Architectural Design Through The Ages: Part 2


Every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Interestingly, whilst it’s the bookends that are most often remembered in these tales – the ‘Once upon a time’ beginning or the nail-biting cliff-hanger ending – it is the chapters in the middle that give a story its substance, its narrative. It’s those pages in between that keep us gripped, that keep us propped up in our beds early into the morning, bleary-eyed promising ourselves ‘just one more chapter’. The timeline of architectural design throughout the years is no different.

Whilst tourists nowadays may be drawn in their droves to the Neolithic formation at Stonehenge, and whilst those very same holidaymakers may subsequently crane their necks in awe at the superstructures erected in Dubai, New York and Shanghai, it is the architectural ideals forged in the interim years that truly showcase humanity’s ability to pair art and ingenuity, to meld beauty with engineering. This is part two of our mini-series exploring architectural design through the years (you can read part one here!). This time, we’re looking at the architectural styles spanning the late 1100s through to the early 1800s.

Gothic (Mid-12th Century To 16th Century)

The Gothic period first started in the early 12th century, evolving from the Romanesque period that preceded it. Such was the popularity of Gothic architecture that it lasted right through until the late 16th century. The reason behind its near 500-year period of popularity? Well, it fitted two key trends at the time. Firstly, gothic architecture and engineering enabled an increasingly grand scale of building. Secondly, the emphasis that the Christian religion at that time placed on light and its importance within religious spaces, made Gothic architecture an incredibly appealing style.

In terms of architectural design, then, the Gothic style can most easily be characterised by the combination of flying buttresses, rib-vaults and pointed arches. Perhaps the best-known example of gothic architectural design is Paris’ Notre-Dame Cathedral, or more accurately, Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. Built at the turn of the 12th century, this space has been termed “the high point of French Gothic art”. Very few things could match the lofty religious ideals of this period, Gothic architecture was something that could.

Image of Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris
Notre Dame de Paris, France

Renaissance (Early-14th Century To Early-16th Century)

In part one, we looked at the importance of Classical architecture and the work of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. A renaissance literally refers to a ‘revival’ and that’s exactly what this period represented; a return to the importance of order and proportion within design first introduced by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Many of the medieval buildings that had preceded the Renaissance period were often, for want of a better word, clunky, when it came to how they were proportioned.

What were the physical features of Renaissance architecture, then? Predominantly, it saw a return to columns and pilasters, vaults (without ribs, distinguishing them from Gothic versions) and domes.

The period spanned from the early 14th century through until the early 16th century, a relatively brief stint of time in which a huge amount changed. Through the work of pioneering Italian architects like Filippo Brunelleschi (now recognised as something of a pioneer when it comes to engineering and construction planning) buildings began to be designed with order, proportion and geometry in mind. The Renaissance architectural period can be divided into three sub-periods:

Quattrocento

This early-stage saw the formulation of what would later become the integral principles to consequent Renaissance architectural work. Namely, order, geometry and proportion.

High Renaissance

During the High Renaissance, architects more boldly adopted classical designs and influences. They drew, in particular, from Roman structures – their temples, for instance. Donato Bramante’s Tempietto di San Petro, in Rome, is considered by many to perfectly embody the period and its embracing of classical architectural ideals.

Mannerism

During the Mannerism period, masters such as Michelangelo took the principles established prior in the Quattrocento and High Renaissance periods and, basically, started to have some fun with them. The designs of this period are somewhat freer, with architects beginning to flex their creative muscles. In this period, they experimented with spatial relationships more than ever before.

During the Renaissance period, the discipline of building was once again elevated to something beyond simply the construction of a physical space. The significance assigned to the way in which a building was designed was oftentimes as important as the space, and its intended use, itself.

Baroque (Late-16th Century To 18th Century)

The Baroque period embellished and built upon This highly decorative style of architecture originated in Italy in the late 1600s. In fact, it soon saw its grandiose and decorative fingerprints spread throughout the rest of Europe. Essentially, the Baroque period took what had been developed previously during the Renaissance, and turbocharged it. Domes became grander, colonnades more ornate. There was an emphasis placed on decoration and dramatic effects that simply hadn’t been there during the Renaissance period. The use of Trompe l’oeil to help create the illusion of space was a prime example of this grandiosity.

Rococo (18th Century)

If you were to ask anyone with even the most superficial of interests in architectural design as to what they’d associate with the ‘showy’, they’d most likely come back to you with the word Rococo. The vaudeville of the architectural world, Rococo architecture developed in the early 18th century. It diverged from Baroque in several key ways (although it is also known by some as the Late Baroque period). Baroque architecture still paid heed to certain traditional Renaissance principles, the adherence to symmetry and proportion, for instance. Rococo architecture, on the other hand, went the other way entirely. This flamboyant and rebellious dark sheep of the architectural family, everything about Rococo screams excess and ostentation. It made a point of utilising large numbers of floral ornamentation, Asian motifs and a lot of curves.

Schönbrunn Palace, in Vienna, is a prime example of Rococo architectural design.
Schönbrunn Palace, Austria

Neoclassicism

They say, nowadays, that nothing is truly original. That any creative endeavour draws at least partially from something which has preceded it. Neoclassicism was a prime example (as, arguably, was the Renaissance period which came before it). It came about, in part, as a response, or even a rebuttal against, the contemporaneous Rococo period, and whilst an influential architectural style in its own right, the reason we’ve included Neoclassicism in this brief history is more because it helps demonstrate just how subjective any artistic endeavour is. Rococo art (and by that we mean art, architecture, sculpture etc.) proved so divisive (to so many) that a whole architectural style was borne out of it, such is the passion with which people hold art. This is very much a large-scale version of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure“.

The styles mentioned today built upon the ideals introduced by their forebears, only, they improved upon them. In terms of radical new ideas, however, these were arguably still to come. Next time, we’ll look at those more left-field, those which have influenced recent architecture, from Art Deco to Brutalism; and we’ll at how architecture is used today, as much as a social and ideological mouthpiece, as it is anything else. So, if you’d like to find out more about our architectural design services in Essex, Kent and London, then get in touch! Contact Munday + Cramer today on 01245 326 200.