Changes in Architecture throughout history

6 June 2016

Architecture is the art and science of designing and building shelter for various human activities by enclosing space. At its best, it is a major art form that combines usefulness with beauty. When designing a building, the architect considers the structural system and materials to be used, the purpose of the building, and the size, shape, location, and contours of the site. He or she must also understand the working or living patterns of the people who will occupy or use the building.

We will write a custom essay sample on
Changes in Architecture throughout history
or any similar topic specifically for you
Do Not Waste
Your Time

 Architecture may be religious, domestic, governmental, commercial, or industrial. It expresses the interests and ideals of a civilization, and reflects the ways of living and the construction methods of the era in which it was produced. The Christian religion became a dominant influence in medieval Europe and is expressed in the Gothic cathedrals. High-rise office buildings reflect the importance of business of 20th-century life (Squire, 2003).

Architecture has been influenced not only by religious, political, social, and economic conditions, but also by the climate and available building materials of a region, and by inventions and scientific discoveries. In far northern lands of forests, heavy snow, and little sunlight, for instance, wooden structures with steeply sloping roofs and many windows became common. In southern lands where wood is scarce and there is little rain and much sunlight, buildings were often made of sun-dried brick, with flat roofs and only a few small windows. With the technological advances of the 20th century, regional differences in architecture became less obvious (Musgrove, 2000). The importance of climate and natural resources diminished with improved methods of transportation and with improved heating ventilation.

Architectural styles differ in structural methods, building materials, and surface ornamentation. Three principles of building have governed architectural style—post and lintel, the arch, and the cantilever.

The purposes of this paper are to understand and have an in-depth study on the changes in architecture throughout time.

II. Background

A. The Renaissance

The Renaissance period in architecture began in Italy in the 15th century. By the end of the 16th century, Renaissance architecture had spread throughout Western Europe. Although it was inspired by Roman architectural forms, Byzantine and Gothic construction methods were used and improved on.

The Renaissance movement developed in each country along national lines. There were several common characteristics, however. The Romans orders of architecture and the round arch were reintroduced and used for both structural and ornamental purposes. A major concern of renaissance architects was the external effect of a building. Horizontal lines and the symmetrical arrangement of windows and doors emphasized balance and serenity. The dome, raised on a drum, became a prominent feature. Church building continued, but there was more emphasis on the construction of houses and civic buildings (Caudill, 2001).

Emphasis on the importance of the individual was a major aspect of the Renaissance period. For the first time, individual architects were recognized and honored.

III. Discussion

A. Prehistoric Architecture

Early humans had neither time nor skill to do more than meet the basic need for shelter. Some people found shelter in caves. Others built simple windbreaks or made crude huts of woven reeds plastered with mud.

As communities were established, people built large stone structures called megaliths, such as Stonehenge in England. Dolmens, megaliths thought to have served as tombs, consist of several upright stone slabs supporting a horizontal slab.

 Although megaliths do not entirely enclose space, they represent beginnings of what might be called architectural thinking (Salvadori, 2002). They are the simplest examples of the earliest known principle of building—the post and lintel.

B. Ancient Architecture

Egypt. Post and lintel construction was widely used in ancient Egypt. The chief buildings—tombs and temples—are characterized by simplicity and solidity.

The earliest form of the tomb of which examples remain is the mastaba, an oblong structure of sun-dried brick with a flat roof and sloping exterior walls. From the mastaba developed the pyramids (the tombs of the pharaohs), built during the Old Kingdom. During the Middle Kingdom, the Egyptians cut tombs and temples into rock cliffs along the Nile.

The great period of temple building was the New Kingdom, or Empire period. Many temples were built at Karnak and Luxor, near Thebes. All these temples were built on basically the same plan. An avenue of sphinxes led to the pylon, a gateway consisting of two massive walls with sloping sides flanking the entrance. On both sides of the pylon stood obelisks, tall, tapering stone shafts (Munro, 2004). Inside, a roofless colonnaded court led to the covered hypostyle hall, crowded with massive columns that supported the roof. Beyond the hall was the sanctuary.

The ancient Egyptians knew the principle of the arch and used it in their homes and secular buildings. Since these structures were made chiefly of sun-dried mud brick, few examples have survived. Archeological excavations show that houses were two or three stories high and often had arched ceilings.

Western Asia. The valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers lacked stone and timber; therefore sun-dried and kiln-baked bricks were the chief building materials of ancient Mesopotamia. When used as decorative facing on important buildings, the bricks were glazed in different colors. Ancient Mesopotamian architecture often used the arch. Thick walls were built to support arches and barrel- vaulted roofs. Fortifications, temple complexes, and palaces were built on platforms as protection against the frequent floods.

Temples were the chief buildings of the Babylonians. Situated near the center of a city, groups of temples served civic and commercial as well as religious needs. Each temple complex was dominated by a ziggurat, a terraced tower. Ramps or flights of stairs connected the various levels and led to a small shrine at the top. The Biblical Tower of Babel in Babylon was a ziggurat (Squire, 2003).

Although the Assyrians also built temples and ziggurats, palaces were their major architectural concern. An elaborate gateway led to the palace, consisting of groups of long, narrow rooms opening on courtyards.

Both stone and timber were available in Persia, and both post and lintel and arch construction were used. Large halls with slender columns and great commercial stairways richly decorated with relief sculpture are the characteristic features of Persian architecture.

Aegean Architecture. One of the early civilizations that developed around the Aegean Sea was the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete. Houses and palaces, the most important buildings, were built of various materials—wood, stone, gypsum, stucco. Post and lintel construction was used. The ruined palace at Knossos (Cnossus) shows the mazelike plan of rooms, courtyards, and staircases that probably gave rise to the legend of the labyrinth (Salvadori, 2002).  A plumbing system brought running water to the palace and the private houses around it.

The architecture of the Mycenaean civilization on the mainland of southern Greece differed greatly from that on Crete. It is characterized by the use of stone and the corbelled vault. Palaces and tombs were the chief buildings of architectural interest. The palace usually crowned an acropolis, the high, fortified part of the city. In the lower city, beehive-shaped tombs were cut into the hillsides. These beehive tombs are distinguished by their corbelled domed roofs.

C. Classical Architecture

Greek Architecture. It was based on the post and lintel principle, and the column is one of its distinguishing features. Colonnades were often used. The Greeks never used the arch in their major buildings, but often used it in inconspicuous places on unimportant structures. Buildings were constructed of marble or coarse stone, such as limestone.

The most important Greek buildings were temples that housed statues of gods. Not intended for congregational worship, temples were planned principally for external effect and are marked by dignity and grandeur. The most common type of temple was rectangular and stood on a stepped platform. In the center room, called naos or cella, stood the statue of a god (Caudill, 2001). Occasionally, there was a small room at the entrance of the naos and one at the rear. A single or double row of columns formed the temple’s portico (entrance). In large temples a colonnade, or peristyle, surrounded the naos.

Three orders (styles distinguished by the details, proportions, and decoration of a column and entablature) developed in Greek architecture—the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. The orders were used by the Romans and influenced architecture during the Renaissance and the 19th century.

Roman Architecture. It was marked by great feats of engineering. The development of the arch was Rome’s greatest contribution to architecture. With the vault, dome, and roof-truss, the Romans were able to create well-lighted vast interior spaces in their great public baths and in such temples as the Pantheon (Munro, 2004).

The Romans united engineering and architectural grace in utilitarian projects, such as aqueducts, as well as in their amphitheaters, basilicas (law courts), and other public buildings. Roman architects often combined the Greek post and lintel style with arched forms, as in the Colosseum in Rome. They adapted the three Greek orders of architecture and added two more of their own—the Tuscan, a plainer version of the Doric, and the Composite, a combination of the Corinthian and Ionic.

Temples were both circular and rectangular. The rectangular temple stood on a raised platform, or podium. A broad stairway led to a deep portico. The cella was the full width of the building, and much of it was surrounded by a colonnade attached to or built into the wall.

In addition to palaces, domestic architecture included the private city house, or domus; the country house, or villa; and apartment houses built in long narrow blocks called insulae. Apartment houses were usually four or five stories high, and often had shops and stores on the first floor. Large windows and balconies were common (Musgrove, 2000).

D. The 17th and 18th Centuries

Italy. Baroque architecture began in Italy in the early 17th century. A bold, unconventional style, it is characterized by curved lines and elaborate ornamentation. Vast sweeping stairways, broken pediments, and buildings of enormous size planned for dramatic effect are notable features of the Baroque style. Curved forms used both structurally and ornamentally, give Baroque buildings a modeled or sculptured quality.

The Italian Baroque movement centered in Rome, where Giovanni Bernini and Francesco Borromini were the leading architects. In his design of St. Peter’s Square, Bernini placed statues on top of the colonnade, producing the broken-silhouette skyline that became characteristics of Baroque style (Musgrove, 2000).

France. The 17th century is the great age of French Renaissance architecture. The exteriors of buildings combine the regularity and geometric simplicity of the Italian Renaissance with elements of the Baroque style. The vast size of buildings, broken-silhouette skylines, luxuriant interior decoration, and the planned garden are baroque influences. The east façade of the Louvre and the park façade of Versailles Palace have the common low-pitched roof and balustrade.

The Rococo style was popular in the 18th century but, as in Italy, was replaced late in the century by Neoclassicism. Jacques Germain Soufflot’s Pantheon in Paris is typical of late-18th-century architecture (Squire, 2003).

England. The architecture of the first quarter of the 17th century, called Jacobean, remained transitional. As in France, there was a reaction against the mingling of Gothic and Renaissance elements. Inigo Jones, with his design of the Banqueting House Whitehall, London, began the movement to a more formal classicism that is termed Palladian. Sir Christopher Wren, influenced by French architecture, introduced Baroque elements. Architecture of the late 17th century is called Stuart.

Balance, symmetry, and simplicity of ornament characterize 18th-century architecture. The several trends of that century, including the Baroque and Palladian, are called Georgian. Brisk became a common building material, and brick houses trimmed with white stone and woodwork are popularly called Georgian.

Other European Countries. In Germany and Austria, the Baroque and Rococo styles were raised to new heights by J.B. Fischer von Erlach, Balthasar Neumann, and others. Churches and palaces built on a large scale, had profusely decorated interiors and exteriors. In the Rococo phase there was much use of white, gold, blue, and other light colors in the exuberant ornamentation. The Zwinger in Dresden and the Belvedere and Karlskirche in Vienna are characteristics buildings (Squire, 2003).

E. Architecture in the 19th Century

By the end of the 18th century architects had turned away from the Baroque and Rococo styles. Their desire to find new forms led them to ancient and medieval architectural styles, and the 19th century is often called the age of revivals.

Classic Revival.  Neoclassicism in architecture appeared in many forms. Influences of ancient Rome are reflected in the Roman Revival style; those of ancient Greece, in the Greek Revival.

In the United States Greek and Roman forms were adapted for banks, state capitols, schools, and other buildings. The Greek Revival style had the widest appeal. Among the numerous examples are Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery and the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. (Squire, 2003).

Thomas Jefferson is considered the father of the American Classic Revival style. His State Capitol in Richmond is typical of Roman Revival. Other outstanding architects of the period include Charles Bulfinch, Benjamin Latrobe, and Robert Mills.

Gothic Revival. Growing out of the Romantic Movement in literature, the Gothic revival began, and attained its greatest importance, in England. The earliest example of Gothic Revival in the United States is Richard Upjohn’s Trinity Church in New York City. Grace Church and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, both designed by James Renwick, are other examples. After the Civil War the movement became popular in domestic architecture (Caudill, 2001). Gothic revival houses are marked by elaborate ornamental gables and porches.

Eclecticism. In the second half of the century architects based their designs on a variety of historical styles including Egyptian, Romanesque, Gothic, Moorish, Byzantine, and Renaissance. This practice of selecting architectural forms and details from a variety of sources came to be called eclecticism. In the United States, architects often combined several styles in a single building. Eclectic architects used modern materials and construction techniques for which the old styles were quite unsuited. As a result, great Roman arches or Doric columns were combined with steel frames in such a way that the ancient detail became mere surface decoration (Caudill, 2001). An example found in many cities is the skyscraper atop a structure that looks like a Greek temple.

Other Developments. The introduction of iron, steel, and reinforced concrete in building construction and the development of the elevator had a profound effect on architecture. Throughout the Revival and Eclectic periods, architects and engineers were experimenting with new building materials and construction techniques. The greatest structural advances, however, such as the Roeblings in their Brooklyn Bridge and Gustave Eiffel in his famous tower.

F. Twentieth-century Architecture

New building materials, new construction techniques, and the problems of an industrialized urban society led to a variety of architectural styles. Many architects continued to design Eclectic buildings. Others created highly original designs in reinforced concrete, steel, and glass.  Often emphasis was placed in functionalism, the idea that the design of a building should express and aid its use or function (Musgrove, 2000).

Beginnings. Twentieth-century architecture had its roots in the closing quarter of the 19th century. In the United States the structural experiments of Jenney, Dankmar Adler, Louis Sullivan, and other Chicago architects led to the development of the skyscraper. Sullivan, especially, contributed much to skyscraper design. His aim was to let a structure’s function and building materials determine its design. He expressed this view in the phrase “form follows function” (Musgrove, 2000).

IV. Conclusion

In conclusion, centuries before the Americas were colonized, many Indian civilizations flourished. In central North America, people built earth mounds for religious purposes. In the southwest the Cliff Dwellers and Pueblo Indians built multi-storied terraced homes. On the other hand, the architecture produced by the followers of Islam influenced both Eastern and Western architectural styles. Although it varied from country to country, mosques and tombs were the most important buildings.


Caudill, W.W., and others (2001). Architecture and You: How to Experience and Enjoy Buildings (Watson-Guptill, 1999).
Munro, Roxie (2004). Architects make Zigzags: Looking at Architecture from A to Z (Preservation Press, 1995).
Musgrove, John (2000). Sir Banister Fletcher’s A History of World Architecture, 22nd edition (Butterworth’s, 1997).
Salvadori, Mario (2002). Structure in Architecture: the Building of Buildings (Prentice-Hall, 1999).
Squire, J.C. (2003). A Practical Guide to the Understanding of Architecture (Gloucester Arts Press, 2000).


A limited
time offer!
Get authentic custom
ESSAY SAMPLEwritten strictly according
to your requirements