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A Short Guide: Architectural Styles Through the Ages!

Architecture has seen rapid changes over time, ranging from the old age to that of the modern era, thereby witnessing evolution at every step. The one question that remains prominent among today’s generation is regarding the beginning of Architecture, either Western, Eastern or Indian. Even before the Greeks and the Romans came in, humans were actively involved in designing and constructing. This era was known as the Classical era. It was during the classical era that ideas and construction techniques came into the forefront. The classification of most of the architectural styles is according to the respective periodical styles, marked with the reflecting and unique characteristics that often keep on changing over time.

Each age has seen a specific and new type of architectural growth in the building construction. One important thing to note is the connection between those periods and related construction style. Each period or era flaunts its specific style. Sometimes, a particular period reflects the overflow of new ideas, and sometimes the merging of two contradictory ideas makes way for innovative architectural movements. Architecture is a fluid art that has evolved through the years, and we can say it as a constant movement, one of the essential things to take into consideration.

What is Architectural Style?

An architectural style is a representation of an art form in a building making its features and structures historically identifiable. Based on the architectural style, there are different features and genres. The style talks about the various aspects such as materials, regional character, form, method of making, and so on. There’s a complete chronology for the buildings and styles that keep on changing over the time period. It is usually because of the changes in belief, religion, fashion, and of course the technology and innovation in new materials and tools for construction, that the architecture always keeps on exploring new horizons.

Timeline for Architectural Style

Timeline of Architectural Style

The styles of the different chronological era are listed under architectural history. Based on the fashion of the period, the architects have contributed to adapting newer ideas. These architectural styles have, however, seen gradual development over time with different twists based on the area it spreads. The revival of a new or old genre in architecture is pretty common. For instance, neoclassicism eventually brought back classicism.

Vernacular architecture has also found its way in modern architecture and is often considered as a different part. The vernacular architecture, however, varies from one state, country to another. It, however, gives birth to the national and international styles as well. Vernacular architecture is very much prominent in India as well as in western society.

Also Read: Importance of Vernacular Architecture

Prominent Architectural Styles

From the prehistoric to modern and post-modern, art and architecture seem to flourish all the way. From Western to Eastern countries, each of it flourished by the prominence of architecture. Some of the popular types of architectural styles through the age of history include:

01. Prehistoric Times

Ranging from 11,600 B.C. to 3,500 B.C., archaeologists have dug into prehistory to bring about the changes. It is considered to be one of the oldest architectural styles. Prehistory covers the Old Stone Age (Paleolithic), Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic), and New Stone Age (Neolithic) periods. Additionally, it also includes the portions of the Bronze Age and Iron Age. One of the essential characteristics of prehistoric builders was the creation of structures in the geometric patterns. One of the most excellent examples of prehistoric architecture is Göbekli Tepe in the present day. The prehistoric architecture usually deals with different monumental structures include cliff dwellings, Stonehenge, cliff dwellings, mud structures, thatch, and many more.

Stonehenge - Standing Stones in England
Göbekli Tepe

Examples of Prehistoric architecture: Stonehenge, Göbekli Tepe

Southern Britain has some of the most excellent examples of prehistoric architecture, which are named as prominent UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Stonehenge in Amesbury is another excellent example of prehistoric structures. Often, the Prehistoric structures are considered as the birth of architecture because of these paved ways for the architectural roadmap later on.

02. Ancient Egypt

This architectural style ranges from 3,050 B.C. to 900 B.C. It depicts the prominent period of Egyptian architecture. The Egyptians created the most impressive structures of the ancient world. The period saw the construction of some of the prominent pyramids with several noticeable architectural characteristics. Scholars over the time often have considered this period of history in ancient Egypt as an entirely unique one.

Pyramids of Egypt

The Pyramids of Egypt

The pyramids of Egypt are some of the finest examples of engineering. The excellence of Egyptians in engineering gave them the ability to build bigger tombs for their kings. It involved a higher degree of the architectural knowledge to develop such structures. The Egyptian pyramids, tombs and palaces still stand as monuments to mankind’s creativity and genius in spite of thousands of years of invading armies, earthquakes, and other forces of natural calamities.

Also Read: Top 6 Famous Historical Monuments in India!

03. Classical Period

Eglise de la Madeleine Classical Architecture

Eglise de la Madeleine – Roman Catholic Church

The classical period lies between 850 B.C. to 476 A.D., derived the designs and styles from ancient Greek and Rome. The period between the rise of the Greek Empire and the fall of the Roman Empire has eventually seen the construction of several buildings. The most important architectural feature which highlights this style is the column placed on the façade. The identifiable features of classical aesthetic include symmetry, proportion, rational order, the relationship of individual parts to the whole and calm logic.

The Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius, from the first century B.C., suggested the idea of using mathematical formulas to propound the construction of buildings. Vitruvius was the one to introduce the three different Classical orders Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. In his book De Architectura (first published in Italian language) or Ten Books on Architecture (English), he has introduced the importance of symmetry and proportion for building construction. It helped in constructing and planning out symmetrically advanced and reliable structures later on.

Also Read: The Symmetry in Architecture: All you Need to Know!

04. Byzantine

Hagia Sophia - Byzantine Architecture

Hagia Sophia – Museum in Istanbul

Ranging from 527 to 565, the Byzantine empire took place after the capital of Constantine shifted to the Byzantium. The empire brought into prominence the classical forms, domed roofs, and mosaics. Basilicas, apse, mosaic and clerestory are the most common structures found in this architectural style. The basilica is a large famous church. The Byzantine architecture had seen a thorough combination of the Eastern and Western traditions. One characteristic feature of these buildings was a central dome. This design further spread to other parts of the Middle East as well. Undoubtedly, the architecture during this period was not only transformational but transitional as well. Hagia Sophia is one of the examples of Byzantine Architecture.

05. Romanesque

Basilica of St. Sernin in France - Romanesque

Basilica of St. Sernin in Toulouse, France

The influence of Rome on Europe also brought into effect the Romanesque architecture. It was prevalent during the 11th and 12th centuries. According to ‘James Stevens Curl and Susan Wilson’, (Authors of The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture), “Architectural styles of building erected in Romanized Western Europe having characteristics notably the semicircular-headed arch, the use of the basilican form for churches, and the survival of design elements such as the Classical capital.” The characteristic features of such an architecture were round arches, barrel vaults, thick walls, large towers, sturdy pillars, supporting vaults, and decorative arcading. Every building has defined forms, symmetrical plans, and the overall appearance is one of the simplicities when compared to other complex architectural styles. One of the finest examples of Roman architecture in Europe is the Basilica of St. Sernin in Toulouse, France. It also brings into prominence the Latin influence as well.

06. Gothic

Notre Dame – Paris Gothic buildings

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France

The influence of Gothic culture came around the 12th century in the Western World. It not only supported the graceful structure but far taller ones. The innovation was at a peak during the time. Some of the characteristic features of the buildings during this age were flying buttresses, pointed arches, and ribbed vaulting. According to ‘James Stevens Curl and Susan Wilson’, (Authors of The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture), “Gothic is one of the architectural styles evolved in Europe from the late 12th century until 16th century. It is the architecture of the pointed arch, pointed ribbed vaults, piers with clusters of shafts, deep buttresses, window tracery, pinnacles, spires, battlements, and a soaring verticality.” The buildings also saw the introduction of elaborate stained glasses and clerestory windows. The prominent decoration materials used were Gargoyles.

Some of the famous examples of Gothic buildings in today’s world include Chartres Cathedral and Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral in France.  Another well-known example includes Adare Friary in Ireland.

07. Renaissance

St. Peter's Basilica - Renaissance

St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome

The Renaissance period had brought into prominence, a significant development in the buildings. The architects during the Renaissance era were majorly inspired by the architects and builders from Greece and Rome. The Renaissance is often called as the Italian Renaissance. It is the period of cultural rebirth. It brought the invention of perspective, bringing the sense of infinity in the Renaissance paintings, thus helping the humans to shape the new humanist thought. As said by ‘James Stevens Curl and Susan Wilson’, (Authors of The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture), “Renaissance is an architectural style developed in the early 15th century which was based on the architecture of Roman Antiquity.”

St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is one of the examples of the Renaissance period. Andrea Palladio contributed towards symmetrical villas like Villa Rotunda near Venice, Italy. Palladio followed the ideas of Vitruvius. He even published the new technology in I Quattro Libri dell’ Architectura (first published in Italian language) or The Four Books of Architecture (English).

His ideas did not bring back the Classical order of literature, but it reflected the ancient designs to a lot of extent. They, however, are also referred to as neoclassical in the US.

08. Indian Architecture

India is the most ancient civilization. It has been a knowledge civilization since centuries ago. It had a share of 25% to 35% in the world GDP till 1800 to 1850 A.D. It is also the land where ‘zero’ was discovered and from where the knowledge of Astronomy has prevailed, for 5000 years.

The evolution of architecture in India has flourished in various ages in different parts and regions of the country. The earliest evidence of Indian Architecture is found in the urban planning of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappan Civilizations. The development of cave architecture marks a crucial phase in the history of Indian Architecture. In the post-Harappan period, the classification of architectural styles was done into Hindu, Buddhist and Jain Architectures.

The excavation of caves took place around the 2nd century B.C. to 10th century B.C., out of which the famous ones include Ajanta and Ellora Caves where huge temples have been carved in the form of a single hill or rock. The ancient forts on the top of the hills as well as the Sun temple at Konark, Orissa and Modhera, Gujarat are the classic combination of Indian architecture and astronomy. The roots of Indian architecture can be traced to classical ancient text in Sanskrit on Vastu shastra i.e. architecture like Mayamtam, Mansara-architecture, etc. These are also the texts which describe the construction technology of those days.

The emergence of Jainism and Buddhism has helped in developing early architectural styles in building stupas, viharas and chaityas. The Buddhist Stupas made of huge mounds of mud, enclosed in burnt small standard bricks. The Sanchi Stupa is a symbol of Mauryan architecture. The ancient temples built in India 1000 or more years ago are the classic examples of Indian Architecture. Many ancient temples had been destroyed by Barbaric invaders in the past. Temple Architecture flourished in the 6th to 10th century. Khajuraho temple located in Madhya Pradesh is one of the examples of temple architecture which simultaneously narrates knowledge from various disciplines.

Khajuraho Temple - Indian Architecture

Khajuraho Temple, Madhya Pradesh

Indian architecture has observed rapid growth and transformation along with the history of India. However, its development in architecture can be traced through the development of the ages. Modern day India has a diverse culture which is well represented in its architecture, such as the diversity from Hindu temple architecture to Islamic mosque architecture. These diverse cultures help us to understand the rich traditions prevalent at all times in the land called India. UNESCO has listed 830 Heritage Sites in the world out of which 26 are Indian. It is a combination of indigenous styles and external influences, giving it a unique characteristic of its very own.

In the medieval period, there was a combination of Persian Architecture. Indo-Persian style of architecture prevailed at that very time. After that, the colonial period brought the influences of western architectural forms to the India. It is majorly seen in office buildings. The Parliament House and Connaught Palace in Delhi are examples of colonial architecture.

Also Read: Importance of Hierarchy in Architecture

09. Buddhist Architecture

(i) Indonesian Architecture

Pagaruyung Palace - Indonesian Architecture

Pagaruyung Palace in Indonesia

Indonesian Architecture not only reflects cultural diversity but historical inheritance as well. The geographic location of Indonesia itself reflects the variation between Hindu-Buddhism architecture and Oceania. The arrival of European, the spread of Islam also contributed towards the popularity of Indonesian Architecture and influenced it a lot. However, with the following years, modern art was as well developed in the culture of Indonesian architecture.  It is characterized by wooden pile dwellings, high pitched roofs and extended roof ridges. Pagaruyung Palace in Indonesia is an example of exclusive Indonesian Architecture.

10. Oceanic Architecture

(i) Chinese Architecture

Chinese Architecture - The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City, Beijing

Chinese Architecture is very much intermingling of the different architectural styles that once existed in different parts of Vietnam, Korea, Japan, and Ryukyu. The modern times have observed a shift in the decorative style, but the significant portion remains still unchanged. Most of the knowledge regarding the Chinese Architecture was passed on generation by generation from one tradespeople to the other. The key architectural features are standing on a platform, grand palace and three-layered platform.  The ancient Chinese Architecture is mainly made of timberwork. The buildings are usually built in square, round, hexagon and octagon and their architecture are always graceful in appearance. The Forbidden City, Beijing is an example of Chinese Architecture.

11. Korean Architecture

Korean Architecture

Korean Bell of Friendship, in San Pedro

Korean Architecture is almost similar to the Eastern Asian building system. Most of the Korean Architecture buildings are available in the vertical and horizontal style. The buildings are built according to the kan unit; the distance usually is measured between the two posts with about 3.7 meters. The kan unit is the traditional unit in Korean architecture still used to describe palaces, shrines and Buddhist temples. Such an architecture is characterized by the difference of transitional space between inside and outside.  The curved line of the roof, eaves and their overlapped composition is the characteristic feature of Korean architecture. Simplicity is the strength of this architecture. Korean Bell of Friendship, in San Pedro is an example of Korean Architecture.

12. Japanese Architecture

Byodo-in, Kyoto - Japanese Architecture

Byodo-in, Kyoto

The Japanese culture had a significant influence on the Japanese Architecture. The features and characteristics make it widely different from other forms. It is characterized by wooden structures, elevated from the ground, with tiled or thatched roof. Moreover, the development of two new forms contributed to the militaristic climate. The castle is made as to the defensive structure. After World War II, Japan saw a rise in the modern architecture. Thus, from the 1950s, modernism became an essential part of the Japanese Architecture. Byodo-in, Kyoto is the beauty of Japanese Architecture.

13. Islamic Architecture

The Taj Mahal - Islamic Architecture

The Taj Mahal, Agra

Secular and religious architectural styles very much influenced the Islamic architecture. It took inspiration from Islamic culture, and the roots of Islamic architecture are found even today. Islamic architecture is characterized by its wide range of distinctive features such as mosques, tombs, palaces, and forts. As said by ‘James Stevens Curl and Susan Wilson’, (Authors of The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture), “Islamic architecture has several characteristic features including pointed, multifoil, low, wide, four-centered, and horseshoe arch, cladding of coloured glazed earthenware and patterned tilework and serene geometry.” The widespread of Islamic architecture gave further birth to Afro-Islamic, Ottoman, Moorish, and Tirmud architecture. The Taj Mahal is one of the examples of Islamic Architecture.

14. Persian Architecture

Persian Architecture

Agha Bozorg mosque in Kashan, Iran

Although the roots are in Persia, the prominence of Persian architecture is found in every corner of the world. Although it had met its destruction under Alexander, the ruins of the structures are enough to talk about the exquisite architecture. Moreover, the coming in of Parthians and Sassanids led to the development of new architectural design forms under the Persian architecture. Semi-circular and oval-shaped vaults characterize Persian architecture. The architectural features representing this style are geometrical and repetitive forms, richly decorated with glazed tiles, carved stucco, patterned brickwork, floral motifs and calligraphy. Agha Bozorg mosque in Kashan, Iran is an example of Persian Architecture.

15. African Architecture

African Architecture

Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre, South Africa

The Ethiopian architecture saw a massive growth from the Aksumite style to other parts of the world. The most characteristic feature of such form of architecture was the use of wood and round structures. The influence of the Aksumite style is still found in the Late Aksumite and Zagwe period. The dominance of the African Architecture can be well found around the Great Zimbabwe. Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre in South Africa is an example of African Architecture.

16. Pre-Columbian Architecture

(i) Mesoamerican Architecture

Mayan City of Palenque - Mesoamerican Architecture

The Central Plaza of The Mayan City of Palenque

The Mesoamerican Architecture is a combination of Columbian architecture and Mesoamerica (Maya, Aztec, Olmec). The interrelation of the different regional and historical styles has contributed to the growth of Mesoamerican architecture. One of the distinctive examples of Mesoamerican architecture is pyramids. The development of the architecture resulted in the intensive cultural exchange.  The central plaza of the Mayan city of Palenque (Chiapas, Mexico) is a fine example of Classic period Mesoamerican architecture.

17. Incan Architecture

Incan Architecture

Mayan temple of El Castillo

Incan developed certain distinctive features of their architecture. Incan Architecture is strongly characterized by the ability to merge their architecture with their surroundings. It is known for its fine masonry which features precisely cut shaped stones closely fitted without mortar. They were the ones to introduce the road system. The first rope suspension bridge of the world were Incan rope bridges. The Mayan temple of El Castillo is one of the most excellent examples of Incan architecture. Machu Picchu is also another excellent example of Incan Architecture.

18. Ancient Architecture of North America 

Cliff Palace of Mesa Verde

The Cliff Palace of Mesa Verde from Colorado, United States

The public architecture of the United States and Mississippians is brought about by the prominence of culture. The Mississippian culture is brought about by the mound-building people for the large earthen platforms. The Cliff Palace of Mesa Verde from Colorado, United States is one of the most excellent examples created by the Ancient Pueblo People.

19. Baroque Architecture

Baroque Architecture

Trevi Fountain, in Rome, Italy

The period between Mannerism and Baroque marked the increase in anxiety and representation in artwork. As said by ‘James Stevens Curl and Susan Wilson’, (Authors of The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture), “Baroque is a European architectural style of 17th and 18th century derived from Mannerism and evolving into Rococo before Neo-Classicism eclipsed it.” The Baroque architecture noticed a significant influence of science and philosophy apart from the mathematical representation and cultural influence. There were new variations in this type of architecture for everyone. The decorative tastes of Rocco gave a boost to the development of Baroque architecture.  Baroque architecture is highly decorative and theatrical style. In churches is highly characterized by broad naves (the central part of the church where services are held) with oval forms. It is deliberately left unfinished to give a unique feature to the design. The ceiling frescoes are on large scale. The use of ornaments, plaster or marble gives it a decorative look.

20. Beaux-Art Architecture

Palais Garnier - Beaux-Arts architecture

Palais Garnier in Paris, France

The Beaux-Art architecture promotes the academic classic architectural style. Ecole des Beaux-Arts taught such architectural styles in Paris. As said by ‘James Stevens Curl and Susan Wilson’, (Authors of The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture), “Beaux-Arts is a florid classical style evolved in France. It evolved in the second half of the 19th century, especially in Paris.” It was a coming together of two and a half centuries of instructions and authority — the style followed by the Beaux-Arts architecture without any developments till 1968. Palais Garnier is a corner piece of Beaux-Arts architecture.

21. Early Modern Architecture

Einstein Tower - early Modern architecture

Einstein Tower in Postdam, Germany

The early Modern architecture began with the coming in of similar characteristics, simplified form, and more ornamentation by 1900. However, by 1940, this architectural style had already spread across the world, primarily identified as a prominent International Style. The key features of this style include building styles with similar characteristics, primarily the simplification of form and the elimination of ornaments. Einstein Tower is an example of early Modern architecture.

22. International Architecture

Villa Savoye, International Architecture

Villa Savoye, Paris

International Architecture was one of the key architectural trends during 1920-30. These were the buildings before World War II. The International Architecture was very much similar to that of modernism. The characteristic feature includes rectilinear form, open interior spaces and a weightless quality generated by the use of cantilever construction. Villa Savoye, Paris by Architect ‘Le Corbusier’ is an example of international architecture.

23. Modernism

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater - Modern Architecture

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Pennsylvania

Modern Architecture focuses on simple forms and ornament creation through structures and themes of the building. The influence of modern architecture can be well observed in the 21st-century corporate buildings. Different movements have contributed to the standing out of modern architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater is one of the unique examples of the Modern Architecture. The modern architecture has become possible due to modern construction technology with sophisticated plant, machinery, tools, and equipment along with new age complex but strong materials.

Also Read: Modern Architecture: Know its Importance & Characteristics!

24. Postmodern

Sony Building of New York - Postmodern architecture

Sony Building of New York

Postmodern architecture is one of the architectural styles which continues to influence present-day architecture. It was the one that came in after the 1950s. The postmodern architecture observed the return of “wit, ornament and reference” trend. Some of the prominent examples of postmodern architecture are Portland Building of Portland, Sony Building of New York and the Las Vegas strip.

Summing up, the architectural styles have only seen a gradual rise over the years. Several old and new building designs act as reminisce of the specific eras. The eras gave birth to several architectures, which are relevant even today. The evolution of architecture has come across many varied cultures and landscapes. It marks the changes in architecture through various traditions, regions and stylistic trends.

Also Read:

Features of Contemporary Architecture | All you Must Know!
History of Bay Window
Heritage Homes & Sites of India | All You Need to Know

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