Western Architecture — Classical to Eclecticism

Classical architecture

Parthenon in Athens

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

Architecture of Ancient Greece
Ancient Agora of Athens
Delphic Oracle
Greek theatre

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

Interior of the Pantheon, Rome

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

Roman architecture
Roman villa
Roman Forum
Pantheon, Rome
Triumphal Arch

Medieval architecture

Valère Castle in Sion, Switzerland, built from the 12th to 13th century.

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

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

Byzantine architecture
Sassanid architecture
Romanesque architecture
Gothic architecture
Tudor and Jacobean architecture

Renaissance architecture

The Ghent Altarpiece: The Adoration of the Lamb (interior view) painted 1432.

The Cortile del Belvedere in Rome by Donato Bramante.

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

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

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

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

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

Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra

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

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

Baroque architecture

Sicilian Baroque: San Benedetto in Catania.

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

Rococo architecture
Moscow baroque
Georgian architecture
Petrine baroque

The Age of Enlightenment

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

Regency architecture
Neo-Classical architecture
Greek Revival
Neo-Gothic architecture
Second Empire
Neo-Byzantine architecture
Neo-Romanesque architecture
Jacobethan architecture
Tudorbethan architecture

Beaux-Arts architecture

Palais Garnier is a cornerpiece of Beaux-Arts architecture characterized by Émile Zola as "the opulent bastard of all styles"."What Style Shall We Build In?" [Heinrich Huebsch])

Beaux-Arts architecture[4] denotes the academic classical architectural style that was taught at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris. The style "Beaux-Arts" is above all the cumulative product of two and a half centuries of instruction under the authority, first of the Académie royale d'architecture, then, following the Revolution, of the Architecture section of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. The organization under the Ancien Régime of the competition for the Grand Prix de Rome in architecture, offering a chance to study in Rome, imprinted its codes and esthetic on the course of instruction, which culminated during the Second Empire (1850-1870) and the Third Republic that followed. The style of instruction that produced Beaux-Arts architecture continued without a major renovation until 1968.[5]

Modern architecture

Modern architecture is a term given to a number of building styles with similar characteristics, primarily the simplification of form and the elimination of ornament, that first arose around 1900. By the 1940s these styles had been consolidated and identified as the International Style and became the dominant architectural style, particularly for institutional and corporate building, for several decades in the twentieth century.

The exact characteristics and origins of modern architecture are still open to interpretation and debate.

The instrumentalisation of Architecture as argued under the maxim "form follows function".

Constructivism (art)
De Stijl
Heliopolis style
Art Deco


Louis Sullivan
Frank Lloyd Wright
George Grant Elmslie


The tower of the Helsinki Olympic Stadium (Y. Lindegren & T. Jäntti, built in 1934-38)

Functionalism, in architecture, is the principle that architects should design a building based on the purpose of that building. This statement is less self-evident than it first appears, and is a matter of confusion and controversy within the profession, particularly in regard to modern architecture.

The place of functionalism in building can be traced back to the Vitruvian triad, where 'utilitas' (variously translated as 'commodity', 'convenience', or 'utility') stands alongside 'venustas' (beauty) and 'firmitas' (firmness) as one of three classic goals of architecture.

Futurist architecture

Ferrohouse in Zurich (Justus Dahinden, 1970)- an example of futurist architecture

Futurist architecture began as an early-20th century form of architecture characterized by anti-historicism and long horizontal lines suggesting speed, motion and urgency. Technology and even violence were among the themes of the Futurists. The movement was founded by the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who produced its first manifesto, the Manifesto of Futurism in 1909). The movement attracted not only poets, musicians, artist (such as Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, Fortunato Depero, and Enrico Prampolini) but also a number of architects. Among the latter there was Antonio Sant'Elia, who, though he built little, translated the Futurist vision into bold urban form.

Modern architecture and beyond
Arts and Crafts Movement
Art Nouveau
Art Deco
Constructivist architecture
Chicago school
De Stijl
Nazi architecture
Socialist realism

Expressionist architecture

Goetheanum by Rudolph Steiner in 1923

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

The style was characterised by an early-modernist adoption of novel materials, formal innovation, and very unusual massing, sometimes inspired by natural biomorphic forms, sometimes by the new technical possibilities offered by the mass production of brick, steel and especially glass. Many expressionist architects fought in World War I and their experiences, combined with the political turmoil and social upheaval that followed the German Revolution of 1919, resulted in a utopian outlook and a romantic socialist agenda.[6] Economic conditions severely limited the number of built commissions between 1914 and the mid 1920s,[7] resulting in many of the most important expressionist works remaining as projects on paper, such as Bruno Taut's Alpine Architecture and Hermann Finsterlin's Formspiels. Ephemeral exhibition buildings were numerous and highly significant during this period. Scenography for theatre and films provided another outlet for the expressionist imagination,[8] and provided supplemental incomes for designers attempting to challenge conventions in a harsh economic climate.

International Style

The Glass Palace, a celebration of transparency, in Heerlen, The Netherlands (1935)

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

Around 1900 a number of architects around the world began developing new architectural solutions to integrate traditional precedents with new social demands and technological possibilities. The work of Victor Horta and Henry van de Velde in Brussels, Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona, Otto Wagner in Vienna and Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow, among many others, can be seen as a common struggle between old and new.


Le Corbusier
Walter Gropius
Mies van der Rohe
Alvar Aalto
Louis Kahn
Team Ten
Philip Johnson
Late Modern Architecture
Richard Rogers
Norman Foster
I.M. Pei
Nicholas Grimshaw
Michael Hopkins

Stalinist architecture

Moscow State University, a prime example of the Stalinist style.

Stalinist architecture was the architectural style developed in the Soviet Union between 1933 (the date of the final competition to design the Palace of Soviets) and 1955 (when the Soviet Academy of Architecture was abolished).

Just like any other form of art in Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, architecture was destined to serve the purpose of glorifying communism as the ideal social order. It was Stalin's goal to "wipe clean the slate of the past...and rebuild the world from top to bottom." To do this, Stalin subjected architects (though not as dramatically as artists and writers) to a considerable amount of state control. On April 23, 1932, the Communist Party Central Committee passed the resolution On Structural Changes in the Literary and Artistic organizations. The resolution outlawed all independent organizations. The formerly independent organizations were forced to form unions where the communist party could decide what was "fruitful, creative and correct". By July 1932, all independent organizations were abolished and replaced with the Union of Soviet Architects, a government-funded membership organization charged with architectural censorship. The following year, 1933, the Soviet Academy of Architecture was founded; this marked the "official" beginning of the time of Stalinist Architecture.

Postmodern architecture

1000 de La Gauchetière, with ornamented and strongly defined top, middle and bottom. Contrast with the modernist Seagram Building and Torre Picasso.

Kyoto Station.

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

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

Charles Jencks
Robert Venturi & Denise Scott Brown
Colin Rowe
Jane Jacobs
Aldo Rossi
Herzog & de Meuron
James Stirling
Vilen Künnapu

Deconstructivist Architecture

Libeskind's Imperial War Museum North in Manchester comprises three apparently intersecting curved volumes.

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,[9] (i.e., non-rectilinear shapes) which serve to distort and dislocate some of the elements of architecture, such as structure and envelope. The finished visual appearance of buildings that exhibit the many deconstructivist "styles" is characterised by a stimulating unpredictability and a controlled chaos.

Important events in the history of the deconstructivist movement include the 1982 Parc de la Villette architectural design competition (especially the entry from Jacques Derrida and Peter Eisenman[10] 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.


Zaha Hadid
Daniel Libeskind
Rem Koolhaas
Coop Himmelb(l)au
Frank Gehry
Peter Eisenman
Foreign Office Architects
Kas Oosterhuis
Greg Lynn
The development of European Architecture

Art of designing structures. The term covers the design of the visual appearance of structures; their internal arrangements of space; selection of external and internal building materials; design or selection of natural and artificial lighting systems, as well as mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems; and design or selection of decorations and furnishings. Architectural style may emerge from evolution of techniques and styles particular to a culture in a given time period with or without identifiable individuals as architects, or may be attributed to specific individuals or groups of architects working together on a project.

Early architecture
Little remains of the earliest forms of architecture, but archaeologists have examined remains of prehistoric sites and documented villages of wooden-post buildings with above-ground construction of organic materials (mud or wattle and daub) from the Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic periods in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. More extensive remains of stone-built structures have given clues to later Neolithic farming communities as well as to the habitations, storehouses, and religious and civic structures of early civilizations. The best documented are those of ancient Egypt, where exhaustive work in the 19th and 20th centuries revealed much about both ordinary buildings and monumental structures, such as the pyramid tombs near modern Cairo and the temple and tomb complexes concentrated at Luxor and Thebes.

The basic forms of classical architecture evolved in Greece between the 16th and 2nd centuries BC. A hallmark was the post-and-lintel construction of temples and public structures, classified into the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders and defined by simple, scrolled, or acanthus-leaf capitals for support columns. The Romans copied and expanded on Greek classical forms, notably introducing bricks and concrete and developing the vault, arch, and dome for public buildings and aqueducts.

This form of architecture developed primarily in the Eastern Roman Empire from the 4th century, with its centre at Byzantium (later named Constantinople, now Istanbul). It is dominated by the arch and dome, with the classical orders reduced in importance. Its most notable features are churches, some very large, based on the Greek cross plan (Hagia Sophia, Istanbul; St Mark's, Venice), with formalized painted and mosaic decoration.

This developed from the 8th century, when the Islamic religion spread from its centre in the Middle East west to Spain and east to China and parts of the Philippine Islands. Notable features are the development of the tower with dome and the pointed arch. Islamic architecture, chiefly through Spanish examples such as the Great Mosque at Córdoba and the Alhambra in Granada, profoundly influenced Christian church architecture, for example, the adoption of the pointed arch in Gothic architecture.

This style flourished in Western European Christianity from the 10th to the 12th centuries. It is marked by churches with massive walls for structural integrity, rounded arches, small windows, and resulting dark volumes of interior space. In England the style is generally referred to as Norman architecture (an example is Durham Cathedral). Romanesque enjoyed a renewal of interest in Europe and the USA in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This form emerged out of Romanesque. The development of the pointed arch and flying buttress made it possible to change from thick supporting walls to lighter curtain walls with extensive expansion of window areas (and stained-glass artwork) and resulting increases in interior light. Gothic architecture was developed mainly in France from the 12th to 16th centuries. The style is divided into Early Gothic (for example, Sens Cathedral), High Gothic (Chartres Cathedral), and Late or Flamboyant Gothic. In England the corresponding divisions are Early English (Salisbury Cathedral), Decorated (Wells Cathedral), and Perpendicular (Kings College Chapel, Cambridge). Gothic was also developed extensively in Germany and Italy.

The 15th and 16th centuries in Europe saw the rebirth of classical form and motifs in the Italian neoclassical movement. A major source of inspiration for the great Renaissance architects – Andrea Palladio, Leon Battista Alberti, Filippo Brunelleschi, Donato Bramante, and Michelangelo Buonarotti – was the work of the 1st-century BC Roman engineer Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. The Palladian style was later used extensively in England by Inigo Jones; Christopher Wren also worked in the classical idiom. Classicism, or neoclassicism as it is also known, has been popular in the USA from the 18th century, as evidenced in much of the civic and commercial architecture since the time of the early republic (the US Capitol and Supreme Court buildings in Washington; many state capitols).

European architecture of the 17th and 18th centuries elaborated on classical models with exuberant and extravagant decoration. In large-scale public buildings, the style is best seen in the innovative works of Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini in Italy and later in those of John Vanbrugh, Nicholas Hawksmoor, and Christopher Wren in England. There were numerous practitioners in France and the German-speaking countries, and notably in Vienna.

This architecture extends the baroque style with an even greater extravagance of design motifs, using a new lightness of detail and naturalistic elements, such as shells, flowers, and trees.

European architecture of the 18th and 19th centuries again focused on the more severe classical idiom (inspired by archaeological finds), producing, for example, the large-scale rebuilding of London by Robert Adam and John Nash and later of Paris by Georges Haussman.