe.[93] Domestic Rococo abandoned Baroque's high moral tone, its weighty allegories and its obsession with legitimacy: in fact, its abstract forms and carefree, pastoral subjects related more to notions of refuge and joy that created a more forgiving atmosphere for polite conversations. Rococo rooms are typically smaller than their Baroque counterparts, reflecting a movement towards domestic intimacy. Even the grander salons used for entertaining were more modest in scale, as social events involved smaller numbers of guests.

Characteristic of the style were Rocaille motifs derived from the shells, icicles and rock-work or grotto decoration. Rocaille arabesques were mostly abstract forms, laid out symmetrically over and around architectural frames. A favourite motif was the scallop shell, whose top scrolls echoed the basic S and C framework scrolls of the arabesques and whose sinuous ridges echoed the general curvilinearity of the room decoration. While few Rococo exteriors were built in France, a number of Rococo churches are found in southern Germany.[94] Other widely-user motifs in decorative arts and interior architecture include: acanthus and other leaves, birds, bouquets of flowers, fruits, elements associated with love (putti, quivers with arrows ans arrowed hearts) trophies of arms, putti, medallions with faces, many many flowers, and Far Eastern elements (pagodes, dragons, monkeys, bizarre flowers, bamboo, and Chinese people).[95] Pastel colours were widely used, like light blue, mint green or pink. Rococo designers also loved mirrors (the more the better), an example being the Hall of Mirrors of the Amalienburg (Munich, Germany), by Johann Baptist Zimmermann. Generally, mirrors are also featured above fireplaces.


The perception of Asia as a place of luxury wasn't limited only to architecture. There is also Chinoiserie furniture, fashion, music, ceramic etc

Chinoiserie is a result of the desire to explore a fantastical land that was frustratingly off-limits. Although Westerners had known of China from ancient times, it remained mysterious. Even at the height of the Romans' addiction to silk, knowledge of the land they called Serica was very limited at best. However, things started to change when European explorers, like Marco Polo, started to describe East Asia in travel journals, and when Western merchants started trade with China.[96] During the 18th century, interest for East Asian art (particularly Chinese) appeared in Western Europe. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to trade directly with the nations of East Asia, shortly after finding a direct route around Africa in 1498. Britain and Holland followed suit just over a century later with the foundation of their East India companies - Protestant challenges to Portugal's power - and Chinese porcelain, Indian textiles and Japanese lacquers flooded the markets of Amsterdam and London. These items were sought after as objects of prestige, symbolic not only for personal wealth but also of the influence of the nations able to import them. European imaginations were fuelled by perceptions of Asia as a place of wealth and luxury, and consequently patrons from emperors to merchants vied with each other in adorning their living quarters with Asian goods and decorating them in Asian styles. Where Asian objects were hard to obtain, European craftsmen and painters stepped up to fill the breach, creating a blend of Rococo forms and authentic Asian figures, motifs and techniques. The vogue for Chinoiserie was ubiquitous: Asian-inspired interiors swept over Europe from Sweden to Sicily and flourished in the Americas from New England to New Spain (Mexico), Brazil to Argentina.[97]

A reverse of Chinoiserie appeared in China, known as Euroiserie,[98] an example being the Rococo parts of the Old Summer Palace, in present-day Haidian District of Beijing.

Return to Classicism: Neoclassicism[edit]

The Petit Trianon (Versailles, France), its garden, and four pictures with interiors, 1764, by Ange-Jacques Gabriel
The Cenotaph of Newton, c. 1784 (never built), by Étienne-Louis Boullée
Project for an ideal street, by Pierre Patte, 1769. In this plan, the houses and the street are elements of a system, one which would process waste, move traffic, and provide light and air

Neoclassical architecture focused on Ancient Greek and Roman details, plain, white walls and grandeur of scale. Compared to the previous styles, Baroque and Rococo, Neoclassical exteriors tended to be more minimalist, featuring straight and angular lines, but being still ornamented. The style's clean lines and sense of balance and proportion worked well for grand buildings (such as the Panthéon in Paris) and for smaller structures alike (such as the Petit Trianon).

Excavations during the 18th century at Pompeii and Herculaneum, which had both been buried under volcanic ash during the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius, inspired a return to order amd rationality.[100] In the mid-18th century, antiquity was upheld as a standard for architecture as never before. Neoclassicism was a fundamental investigation of the very bases of architectural form and meaning. In the 1750s, an alliance between archaeological exploration and architectural theory started, which will continue in the 19th century. Marc-Antoine Laugier wrote in 1753 that 'Architecture owes all that is perfect to the Greeks'.[101]

The style was adopted by progressive circles in other countries such as Sweden and Russia. Federal-style architecture is the name for the classicizing architecture built in North America between c. 1780 and 1830, and particularly from 1785 to 1815. This style shares its name with its era, the Federal Period. The term is also used in association with furniture design in the United States of the same time period. The style broadly corresponds to the middle-class classicism of Biedermeier style in the German-speaking lands, Regency style in Britain and to the French Empire style. In Central and Eastern Europe, the style is usually referred to as Classicism (German: Klassizismus, Russian: Классицизм), while the newer Revival styles of the 19th century until today are called neoclassical.

Étienne-Louis Boullée (1728–1799) was a visionary architect of the period. His utopian projects, never built, included a monument to Isaac Newton (1784) in the form of an immense dome, with an oculus allowing the light to enter, giving the impression of a sky full of stars. His project for an enlargement of the Royal Library (1785) was even more dramatic, with a gigantic arch sheltering the collection of books. While none of his projects were ever built, the images were widely published and inspired architects of the period to look outside the traditional forms.[102]

Similar with the Renaissance and Baroque periods, during the Neoclassical one urban theories of how a good city should be appeared too. Enlightenment writers of the 18th century decried the problems of Paris at that time, the biggest one being big number of narrow medieval streets crowded with modest houses. Voltaire openly criticized the failure of the French Royal administration to initiate public works, improve the quality of life in towns, and stimulate the economy. 'It is time for those who rule the most opulent capital in Europe to make it the most comfortable and the most magnificent of cities. There must be public markets, fountains which actually provide water and regular pavements. The narrow and infected streets must be widened, monuments that cannot be seen must be revealed and new ones built for all to see', Voltaire insisted in a polemical eassay on 'The Embellishments of Paris' in 1749. In the same year, La Font de Saint-Yenne, criticized how Louis XIV's great east façade of the Louvre, wass all but hidden from views by a dense quarter of modest houses. Voltaire also said that in order to transform Paris into a city that could rival ancient Rome, it was necessary to demolish more than it was to built. 'Our towns are still what they were, a mass of houses crowded together haphazardly without system, planning or design', Marc-Antoine Laugier complained in 1753. Writing a decade later, Pierre Patte promoted an urban reform in quest of health, social order, and security, launching at the same time a medical and organic metaphor which compared the operations of urban design to those of the surgeons. With bad air and lack of fresh water its current state was pathological, Patte asserted, calling for fountains to be placed at principal intersections and markets. Squares are recommended promote the circulation of air, and for the same reason houses on the city's bridges should be demolished. He also criticized the location of hospitals next to markets and protested continued burials in overcrowded city churchyards.[103] Besides cities, new ideas of how a garden should be appeared in 18th century England, making place for the English landscape garden (aka jardin à l'anglaise), characterized by an idealized view of nature, and the use of Greco-Roman or Gothic ruins, bridges, and other picturesque architecture, designed to recreate an idyllic pastoral landscape. It was the opposite of the symmetrical and geometrically planned Baroque garden (aka jardin à la française).

Revivalism, Eclecticism and Orientalism[edit]

View of Devonpart, near Plymouth (the UK), by John Foulston, 1820s, including an 'Egyptian' library, a 'Hindoo' nonconformist chapel, a 'primitive Doric' town hall, and a street of houses with a Roman Corinthian order
Just like other architectural styles, Revivalism, Eclecticism and Orientalism weren't limited only to architecture. There is also furniture, ceramic, graphic design etc in these styles. From the left to the right: a pair of Gothic Revival vases, an Eclectic vase, an Egyptian Revival centre table

The 19th century was dominated by a wide variety of stylistic revivals, variations, and interpretations. Revivalism in architecture is the use of visual styles that consciously echo the style of a previous architectural era. Modern-day Revival styles can be summarized within New Classical architecture, and sometimes under the umbrella term traditional architecture.

The idea that architecture might represent the glory of kingdoms can be traced to the dawn of civilisation, but the notion that architecture can bear the stamp of national character is a modern idea, that appeared in the 18th century historical thinking and given political currency in the wake of the French Revolution. As the map of Europe was repeatedly changing, architecture was used to grant the aura of a glorious past to even the most recent nations. In addition to the credo of universal Classicism, two new, and often contradictory, attitudes on historical styles existed in the early 19th century. Pluralism promoted the simultaneous use of the expanded range of style, while Revivalism held that a single historical model was appropriate for modern architecture. Associations between styles and building types appeared, for example: Egyptian for prisons, Gothic for churches, or Renaissance Revival for banks and exchanges. These choices were the result of other associations: the pharaohs with death and eternity, the Middle Ages with Christianity, or the Medici family with the rise of banking and modern commerce.

Whether their choice was Classical, medieval, or Renaissance, all revivalists shared the strategy of advocating a particular style based on national history, one of the great enterprises of historians in the early 19th century. Only one historic period was claimed to be the only one capable of providing models grounded in national traditions, institutions, or values. Issues of style became matters of state.[104]

The most well-known Revivalist style is the Gothic Revival one, that appeared in the mid-18th century in the houses of a number of wealthy antiquarians in England, a notable example being the Strawberry Hill House. German Romantic writers and architects were the first to promote Gothic as a powerful expression of national character, and in turn use it as a symbol of national identity in territories still divided. Johann Gottfried Herder posed the question 'Why should we always imitate foreigners, as if we were Greeks or Romans?'.[105]

In art and architecture history, the term Orientalism refers to the works of the Western artists who specialized in Oriental subjects, produced from their travels in Western Asia, during the 19th century. In that time, artists and scholars were described as Orientalists, especially in France.

In India, during the British Raj, a new style, Indo-Saracenic, (also known as Indo-Gothic, Mughal-Gothic, Neo-Mughal, or Hindoo style) was getting developed, which incorporated varying degrees of Indian elements into the Western European style. The Churches and convents of Goa are another example of the blending of traditional Indian styles with western European architectural styles. Most Indo-Saracenic public buildings were constructed between 1858 and 1947, with the peaking at 1880.[106] The style has been described as "part of a 19th-century movement to project themselves as the natural successors of the Mughals".[107] They were often built for modern functions such as transport stations, government offices, and law courts. It is much more evident in British power centres in the subcontinent like Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata.[108]


No art or architecture school has gained more accolades and attracted more criticism than the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Since its official inception in 1819 to World War I, it trained a quite large international group of painters, sculptors and architects, and its architecture section was the most populated. Besides the French, there were alumni of many nationalities. By 1900, when an annual admission cap of 90 Frenchmen and 30 foreigners was enforced, the architecture section attracted 'South Americans, Spaniards, Portuguese, Persians - anything but Prussians', according to John Mead Howells (1868-1959), one of 102 United States citizens awarded a diplôme between 1895 and 1914.[109]

Industry and new technologies[edit]

Because of the Industrial Revolution and new technologies, new types of buidings have appeared. By 1850 iron was quite present in dailylife at every scale, from mass-produced decorative architectural details and objects of apartment buildings and commercial buildings to train sheds. A well-known 19th century glass and iron building is the Crystal Palace from Hyde Park (London), built in 1851 to house the Great Exhibition, having an appearance similar with a greenhouse. Its scale was daunting.

The marketplace pioneered novel uses of iron and glass to create an architecture of display and consumption that made the temporary display of the world fairs a permanent feature of modern urban life. Just after a year after the Crystal Palace was dismantaled, Aristide Boucicaut opened what historians of mass consumption have labelled the first department store, Le Bon Marché in Paris. As the store expanded, its exterior took on the form of a public monument, being highly decorated with French Renaissance Revival motifs. The entrances advanced subtly onto the pavemenet, hoping to captivate the attention of potential customers. Between 1872 and 1874, the interior was remodelled by Louis-Charles Boileau, in collaboration with the young engineering firm of Gustave Eiffel. In place of the open courtyard required to permit more daylight into the interior, the new building focused around three skylight atria.[111]

Art Nouveau[edit]

The Hôtel Tassel (Brussels, Belgium), 1892–1893, by Victor Horta

Popular in many countries from the early 1890s until the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Art Nouveau was an influential although relatively brief art and design movement and philosophy. Despite being a short-lived fashion, it paved the way for the modern architecture of the 20th century. It was the first architectural style without historic precedent, the 19th century being notorious for the revivals of historic styles. Between c. 1870 and 1900, a crisis of historicism occurred, during which the historicist culture was critiqued, one of the voices being Friedrich Nietzsche in 1874, who diagnosed 'a malignant historical fervour' as one of the crippling symptoms of a modern culture burdened by archaeological study and faith in the laws of historical progression.[112]

Focusing on natural forms, asymmetry, sinuous lines and whiplash curves, architects and designers aimed to escape the excessively ornamental styles and historical replications, popular during the 19th century. However, the style wasn’t completely new, since Art Nouveau artists drew on a huge range of influences, particularly Beaux-Arts architecture and Japanese art, but also the Arts and Crafts movement, Celtic art, the Gothic Revival, Rococo, and Symbolism, often using materials associated in the 19th century with modernity, such as iron and glass. Although there are identifying characteristics, like the whiplash line, Art Nouveau also displayed many regional and national interpretations.[113] In Hungary, Romania and Poland, for example, Art Nouveau quickly incorporated elements of a revival or interest in folk culture. This is true especially in Romania, because it facilitated the appearance of the Romanian Revival style, which draws inspiration from Brâncovenesc architecture and traditional peasant houses and objects.


Rejecting ornament and embracing minimalism and modern materials, Modernist architecture appeared across the world from the early 20th century. Art Nouveau paved the way for it, promoting the idea of non-historicist styles. It developed initially in Europe, focusing on functionalism and the avoidance of decoration. Modernism reached its peak during the 1920s and 1930s with the Bauhaus and the International Style, both characterised by asymmetry, flat roofs, large windows, metal, glass, white rendering and open-plan interiors.[115]


Between 1910 and 1924, an architectural movement developed in Germany, Austria, Denmark and elsewhere that explored human emotion, and soon became known as Expressionism. Many expressionist architects had fought in World War I, and their war experiences had a great impact on their works. Subjective, individual and eccentric, Expressionist architecture avoided conventional building shapes and historical styles, and was often crated with innovative techniques and materials. Designed to express the architect's feelings, it also sought to evoke emotional rather than intellectual responses in others. Because they were unique, many Expressionist buildings were never built, but appeared only as drawings, or only existed temporarily.[116]

Art Deco[edit]

Art Deco, named retrospectively after an exhibition held in Paris in 1925, originated in France as a luxurious, highly decorated style. It then spread quickly throughout the world - most dramatically in the United States - becoming more streamlined and modernistic through the 1930s. The style was pervasive and popular, finding its way into the design of everything from jewellery to film sets, from the interiors of ordinary homes to cinemas, luxury streamliners and hotels. Its exuberance and fantasy captured the spirit of the 'roaring 20s' and provided an escape from the realities of the Great Depression during the 1930s.[117]

Although it ended with the start of World War II, its appeal has endured. Despite it's an example of Modern architecture, elements of the style drew on ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, African, Aztec and Japanese influences, but also on Futurism, Cubism and the Bauhaus. Bold colours were often applied on low-reliefs. Predominant materials include chrome plating, brass, polished steel and aluminium, inlaid wood, stone and stained glass.

International Style[edit]

The International Style emerged in Europe after World War I, influenced by recent movements, including De Stijl and Streamline Moderne, and had a close relationship to the Bauhaus. The antithesis of nearly every other architectural movement that preceded it, the International Style eliminated extraneous ornament and used modern industrial materials such as steel, glass, reinforced concrete and chrome plating. Rectilinear, flat-roofed, asymmetrical and white, it became a symbol of modernity across the world. It seemed to offer a crisp, clean, rational future after the horrors of war. Named by the architect Philip Johnson and historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock (1903-1987) in 1932, the movement was epitomized by Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, or Le Corbusier and was clearly expressed in his statement thag 'a house is a machine for living in'.[118]


Based on social equality, Brutalism was inspired by Le Corbusier's 1947-1952 Unité d'habitation in Marseilles. It seems the term was originally coined by Swedish architect Hans Asplund (1921-1994), but Le Corbusier's use of the description béton brut, meaning raw concrete, for his choice of material for the Unité d'habitation was particularly influential. The style flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, mainly using concrete, which although new in itself, was unconventional when exposed on facades. Before Brutalism, concrete was usually hidden beneath other materials.[119]


Retaining its focus on functionalism and clarity, Minimalist architecture developed out of De Stijl, the Bauhaus and the International Style. At its height during the late 1960s and 1970s, the style aimed to achieve not just the reduction of forms but of all elements. The movement was heavily influenced by Japanese architecture, which pares back elements and avoids the superfluous. With its desire for simplified form, space and materials, Minimalist architecture avoids ornamentation or decoration. Once all elements have been reduced in this manner, all that remains of any Minimalist work of architecture is the 'essence'.[120]


No one definable style, Postmodernism is an eclectic mix of approaches that appeared in the late 20th century in reaction against Modernism, which was increasingly perceived as monotonous and conservative. As with many movements, a complete antithesis to Modernism developed. In 1966, the architect Robert Venturi (1925-2018) had published his book, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, which praised the originality and creativity of Mannerist and Baroque architecture of Rome, and encouraged more ambiguity and complexity in contemporary design. Complaining about the austerity and tedium of so many smooth steel and glass Modernist buildings, and in deliberate denunciation of the famous Modernist 'Less is more', Venturi stated 'Less is a bore'. His theories became a majore influence on the development of Postmodernism.[121]


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,[122] (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 the French philosopher Jacques Derrida and the American architect Peter Eisenman[123] 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.

The 21st century[edit]

On January 21, 2013 architects began preparations for constructing the world's first 3D-printed building. An industrial-scale 3D printer used high strength artificial marble.[125] Companies around the world have 3D-printed numerous buildings, many only taking a few hours to be completed. 3D-printed buildings have been shown to be practical, cost effective, and environmentally friendly. The technology is being expanded to other frameworks.

Sustainable architecture is an important topic in contemporary architecture, including the trends of New Urbanism, New Classical architecture and Eco-cities.

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]