Architecture History
The Development of Building Designs: Famous Architects.

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Nationale Nederlanden Building 1997.
Designed by Frank Gehry.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul.

History of Architecture (3,000 BCE - present)
Evolution of Building Design


Architecture and Art
Early Irish
19th Century Architecture
Frank Lloyd Wright
American Skyscrapers
20th Century Architecture

St Peter's Basilica, Rome, showing
Maderno's facade and the adapted
Dome, originally designed by
Michelangelo. Renaissance style.

Taj Mahal, India (1632-54)
A superb example of Mughal
(Mogul) architecture.

For architectural terms, see:
Architecture Glossary.
To see how architecture fits
into the evolution of fine arts,
see:: History of Art.

Relationship Between Architecture and Art

Ever since Antiquity, architecture - the art of designing and constructing buildings - has always been closely intertwined with the history of art, for at least three reasons. First, many public works (especially religious buildings) were designed with aesthetics in mind, as well as functionality. They were built to inspire as well as serve a public function. As a result, they involved the services of a wide range of 'artists' and decorative craftsmen as well as labourers. Second, in many of these buildings, the exteriors and interiors acted as showcases for fine art painting (eg. Sistine Chapel), frieze and relief sculpture (eg. The Parthenon, European Gothic cathedrals), stained glass art (eg. Chartres Cathedral), and other artworks like mosaics and metalwork. Thirdly, public building programs typically went hand in hand with the development of visual art, and most major 'arts' movements (eg. Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical) influenced both architecture and the fine arts.

Ancient Architecture

Early architecture had two main functions: (1) to consolidate security and power; (2) to please the Gods. The richer the society, the more important these functions became. See also: History of Art: Timeline.


Egyptian Architecture

The first great civilization to emerge around the Mediterranean basin was that of Egypt (c.3100-2040 BCE). In addition to its own written language, religion and dynastic ruling class, it developed a unique style of Egyptian architecture, largely consisting of massive burial chambers in the form of Pyramids (at Giza) and underground tombs (in the desolate Valley of the Kings, Luxor). Design was monumental but not architecturally complex and employed posts and lintels, rather than arches, although Egyptian expertise in stone had a strong influence on later Greek architecture. Famous examples of Egyptian pyramid architecture include: The Step Pyramid of Djoser (c.2630 BCE) designed by Imhotep - one of the greatest architects of the ancient world - and The Great Pyramid at Giza (c.2550 BCE), also called the Pyramid of Khufu or 'Pyramid of Cheops' - the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the World, as compiled by Antipater of Sidon (170-120 BCE). Later, during the Middle and Late Kingdoms (c.2040-300 CE), the Egyptians constructed a series of palaces at Karnak (eg. Temple of Amon, 1530 BCE onwards). These structures were adorned with a diverse range of artworks - few of which survive - including murals, panel paintings, sculptures, and metalwork, depicting various Gods, deities, rulers and symbolic animals in the unique Egyptian hieratic style of art, together with hieroglyphic inscriptions. For more specific details, see: Early Egyptian Architecture (3100-2181); Egyptian Middle Kingdom Architecture (2055-1650); Egyptian New Kingdom Architecture (1550-1069); Late Egyptian Architecture (1069 BCE - 200 CE).

For a comparison with the pyramid architecture of the early Americas, see: Pre-Columbian Art (c.1200 BCE - 1535 CE).

Sumerian Architecture

Meanwhile, in Mesopotamia and Persia (c.3200-323 BCE), the Sumerian civilization was developing its own unique building - a type of stepped pyramid called a ziggurat. But in contrast to the pyramids of the Egyptian Pharaohs, ziggurats were not built as tombs but as man-made mountains to bring the Sumerian rulers and people closer to their Gods who supposedly dwelt high up in mountains to the east. Ziggurats were constructed from clay-fired bricks, often finished with coloured glazes. For more details, see: Sumerian Art (c.4500-2270 BCE). For other cultures of ancient Iraq, see: Assyrian art (c.1500-612 BCE) and Hittite art (c.1600-1180 BCE). For an overall view, see: Mesopotamian art (c.4500-539). See also: Prehistoric Art Timeline.

Early Irish Architecture

Towards the end of the Stone Age, ceremonial megaliths (structures built from large stones) like the Knowth megalithic tomb (c.3300 BCE) and Newgrange passage tomb, began to appear in Northern Europe (This form of Megalithic art is exemplified by the Stonehenge stone circle.) Either arranged upright in the open, or buried and roofed over to form a 'dolmen', these heavy stone structures are believed by most archeologists to have had a religious or ritualistic function, and in some cases the alignment of their stones reveals a sophisticated knowledge of astronomy. The complex engravings unearthed at Newgrange mark the beginning of visual arts in Ireland. For more about ancient and medieval buildings, please see Architectural Monuments of Ireland. For older types of historical site, see Archeological Monuments of Ireland.

Minoan Architecture

The first European art of Classical Antiquity was created by the Minoans, based on the island of Crete. Minoan architecture utilized a mixture of stone, mud-brick and plaster to construct elaborate palaces (eg. Palace of Knossos c.1700-1400 BCE) as well as domed burial chambers (tholos) hidden in the hills. Many of these buildings were decorated with colourful murals and fresco paintings, depicting mythological animal symbols (eg. the bull) and events. Unfortunately most Minoan architecture was destroyed by earthquakes around 1200 BCE. Crete was then taken over by the Myceneans from mainland Greece, from where a unified Greek culture and civilization emerged a few centuries later.

Greek Architecture

The history of art and architecture in Ancient Greece is divided into three basic eras: the Archaic Period (c.600-500 BCE), the Classical Period (c.500-323 BCE) and the Hellenistic Period (c.323-27 BCE). [See also: Aegean art.] About 600 BCE, inspired by the theory and practice of earlier Egyptian stone masons and builders, the Greeks set about replacing the wooden structures of their public buildings with stone structures - a process known as 'petrification'. Limestone and marble was employed for columns and walls, while terracotta was used for roof tiles and ornaments. Decoration was done in metal, like bronze.

Like painters and sculptors, Greek architects enjoyed none of the enhanced status accorded to their successors. They were not seen as artists but as tradesmen. Thus no names of architects are known before about the 5th century BCE. The most common types of public buildings were temples, municipal structures, theatres and sports stadiums.

Architectural Methods of Ancient Greece

Greek architecture used simple post-and-lintel building techniques. It wasn't until the Roman era that the arch was developed in order to span greater distances. As a result, Greek architects were forced to employ a great many more stone columns to support short horizontal beams overhead. Moreover, they could not construct buildings with large interior spaces, without having rows of internal support columns. The standard construction format, used in public buildings like the Hephaesteum at Athens, employed large blocks of limestone or a light porous stone known as tuff. Marble, being scarcer and more valuable was reserved for sculptural decoration, except in the grandest buildings, such as the Parthenon on the Acropolis.

Greek Building Design

The typical rectangular building design was often surrounded by a columns on all four sides (eg. the Parthenon) or more rarely at the front and rear only (eg the Temple of Athena Nike). Roofs were laid with timber beams covered by terracotta tiles, and were not domed. Pediments (the flattened triangular shape at each gable end of the building) were usually filled with sculptural decoration or friezes, as was the row of lintels along the top of each side wall, between the roof and the tops of the columns. In the late 4th and 5th centuries BCE, Greek architects began to depart from the strictly rectangular plan of traditional temples in favour of a circular structure (the tholos), embellished with black marble to highlight certain architectural elements and provide rich colour contrasts.

These buildings were famously adorned with a huge range of Greek sculpture - pedimental works, friezes, reliefs and various types of free-standing statue - of a figurative nature, depicting mythological heroes and events in Greek history and culture.

Principles of Greek Architecture: Classical Orders

The theory of Greek architecture - arguably the most influential form of classical Greek art - was based on a system of 'Classical Orders' - rules for building design based on proportions of and between the individual parts. This resulted in an aesthetically pleasing consistency of appearance regardless of size or materials used. There were three orders in early Greek architecture: the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. The Doric style was common in mainland Greece and later spread to the Greek colonies in Italy. The Ionic style was employed in the cities of Ionia along the west coast of Turkey and other islands in the Aegean. Where the Doric style was formal and austere, the Ionic was less restrained and more decorative. The third style, Corinthian, came later and represented a more ornate development of the Ionic order. The differences between these styles is most plainly visible in the ratio between the base diameter and height of their columns. Doric architecture (exemplified by Greek structures, like the Parthenon and the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens) was more popular during the Classical age, while the Ionic style gained the upper hand during the more relaxed period of Hellenistic Art (c.323-30 BCE).

Famous Buildings of Ancient Greece

Famous examples of ancient Greek architecture include: the Acropolis complex (550-404 BCE) including the Parthenon (447-422 BCE), the Temples at Paestum (550 BCE onwards), the Temple of Zeus at Olympia (468-456 BCE), the Temple of Hephaistos (c.449 BCE), the Temple of Athena Nike (427 BCE), the Theatre at Delphi (c.400 BCE), the Tholos Temple of Athena Pronaia (380-360 BCE), and the Pergamon Altar of Zeus (c.166-156 BCE). See also: Sculpture of Ancient Greece.


Roman Architecture

Unlike the more creative and intellectual Greeks, the Romans were essentially practical people with a flair for engineering, construction and military matters. In their architecture, as in their art, they borrowed heavily from both the Etruscans (eg. in their use of hydraulics for swamp-clearing and in the construction of arches), and also the Greeks, whom they regarded as their superiors in all visual arts. However, without Roman art - with its genius for copying and adapting Greek styles - most of the artistic achievements of Greek antiquity would have been lost.

Architectural Priorities of Ancient Rome

Roman architecture served the needs of the Roman state, which was keen to impress, entertain and cater for a growing population in relatively confined urban areas. Drainage was a common problem, as was security. This, together with Rome's growing desire to increase its power and majesty throughout Italy and beyond, required public buildings to be imposing, large-scale and highly functional. This is exemplified by Roman architectural achievements in drainage systems, aqueducts (eg. the aqueduct at Segovia, 100 CE, and over 11 aqueducts in the city of Rome itself, such as Aqua Claudia and Anio Novus), bridges (eg. the Pont du Gard) roads, municipal structures like public baths (eg. the Baths of Caracalla and the Baths of Diocletian), sports facilities and amphitheatres (eg. the Colosseum 72-80 CE), even central heating systems. Numerous temples and theatres were also built. Later, as their empire spread, the Roman architects seized the opportunity to create new towns from scratch, designing urban grid-plans based on two wide streets - a north-south axis (the cardo) and an east-west axis (the decumanus). The town centre was located at the intersection of the two roads. They also built upwards; for example, Ostia, a rich port city near Rome, boasted a number of 5-storey apartment blocks.

Architectural Advances: Arches & Concrete

Roman architecture was assisted by major advances in both design and new materials. Design was enhanced through architectural developments in the construction of arches and roof domes. Arches improved the efficiency and capability of bridges and aqueducts (fewer support columns were needed to support the structure), while domed roofs not only permitted the building of larger open areas under cover, but also lent the exterior an impressive appearance of grandeur and majesty, as in several important secular and Christian basilicas, like the Pantheon.

Developments in materials were also crucial, as chronicled by the Roman architect Vitruvius (c.78-10 BCE) in his book De Architectura. This is exemplified by the Roman invention of concrete (opus cementicium), a mixture of lime mortar, sand, water, and stones, in the 3rd century BCE. This exceptionally strong and convenient substitute for stone revolutionized Roman engineering and architecture. As tile-covered concrete began to replace marble as the main building material, architects could be more daring. Buildings were freed from the rectangular Greek design-plan (with its undomed roofs and lines of pillars supporting flat architraves) and became less geometric and more free-flowing.

Like their Egyptian and the Greek predecessors, architects in ancient Rome embellished their public buildings with a wide range of artworks, including: Roman sculpture (especially reliefs, statues and busts of the Emperor), fresco murals, and mosaics.

Famous Buildings of Ancient Rome

Two of the greatest structures of Ancient Rome were the Colosseum (the elliptical Flavian amphitheatre in the centre of Rome) and Trajan's Column (a monument to the Emperor Trajan). Situated to the east of the Roman Forum, the Colosseum took 8 years to build, had seating for 50,000 spectators. Historians and archeologists estimate that a staggering 500,000 people and over 1 million wild animals perished in the 'games' at the Colosseum. Trajan's Column, located close to the Quirinal Hill, north of the Roman Forum, was finished in 113 CE. It is renowned for its magnificent and highly detailed spiral bas relief sculpture, which circles the shaft of the monument 23 times, and narrates Trajan's victory in the Dacian Wars. The shaft itself is made from 20 huge blocks of Carrara marble, each weighing about 40 tons. It stands about 30 metres in height and 4 metres in width. A smaller but no less important Roman monument was the Ara Pacis Augustae (13-9 BCE).

Impact of Politics and Religion on Roman Architecture

In 330 CE, about the time St Peter's Basilica was completed, the Roman Emperor Constantine I declared that the city of Byzantium (later renamed Constantinople, now Istanbul in Turkey), was to be the capital of the Roman Empire. Later, in 395 CE, following the death of Emperor Theodosius, the empire was divided into two parts: a Western half based first in Rome until it was sacked in the 5th century CE, then Ravenna (See Ravenna mosaics); and an eastern half based in the more secure city of Constantinople. In addition, Christianity (previously a minority sect) was declared the sole official religion throughout the empire. These twin developments impacted on architecture in two ways: first, relocation to Constantinople helped to preserve and prolong Roman culture, which might otherwise have been destroyed by the barbarian invaders of Italy; second, the emergence of Christianity provided what became the dominant theme of architecture and the visual arts for the next 1,200 years.


Byzantine Architecture (330-554 CE)

Byzantine architects - including numerous Italians who had moved to the new capital from Italy - continued the free-flowing tradition of Roman architecture, constructing a number of magnificent churches and religious buildings, during the era of early Christian art, such as: the Chora Church (c.333) the Hagia Irene (c.360) and the Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus, all in Istanbul; the Church of St. Sophia in Sofia, Bulgaria (527-65), the awesome Hagia Sophia (532-37) which replaced the sacked Cathedral of Constantinople, and the Church of Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki. Great secular buildings included: the Great Palace of Constantinople, and Basilica Cistern.

New architectural techniques included the use of concave triangular sections of masonry, known as pendentives, in order to carry the weight of the ceiling dome to corner piers. This led to the construction of larger and more magnificent domes, and greater open space inside the building, as exemplified in the Hagia Sophia. New decorative methods included the introduction of dazzling mosaics made from glass, rather than stone used by the Romans. The interiors of churches were also richly decorated with Byzantine art, such as gilding, murals and relief sculptures - but not statues as these were not venerated as icons.

Use of Icons in Byzantine Religious Architecture

In the Byzantine or Eastern Orthodox tradition of Christian art, only flat images or low relief sculptures are permissible in religious art. This cultural tradition held that three-dimensional representations glorified the human aspect of the flesh rather than the divine nature of the spirit, thus it opposed 3-D religious imagery. (The Roman Christians, did not adopt these prohibitions, thus we still have religious sculpture in Catholic and Protestant architecture.) As it was, the Byzantine style of iconography developed in a highly stylised manner and aimed to present complex theology in a very simple way, making it possible to educate and inspire even the illiterate. For example, colour was very important: gold represented the radiance of Heaven; red, the divine life; blue was the colour of human life; white was the uncreated essence of God, used for example in the icon painting of the Resurrection of Christ. Typically, Jesus wears a red undergarment with a blue outer-garment (signifying God becoming Human), while Mary wears a blue undergarment with a red outer-garment (signifying that humans can actually reach God). For more information, see: Christian Art (Byzantine Period).

Developments (600-1450)

After the Early period of Byzantine architecture (c.300-600), which was largely a continuation of Roman architecture, there came a Middle Period (c.600-1100), notable only for the popularity of the cross-in-square type architectural church design (examples include the monastery of Hosios Lukas in Greece (c.1000), and the Daphni Monastery near Athens (c.1050); after this came the Comnenian and Paleologan periods (c.1100-1450), known only for rare achievements like Elmali Kilise and other rock sanctuaries of Cappadocia, the Churches of the Pantokrator and of the Theotokos Kyriotissa in Constantinople.

As the Eastern Roman Empire continued, Byzantine architecture gradually became more influenced by eastern traditions of construction and decoration. Buildings increased in geometric complexity, while brick and plaster were employed in addition to stone for decorative purposes, like the external zig-zag patterns. The previous 'Classical Orders' or styles were interpreted more freely, and windows filtered light through thin sheets of alabaster to create softer illumination. The two basic design-plans were the basilican, or axial, type (eg. The basilica at the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem) and the circular, or central, type (eg. the great octagonal church at Antioch).

Byzantine Architectural Legacy

In the West, Byzantine designs influenced the European artistic revival in the form of Carolingian Art (750-900) and Ottonian Art (900-1050), which led into Romanesque and Gothic architecture. In the East, it continued to exert a significant influence on early Islamic art and architecture, as exemplified by the Umayyad Great Mosque of Damascus and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, while in Bulgaria, Russia, Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and other Orthodox countries, it endured even longer.


Romanesque Style

The term Romanesque architecture is sometimes used to cover all immediate derivations of Roman architecture in the West, following the collapse of Rome until the flowering of the Gothic style in about 1200. More usually however, it denotes a distinctive style that emerged almost simultaneously in France, Germany, Italy and Spain (the latter also influenced by Moorish designs) in the 11th century. It is characterized most obviously by a new massiveness of scale, inspired by the greater economic and political stability that arrived after centuries of turmoil.

Charlemagne I and Otto I

The Romanesque revival of medieval Christian art began with Charlemagne I, King of the Franks, who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in St. Peter's Rome, by Pope Leo III in 800. Famous for his Carolingian art, curiously, his major architectural achievement - the Palatine Chapel in Aachen (c.800) - was not inspired by St Peter's or other churches in Rome, but by the octagonal Byzantine-style Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. See also Medieval Sculpture.

Unfortunately, the Carolingian empire rapidly dissolved, but Charlemagne's patronage of architecture and the arts to promote Christianity, marked a vital first step in the re-emergence of a European-wide culture. Moreover, many of the Romanesque and Gothic churches and monasteries were built on the foundations of Carolingian architecture. Charlemagne's pre-Romanesque architectural efforts were later continued by Otto 1 (Holy Roman Emperor 936-73), in a style known as Ottonian Art, which gave way to the fully fledged 'Romanesque.' (Note: the Romanesque style in England and Ireland is commonly referred to as Norman architecture.)


Christianity continued to be the dominant driving force for most significant building works. The flowering of the Romanesque style in the 11th century coincided with the reassertiveness of Rome, as the capital of Christianity, and its influence upon secular authorities led to the Christian re-conquest of Spain (began 1031) and the Crusades to free the Holy Land from Islamic control. The acquisition of Holy Relics by the Crusaders, together with the fervour aroused by their campaigns, triggered the construction of a wave of new churches and cathedrals across Europe. In Italy, they include the Cathedral of Pisa with its famous leaning campanile (bell tower), Modena Cathedral and Parma Cathedral, as well as famous churches like the Santa Maria (Rome), the Baptistery (Florence), and San Zeno Maggiore (Verona). In France, they include Laon Cathedral (among others), and the abbeys of Cluny, Aux Dames (Caen) and Les Hommes (Mont Saint-Michel). In England, they include 26 out of 27 ancient Cathedrals, such as Winchester, Ely and Durham. In Germany, they include Augsburg and Worms Cathedrals (among others) and the abbeys of Mainz, Worms, Speyer and Bamberg. (See German Medieval Art.) In addition to its influence over international politics, the Roman Church also exercised growing power through its network of Bishops and its close association with Monastic orders such as the Benedictines, the Cistercians, Carthusians and Augustinian Canons. From these monasteries, Bishops and Abbots exercised a growing administrative power over the local population, and devoted huge resources to religious works, including illuminated gospel manuscripts, cultural scholarship, metalwork, sculpture and church building. This is exemplified by the powerful Benedictine monastery at Cluny in Burgundy, whose abbey church typified the Romanesque style of architecture and became the largest building in Europe until the Renaissance.

Features of Romanesque Architecture

Although they relied on several design features from Greek and Roman Antiquity, Romanesque architects had neither the imagination of the Greeks, nor the engineering ability of the Romans. For example, Roman building techniques in brick and stone were largely lost in most parts of Europe. In general, the style employed thick walls, round arches, piers, columnsgroin vaults, narrow slit-windows, large towers and decorative arcading. The basic load of the building was carried not its arches or columns but by its massive walls. And its roofs, vaults and buttresses were relatively primitive in comparison with later styles. Interiors were heavy with stone, had dim lighting and - compared with later Gothic styles - simple unadorned lines. Romanesque churches tended to follow a clearly defined form, and are recognizable throughout Europe. Only rarely did one see traces of Byzantine or Eastern influence, except along trade routes. A notable example is the domed St Mark's Basilica in Venice.

Despite its relative simplicity of style, Romanesque architecture did reinstigate two important forms of fine art: sculpture (which had largely disappeared since the fall of Rome) and stained glass. But given the size of windows in Romanesque style buildings, the latter remained a relatively minor element in Medieval art until the advent of Gothic designs. See also: Romanesque Sculpture.

Romanesque Revival architecture was a 19th century style championed by architects like the Louisiana-born Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-86), who was responsible for "Richardsonian Romanesque", as exemplified by the Marshall Field Wholesale Store (1885-87), in Chicago.

NOTE: For a comparison with Eastern designs of the same period, see: the 11th century Kandariya Mahadeva Hindu Temple (1017-29) in India; and the 12th century Angkor Wat Khmer Temple (1115-45) in Cambodia.


Gothic Architecture

The term 'Gothic' denotes a style of architecture and art that superceded Romanesque, from the mid-12th century to the mid-15th century. Coined originally as a term of abuse by Italian Renaissance artists and others like Christopher Wren, to describe the type of Medieval architecture they considered barbaric, as if to suggest it was created by Gothic tribes who had destroyed classical art of Antiquity, the Gothic art style is characterized by the use of pointed arches, thinner walls, ribbed vaults, flying buttresses, huge stained glass windows and elaborate tracery. Think of it as a sort of finer, more vertical, more detailed, brighter, more exciting and more inspirational form of Romanesque. The Gothic style as applied to cathedrals is usually divided into two variations: Rayonnant Gothic Architecture (c.1200-1350) and Flamboyant Gothic Architecture (1375-1500). Modern critics like John Ruskin had a high opinion of the Gothic style. For more, see: Gothic Architecture. See also: Gothic Sculpture.


The 12th century was a period of growth in trade and urban development throughout Europe. This inceasing prosperity, together with advances in science and geometry, plus new ideas about how cathedrals could be built in order to inspire religious devotion among the masses, were all important factors in the development of gothic architecture. Although the new style was closely associated with the promotion of religion, and although much of the gothic building program was financed by monastic orders and local bishops, it was not a religious architectural movement. In a way, Christianity was a product brand used by secular authorities, to compete for prestige and influence. As a result, Kings and lesser administrators saw cathedrals as major civic and commercial assets, and supported their construction accordingly.

Key Feature of Gothic Architecture

The principal feature of the Gothic style is the pointed arch, believed by many experts to originate in Assyrian, and later, Islamic architecture. This feature, which channeled the weight of the ceiling onto weight-bearing piers or columns at a much steeper angle than was previously possible with the Romanesque 'rounded' arches, permitted architects to raise vaults much higher and thus create the impression of 'reaching towards heaven'. It also led to the adoption of numerous other features. Instead of massively thick walls, small windows and dim interiors, the new Gothic buildings had thin walls, often supported by flying buttresses, and huge stained glass windows, as exemplified by Sainte Chapelle (1241-48) in Paris. The soaring ceilings and brighter light revolutionized ecclesistical design by tranforming the interior of many cathedrals into inspirational sanctuaries. (See also: Stained Glass Art: Materials and Methods.)

The Gothic Cathedral - A Mini-Universe

In keeping with the new and more confident philosophy of the age, the Gothic cathedral was seen by architects and churchmen as representing the universe in miniature. Each element of the building's design was intended to convey a theological message: the awesome glory of God. Thus the logical and ordered nature of the structure reflected the clarity and rationality of God's universe, while the sculptures, stained glass windows and murals illustrated the moral messages of the Bible.

The Church of Saint-Denis (c.1137-41)

The building which marks the real beginning of the Gothic era was the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis, near Paris. Begun under the direction of Abbot Suger, friend of the French Kings, Louis VI and Louis VII, the church was the first structure to use and unify all of the elements that define Gothic as an architectural style. Although pointed arches, column clusters and cross-rib vaulting had all been used before, it wasn't until Saint-Denis that these features came together in a coherent whole, and the building became a sort of prototype for more churches and cathedrals in the region known as the Ile de France. In due course, the style spread throughout France, England, the Low Countries, Germany, Spain and Italy. (See also: English Gothic Sculpture and German Gothic Sculpture.)

Examples of Ecclesiastical Gothic Architecture

Although used in the design and construction of palaces, castles, municipal town halls, guild halls, abbeys and universities, the Gothic style is best exemplified by the Gothic cathedrals of Northern France. The greatest examples include: Notre-Dame Cathedral Paris (1163-1345); Reims Cathedral (1211-1275); Chartres Cathedral (1194-1250); and Amiens Cathedral (1220-1270); (in Germany) Cologne Cathedral (1248-1880); (in Austria) St Stephen's Cathedral Vienna; (in Spain) the cathedrals of Burgos, Toledo and Leon; (in Italy) Florence, Milan and Siena; while English Gothic architecture is best represented by Westminster Abbey, York Minster and the cathedrals of Salisbury, Exeter, Winchester, Canterbury and Lincoln.


Renaissance-Style Architecture (1400-1620)


Financed by commercial prosperity and competition between city-states, such as Florence, Rome and Venice, as well as rich families like the Medici banking dynasty in Florence and the Fuggers banking family in Germany, the Renaissance was neverthess a triumph of will over world events. Not long before, there had been a run of disastrous European harvests (1315-19); the Black Death plague (1346) which wiped out one third of the European population; the 100 Years War between England and France (1339-1439), and the Christian Church was polarized by schism. Hardly ideal conditions for the rebirth or rinacimento that followed. As it was, the 16th century Popes in Rome almost bankrupted the Church in the early 16th century due to their profligate financing of fine buildings and the visual arts.

Architectural Style

Renaissance architecture was catalyzed by the rediscovery of architectural styles and theories of Ancient Rome. The first depictions of this Classical architecture emerged in Italy during the early 15th century when a copy of De Architectura ("Ten Books Conerning Architecture") by the 1st century Roman architect Vitruvius, was sudddenly unearthed in Rome. At the same time, the Florentine architect and artist Filippo Brunellesci (1377-1446) had begun studying ancient Roman designs, and was convinced that ideal building proportions could be ascertained from mathematical and geometrical principles. It was Brunellesci's magnificent 1418 design for the dome of the Florence Cathedral (1420-36) - now regarded as the first example of Renaissance architecture - which ushered in a new style based on the long-neglected placement and proportion rules of Classical Antiquity.

Famous Renaissance Architects

Another important Renaissance architect was Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72), who is still revered as one of the founders of modern architectural theory. Believing that ideal architectural design was based on the harmony of structure, function and decoration, he was greatly inspired by the theory and practice of ancient Roman architects and engineers.

Other famous Italian architects included: (1) Donato Bramante (1444-1514), the leading designer of the High Renaissance; (2) Guiliano da Sangallo (1443-1516), an important intermediary architect between the Early and High Renaissance periods; (3) Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), a leading architect, as well as one of the greatest sculptors and painters of the age; (4) Baldassare Peruzzi (1481-1536), an important architect and interior designer; (5) Raffaello Santi (Raphael) (1483-1520), a visionary designer as well as painter; (6) Michele Sanmicheli (1484-1559), the most famous pupil of Bramante; (7 & 8) Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570) and Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), the two top figures in Venetian Renaissance architecture; (9) Giulio Romano (1499-1546), the main exponent of Italian Mannerist-style architecture; (10) Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) who designed the loggia for the Uffizi gallery and the connecting Vasari Corridor; and (11) Vincenzo Scamozzi (1548-1616) one of the great theorists of the late Renaissance.

Features of Renaissance Architecture

Put simply, Renaissance buildings were modelled on the classical architecture of the Greeks and Romans, but retained modern features of Byzantine and Gothic invention, such as complex domes and towers. In addition, while replicating and improving on Classical scupture, they also incorporated modern mosaics and stained glass, along with outstanding fresco murals. Renaissance architecture can be seen in countless examples of churches, cathedrals and municipal buildings across Europe, (eg. in many French Chateaux, such as Fontainebleau Chateau, home of the Fontainebleau School: 1528-1610) and its style has been reapplied in later ages to famous structures as diverse as the US Capitol and the UK National Gallery. (In England, the style is sometimes known as Elizabethan architecture.)

Supreme Examples of Renaissance Architecture

The two greatest Renaissance-style structures are undoubtedly the redesigned St Peter's Basilica in Rome and the cathedral in Florence, both of which were highlights of the Grand Tour (1650-1850).

Inspired by civic rivalry between the Ducal States, Brunellesci's dome made the Florentine cathedral the tallest building in Tuscany. In its architectural design, it combined the Gothic tradition of stone vaulting and the principles of Roman engineering. Its herring-bone bonding of brickwork and concentric rings of masonry blocks dispensed with the need for centring, which was unmanagable at the height involved.

Commissioned by Pope Julius II (1443-1513), the rebuilding of the 1,100 year old church of St Peter's in Rome (1506-1626) was the work of numerous architects, including Bramante, Raphael, Sangallo, Maderno, Michelangelo and Bernini, and extended beyond the High Renaissance into the Mannerist and Baroque eras. Its features include a 87-feet high lantern on top of a huge ovoid dome (altered from Michelangelo's hemispherical design due to fears of instability), and a frontal facade incorporating a gigantic Order of pilastered Corinthian columns, each 90 feet high. At 452 feet, St Peter's is taller than any other Renaissance church.

More Information
Proto-Renaissance Art
Early Renaissance Art
High Renaissance Art


Baroque Architecture (1550-1790)

As the 16th century unfolded, the religious, political and philosophical certainties which had prevailed during the Early (c.1400-85) and High (1486-1520) Renaissance periods, began to unravel. In 1517, Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation, casting European-wide doubt on the integrity and theology of the Roman Church. This was the catalyst for several wars involving France, Italy, Spain and England, and led directly to the Counter-Reformation movement, launched by Rome, to attract the masses away from Protestantism. Renewed patronage of the visual arts and architecture was a key instrument in this propaganda campaign, and resulted in a grander, more dramatic style in both areas. For the rest of the century, this more dynamic style was known as Mannerism (style-ishness), and thereafter, Baroque - a term derived from the Portugese word barocco, meaning 'an irregular pearl'.

Key Features of the Baroque Style

Baroque architecture can be seen as a more complex, more detailed, more elaborate, more ornamented form of Renaissance architecture. More swirls, more complex manipulation of light, colour, texture and perspective. On the outside of its churches, it featured more ostentatious facades, domes, columns, sculpture and other embellishments. On the inside, its floor-plans were more varied. Long, narrow naves were displaced by wider, sometimes circular shapes; separate chapels and other areas were created, along with trompe l'oeil effects; ceilings were covered in fresco paintings. The whole thing was designed to interest, if not dazzle, the spectator.

Baroque was an emotional style of architecture, and took full advantage of the theatrical potential of the urban landscape. This is exemplified above all by Saint Peter's Square (1656-67) in Rome, in front of the domed St Peter's Basilica. Its architect, Giovanni/Gianlorenzo Bernini rings the square with colonnades, which widen slightly as they approach the cathedral, conveying the impression to visitors that they are being embraced by the arms of the Catholic Church. The entire approach is constructed on a gigantic scale, to induce feelings of awe.

In general, Baroque architecture constituted part of the struggle for religious superiority and for the hearts and minds of worshippers across Europe. On a more political level, secular Baroque architecture was employed to buttress the absolutism of reigning monarchs, like King Louis XIV of France, among others. From Italy, it spread to the rest of Europe - especially Catholic Europe - where each country typically developed its own interpretation. See also: German Baroque Art.

Celebrated Baroque Architects

Famous Baroque architects included: Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola (1507-73), papal architect to Pope Julius III and the Farnese family; Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), a designer who perfectly expressed the ideals of the Counter Reformation; Francesco Borromini (1599-1667), a lifelong rival of Bernini; Pietro Berrettini da Cortona (1596-1669), a protege of Pope Urban VIII (see also quadratura); Francois Mansart (1598-1666), designer of French townhouses and chateaux like the Château de Maisons, whose name was given to the mansard roof (sic); his great-nephew Jules Hardouin Mansart (1646-1708), designer of the great dome of Les Invalides in Paris; and Louis Le Vau (1612-70), another famous French Baroque architect, responsible for the church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris and the Wings of the Louvre. Jules Hardouin Mansart and Louis Le Vau were the main architects of the Palace of Versailles (begun 1623), creating such extravagancies as the Hall of Mirrors and the Marble Court. In Germany, an iconic Baroque structure is the Wurzburg Residenz (1720-44), designed by Balthasar Neumann (1687-1753).

In England, the leader of the Baroque style was Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726), designer of Blenheim Palace; while in Russia, Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1700-1771) was chiefly responsible for the style known as Russian Baroque, but which incorporated elements of both early Neoclassical and Rococo architecture. Rastrelli designed the Winter Palace (1754-62), Smolny Cathedral (1748-57) in St Petersburg, and redesigned Catherine's Palace, outside the city.

Rococo Architecture (1715-89)

During the last phase of Baroque, the reign of King Louis XV of France witnessed a revolt against the earlier Baroque style of Louis XIV's court, and the emergence of a more decorative, playful style of architecture, known as Rococo. An amalgam of the words 'rocaille' (rock) and 'coquillage' (sells), reflecting its abundance of flowing curved forms, Rococo was championed by Nicolas Pineau, who partnered Jules Hardouin-Mansart in designing interiors for the royal Château de Marly.

Unlike other major architectural movements, like Romanesque, Gothic or Baroque, Rococo was really concerned with interior design. This was because it emerged and remained centred in France, where rich patrons were unwilling to rebuild houses and chateaux, preferring instead to remodel their interiors. And the style was far too whimsical and light-hearted for the exteriors of religious and civic buildings. As a result, Rococo architects - in effect, interior designers - confined themselves to creating elaborately decorated rooms, whose plasterwork, murals, tapestries, furniture, mirrors, porcelain, silks, chinoiserie and other embellishments presented the visitor with a complete aesthetic experience - a total work of art (but hardly architecture!)

Rococo perfectly reflected the decadent indolence and degeneracy of the French Royal Court and High Society. Perhaps because of this, although it spread from France to Germany, where it proved more popular with Catholics than Protestants, it was less well received in other European countries like England, The Low Countries, Spain and even Italy. It was swept away by the French Revolution and by the sterner Neoclassicism which heralded a return to Classical values and styles, more in keeping with the Age of Enlightenment and Reason.


Neoclassical Architecture (1640-1850)

Early Neoclassical Forms

Neoclassicism did not appear overnight. In its early forms (1640-1750), it co-existed with Baroque, and functioned as a corrective style to the latter's more flamboyant excesses. Thus in England, Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) designed St Paul's Cathedral, the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, the Royal Chelsea Hospital and the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, in a style which is much more classicist than Baroque, even though he is still classified as a Baroque architect. Other early English Neoclassicist designers included Inigo Jones (1573-1652) and William Kent (1685-1748).

Features of Neoclassicism Proper (1750-1850)

A timely support for ancien regimes throughout Europe, from St Petersburg to Vienna, and a model for youthful empires-to-come like the United States of America, Neoclassical art was yet another return to the Classical Orders of Greek and Roman Antiquity. Although, as in the Renaissance, the style retained all the engineering advances and new materials of the modern era. It was characterized by monumental structures, supported or decorated by columns of Doric, Ionic or Corinthian pillars, and topped with classical Renaissance domes. Technical innovations of late 18th century architecture like layered cupolas and inner cores added strength to domes, and their dimensions increased, lending increased grandeur to civic buildings, churches, educational facilities and large private homes.

Neoclassical architecture originated in Paris, largely due to the presence of French designers trained at the French Academy in Rome. Famous French architects included: Jacques Germain Soufflot (1713-80), who designed the Pantheon (1756-97) in Paris; Claude Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806), designer of the Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans (1773-93) and the Cathedral of Saint-Germaine (1762-64); and Jean Chalgrin, who designed the Arc de Triomphe (1806). In England the tradition was maintained by Paris-trained Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam (1728-92), John Nash (1752-1835), Sir John Sloane (1753-1837), William Wilkins (1778-1839) and Sir Robert Smirke (1780-1867). It was quickly adopted by progressive circles in Sweden as well. In Germany, Neoclassical architects included: Carl Gotthard Langhans (1732-1808), designer of the Brandenburg Gate (1789-91) in Berlin; Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841), responsible for the Konzerthaus on Gendarmenmarkt (1818-21), the Tegel Palace (1821-4), and the Altes Museum (1823-30), all in Berlin. These two architects transformed the Prussian capital of Berlin to rival Paris or Rome in classical splendour.

Russian Neoclassicism

Rastrelli's Baroque style Russian buildings, like the Winter Palace (1754-62), did not find favour with Catherine the Great (1762-1850), who preferred Neoclassical designs. As a result, she summoned the Scottish architect Charles Cameron (c.1745–1812), who built the Pavlovsk Palace (1782-86) near St Petersburg, the Razumovsky Palace in the Ukraine (1802) and the Alexander Palace outside St Petersburg (1812). Other important neoclassical architects for the Russian Czars included: Vincenzo Brenna (Cameron's pupil), Giacomo Quarenghi and Matvey Fyodorovich Kazakov.

American Neoclassicism

The United States Capitol Building, with its neoclassical frontage and dome, is one of America's most recognizable and iconic structures. Begun in 1793, its basic design was the work of William Thornton (1759-1828), reworked by Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820), Stephen Hallet and Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844). The dome and rotunda were initially built from wood, but later replaced with stone and iron. The overall design was inspired by both the eastern facade of the Louvre Museum in Paris, and by the Pantheon in Rome. Latrobe himself went on to design numerous other buildings in America, in the Neoclassical style including: the Bank of Pennsylvania (1789), Richmond Capitol (1796), the Fairmount Waterworks, Philadelphia (1799), and the Baltimore Exchange (1816), to name but a few. Bulfinch completed the Capitol in the 1820s, setting the template for other state capitols in the process, and then returned to his architectural practice in Boston. A key figure in the development of American architecture during the early 19th century, was the third US President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), whose strong preference for neoclassicism, in the design of public buildings, had a strong influence on his contemporaries.

19th Century Architecture

19th-Century architecture in Europe and America witnessed no new important design movements or schools of thought. Instead, there emerged a number of revivals of old styles. These included: The Greek Revival (American followers included Jefferson and Latrobe); the Gothic Revival - led by Viollet-le-Duc in France; American followers included Richard Upjohn (1802-78) and James Renwick (1818-95); a Neo-Romanesque Revival (1849-1880), led by Henry Hobson Richardson; Beaux-Arts architecture - a fusion of neo-Renaissance and neo-Baroque forms, practiced by Richard Morris Hunt (1827-95) - best known for designing the plinth of the Statue of Liberty (1870-86) - and by the Ohio-born Cass Gilbert (1859-1934); and the Second Empire style (1850-80) in France, which was characterized by a revival of the Mansard Roof. The only monumental architectural masterpiece was the Eiffel Tower (1885-89), built by the French architect Stephen Sauvestre and the French engineer Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923). Wrought iron frameworks were also a feature of Victorian architecture in Britain (1840-1900) - thanks to Robert Stephenson (1803-59) and Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59) - as were other new materials, like glass - as used in the construction of Crystal Palace, designed by Joseph Paxton (1801-65). Popular Victorian styles included Neo-Gothic and Jacobethan. A giant replica of a viaduct pylon, the tower is built entirely from iron girders. The only significant exception to the above Revivalist movements was the fin de siecle appearance of Art Nouveau architecture, pioneered by Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), Victor Horta (1861-1947) and Hector Guimard (1867-1942), and by Secessionists like the Viennese architect Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867-1908).

Frank Lloyd Wright

The greatest ever American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) revolutionized spatial concepts with his Prairie house style of domestic architecture, introducing open-plan layouts and the widespread use of unfinished natural materials. Prairie School architecture is exemplified by Robie House (1910), Fallingwater (1936-37), Unity Temple (1936-39), Imperial Hotel Tokyo, Textile Block Houses, Johnson Wax Building (1936-39), Usonian House (mid-1930s), Price Tower (1955), Guggenheim Museum NY (1956-9). Influenced by American colonial architecture, 19th century Shingle style designs and Japanese architecture, as well as the Arts and Crafts movement, he also paid the closest attention to the detail of interior fixtures and fittings and the use of natural, local materials. Wright's work showed that European traditionalism (and modernism) was not the only answer to architectural issues in the United States.

American Skyscrapers

However, an immense amount of development in both building design and engineering took place in American architecture, at this time, due to the Chicago School and the growth of skyscraper architecture, from 1849 onwards. These supertall buildings came to dominate later building design across the United States. The Chicago School of architecture, founded by the skyscraper architect and engineer William Le Baron Jenney (1832-1907), was the pioneer group. Other important contributors to supertall tower design included the ex-Bauhaus designers Walter Gropius (1883-1969) and Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969); Philip Johnson (1906-2005), Skidmore Owings and Merrill, their leading structural engineer Fazlur Khan (1929-82), I.M.Pei (b.1917).

For details of the greatest architectural designers in the United States, see: American Architects (1700-2000).

20th Century Architecture

Twentieth century architecture has been dominated by the use of new technologies, building techniques and construction materials. Here is a brief outline of the century's main architectural schools and movements. For details, see: 20th Century Architecture (1900-2000).

• 1900-20 Art Nouveau
• 1900-25 Early Modernism (See:Le Corbusier and Peter Behrens)
• 1900-25 Continental Avant-Garde (De Stijl, Neue Sachlichkeit)
• 1900-2000 Steel-frame Skyscraper Architecture
• 1907-33 Deutscher Werkbund
• 1919-33 Bauhaus Design (see the biography of Walter Gropius); this evolves into the International Style of Modern Architecture (1940-70).
• 1925-40 Art Deco
• 1928-40 Totalitarian Architecture (Germany/USSR) - see Nazi art (1933-45)
• 1945-70 Late Modernism: Second Chicago School of Architecture
• 1945-2000 High Tech Corporate Design Architecture
• 1960-2000 Postmodernist Art
• 1980-2000 Deconstructivism - see Frank O. Gehry (b.1929).
• 1990-2000 Blobitecture


• For more details of types and history of architecture, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.

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