Recognizing the architectural style of a specific building increases the enjoyment of people and let them extend their dreams and imaginations beyond the immediate physical appearance of the building to the time when the building was built.
It has always been my concern of how can anyone easily recognize a specific architectural style from past periods. This is really a very important matter for the people who like to travel and visit many places in the world and usually they are attracted by many wonders of the architecture of these places. This article and the following one intend to define few common features that characterize each of the western styles throughout history from Greek to neo-classical architecture. I believe that recognizing the architectural style of a specific building increases the enjoyment of people and let them extend their dreams and imaginations beyond the immediate physical appearance of the building to the time when the building was built.
In many cases , people from outside the discipline of art and architecture and those who did not get the opportunity to read about architectural styles, would find it very difficult to differentiate, for example, between Romanesque and Gothic architecture or between Greek and Roman structures. All past architectural styles have many different features and specific ornamental details that characterize their buildings, but I will mention only two or three essential features that would help the viewer to define the style of the building.
Greek architecture (1000 B.C.–1 A.D)
Greek architecture is characterized by its outstanding monumental-scale buildings, which attract the attention of its viewers. Important characteristics include:
1. The main construction system was usually the post and lintel structural system. It is a horizontal beam placed on top of two columns.
Image credit: Parthenon, Athens, Greece
2. The Greek invented three types of columns; the Doric, the Ionic and the Corinthian, but the most common used one was the Doric.
Image credit: Greek Columns
3. The common plan of Greek temples was a rectangular surrounded by a colonnaded portico of columns on all four sides.
Image credit: Greek common temple plan
Roman Architecture (330 AD.)
Roman architecture can be considered as a combination between the Greek architectural style and Etruscan (people of ancient Italy) architectural elements, such as the arch and the dome. The most essential features that characterize Roman architecture include:
1. Roman buildings were usually placed on high podium with, wide front steps and a porch formed by number of common use freestanding Corinthian columns.
Image credit: Roman temple
2. Unlike Greek’s structural system (post and lintel), the Romans used big pillars supporting arches and domes in their public building, bridges and aqueducts.
Image credit: Coliseum, Rome.
3. The use of hemispherical dome with more than 40 meter in diameter and height.
Image credit: Pantheon, Rome.
Byzantine Architecture (4th – 10th century)
Byzantine architecture represents the integration between the method of construction of the West (Roman) and the fine decoration of the East (Iran). Byzantine architecture can be recognized by:
1. A large central dome covering one vast area.
2. Number of half-domes surrounding the large dome.
Image credit: Hagia Sofia
Romanesque Architecture (Mid- 10th – 12th century)
Romanesque architecture refers to the similarity of the style to Roman Architecture in both forms and materials. However, the primary characteristics of Romanesque architecture were, in fact, Roman in origin. But there are new elements that were introduced for the first time and characterize Romanesque buildings such as:
1. Round-headed arches for doors and small windows.
2. Heavy square-plan towers.
3. Rounded window.
Image credit: Facade of Angoulême Cathedral, France
Gothic Architecture (12th – 15th century)
The first appearance of Gothic was at the church of Saint-Denis near Paris in the 12th century. Unlike the heavy masses of Romanesque architecture, Gothic buildings are characterized by very thin skeletal stone structures.
Essential Characteristics of Gothic architecture:
1. Pointed arches
2. Unique system of flying buttresses.
3. Sharply pointed spires
Image credit: Notre-Dame de Paris