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How To recognise Different Styles of Architecture Around The World

Interest August 21, 2017 By Vincent

Part of the joy of travel is seeing the different architectural styles that have influenced a place and its history with some areas being filled with ruins whilst others have magnificently preserved buildings still in working order. Depending on which invading empires got there or if there own inimitable style originated from the unique culture of the place, the world is filled with different styles, shapes, and sizes.

Most of us can spot a pretty building but beyond going 'that's nice', know little more about it. Here we talk you through some of the different styles you might find and where is best to discover them.

Classical

Era: 850 BC - 476 AD

This is the starting point for most points of architecture, where construction became a little more than just being for practical purposes and moved more toward a design aesthetic. It is the ancient temples of Greece and Rome that best show off this style with the wide, open spaces and pillars and followed some very strict architectural rules.

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Within the classical styles, there are three distinct 'orders' which are most noticeable by the design around the tops of these pillars, called capitals. Doric: plain capitals. Ionic: scroll-like capitals. Corinthian: elaborate capitals with carved acanthus leaves. The Colosseum or Pantheon in Rome and the Acropolis, Athens are probably the most prominent examples of this style and wherever either these empires go tends to have the style still in place in some manner.

Byzantine

Era: 330 - 1453

Typified by mosaics and domes capping off the structures, Byzantine was designed to be ostentatious and show off wealth and power with gilded gold everywhere high domed ceilings and a blanket of gold ornamentation, basilicas were the order of the day and were everywhere you turned. 

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Aya Sofya in Istanbul and St Mark's Basilica, Venice are two prime examples of this luxurious style whilst the Sacré Coeur, Paris is evidence of the styles later revival.

Romanesque

Era: 900 -1200

Known as 'Norman' in the UK, this is a medieval style that is broad and sturdy, the very essence of practicality. It lacked too much of the technical know-how that saw other styles use ornate and fiddly flourishes, this typically saw thick walls, massive columns and rounded arches. Necessaries like windows were often small with even design features being confined to simple patterns like zigzags, lozenges, and chevrons.

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Leaning Tower of Pisa; San Gimignano, Italy makes a great point of the sturdiness of this style where, despite its lean, it still stands strong otherwise. Durham Cathedral, England is also another great example of the durability of Norman architecture.

Gothic

Era: 12th - 16th Centuries

Now, this is where things get really interesting. Due to improved technical knowledge and increasing prosperity in Europe, things became absurdly ornate, very quickly! Buildings were suddenly taller, lighter and brighter than ever before and the style was adopted across Europe, but the style was also revived in the 18th century, and so most examples you will see are of a much later period.

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Pointed arches, narrow columns, ribbed vaulting, towering spires, flying buttresses are all features that scream 'Gothic' and you can see it in many of the great cathedrals of Western Europe such as  Notre Dame, Paris; Westminster Abbey, London; Cologne Cathedral, Germany.

Renaissance

Era: 14th - 17th Centuries

After things started to become so ornately out of hand, architecture returned to its roots and took the classical orders of architecture back into consideration as columns returned and the proportion of symmetry returned. Embellishments were then added over the top of this rather than being part of the structure itself.

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Italy and France are where most of this style can be found with Florence and Milan Cathedrals; Louvre, Paris and St Peter's Basilica, Rome all having a real air of it about them.

Baroque & Rococo

Era: 1600 - 1750

This was all about pompousness and extravagance with every square inch of a building being filled with ornamentation, frescoes, and carvings while light was used dramatically to lend an air of theater to every grand or public building. If Byzantine was luxurious, this was garish and made no qualms about it.

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If you had money, this was the way to show it off with no shame and palaces such as Versailles in France are no exception. St Paul's Cathedral in London used it to showcase the wealth, and might of the British Empire whilst the Trevi Fountain in Rome was to do the same.

Neoclassicism

Era: Mid-18th Century

Again, feeling that architecture had gone too far in its use of ornamentation, it returned to its classical roots but unlike the renaissance period that added embellishment to classical features, neo-classicism played very strictly with the rules and used modern techniques with old styles, and so columns and pillars were back in. Pediments and domes still appeared but were in strictly proportional designs.

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The White House, Washington, DC is a good way of explaining this style as it is obviously befitting a head of state but has a simplicity about it as well. Hermitage, St Petersburg, and the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin also characterize Neoclassicism.

Art Nouveau

Era: 1890 - 1910

A short-lived movement that is forever associated with Paris due to its usage on their Metro signs, it uses organic, leafy and curving shapes and flowing natural forms to create an almost plant-like aesthetic.

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Found mostly in mainland Europe and typically associated with arty communities in Paris and Prague, prominent buildings that are influenced by the notions of art nouveau include the Musée Horta, Brussels; Paris Metro entrances; Lavirotte Building, Paris.

Art Deco

Era: 1915 - 1930

Another short-lived design period, this typically reflected the affluence of the roaring 20s by using simplistic designs to reflect glamor and sophistication in its use of expensive and (then) futuristic materials such as chrome. These gave the aesthetic a clean and geometric design to it but with the great depression came the end of all this decadence so very rapidly.

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The Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building absolutely encapsulate this roaring 20s idyll, where you can still picture flapper girls and well-heeled gents of New York running around whilst but Miami Beach is evidence of its further spread across the USA. Elsewhere in the world Napier, New Zealand shows similar yearnings.

Modernism

Era: Early 20th Century - 1980s

Modernism brought a level of harshness into the design world as architecture now found its design being dictated by practicality. Rectangular and cubist shapes, reinforced concrete, open-plan design, large windows and a lack of ornamentation are its hallmarks.

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A certain beauty can be found in this usage of straight lines and functionality of such buildings as Boston City Hall; Barbican, London; Fallingwater, Pennsylvania; Brasília. This later descended into the highly controversial style of Brutalism where functionality became all and square, blocky buildings were emerging, but this was latterly considered to oppressive by many.

High-Tech Architecture

Era:  1960 - 1985

The architectural equivalent of wearing your designer clothes inside out so that people can see the label, high-tech architecture saw modern advances in technology, lifts, piping of heating systems, etc., come to the fore and designers keen to show off their usage of these on the outside of the building. Basically, if you can see the inner workings of the building, it is probably High-tech architecture.

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Inside, these buildings had flexible layouts with moveable room divisions whilst outside; the structural elements were on show. The Centre Pompidou, Paris; HSBC HQ, Hong Kong and Patscenter, Princeton all use these principles.

Postmodernism

Era: 1960s - Present

This is quite hard to identify due to its anything goes attitude that threw all principles out of the window and replaced the puritanical principles of modernism with fun, irony and bright colors. Basically, it's the sort of architecture that uses large amounts of glass that your mom hates, but you don't mind too much.

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Bright colors and odd shapes are what make it most easily identifiable and how it stands out against modern city skylines, often it will have cheeky nods to previous design styles but in completely impractical settings, as though almost mocking it. M2 in Tokyo is a perfect representation of this sort of tongue in cheek nod to styles of old whilst flaunting its modern characteristics whilst Staatsgalerie extension, Stuttgart; The Portland Building and MI6 London all fall into this category.

Neo-futurism

Era: 1960s - Present

What architects think the future will (or should) look like which is a paradox in itself since it exists in the present, but it if it looks like it should be in a classic sci-fi film then it is Neo-futurism. Impossible angles, undulating curves and the most modern technology you can get your hands on.

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The lines don't have to be straight, and the curves don't have to follow a definitive direction, it is, essentially, unbridled creativity. Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre, Azerbaijan; City of Arts & Sciences, Valencia and The Gherkin (30 St Mary's Axe), London all tell us how architects think the future should be.

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