A brief history of architecture

Architectural history is the study of building through the ages. It comprises architecture and architectural styles ranging from pre-ancient civilizations to contemporary architecture. A subject in its own right, the study of architectural history forms an important component of an architect’s education, although it is a subject that is also accessible to those outside mainstream architectures.

Architecture is a by-product of human existence and every age has its own distinct architecture, whether that is defined by prevailing ideas, construction materials, technology or new building types. The study of architectural history, therefore, is not just about a study of the buildings themselves but also the conditions – social, economic, political and material – that influenced those buildings. It also involves the study of stylistic and spatial expression.

A brief history of architecture

Why an understanding of architectural history is important?

Knowledge of architectural history gives an understanding of the ideas that were important to and shaped past societies. A building can reveal much about the society that produced it. For example, a tall building would be tall for a reason: what idea did it express that required such height, usually at great expense in terms of cost, not to mention the lives lost to achieve it? Gothic cathedrals were the tallest buildings of their day because religion both ordered and regulated society. Today, the tallest buildings are usually office buildings, an indication of how important commerce is to the modern world.

Why did some medieval houses include a jetty (a small projection or overhang) at the first and sometimes second floor levels? The reasons are bound up not only with gaining a little more living space but also about conspicuous consumption, an ostentatious feature to express the owner’s wealth and prestige.

Medieval windows and stained glass are typically characterized by small glass elements held in place by lead cames. This was because glass was not only very expensive but also because it could not be manufactured in large sizes.

The gardens at the 17th century Palace of Versailles just outside Paris follow the then French style of being highly formal and ordered, expressing a mastery over nature. This was an important concept in an age of enlightenment when great progress was made in philosophy and the sciences, and architects and designers were keen to express such notions.

A brief history of architecture

The Origins of Architecture

Architecture came from the Latin word “architecture” or from the Greek word “arkhitekton.” Arkhi meaning “chief” and tekton meaning “builder.” The product of architecture are often buildings, and historical buildings are usually considered achievements in architecture.

Architecture, however, is a general term. It can also mean the physical structure of buildings; the study, science, and art of designing buildings and also structures that are not buildings, or software; the method of designing and construction of buildings; and the practice of offering or rendering design services by a professional architect.

Architecture is not just about the design and construction of a building, but also the space and ambiance of the structure. It also considers the social and environmental impacts of a building. Aside from this, it also includes the practical aspects of the construction of a building, such as scheduling, budget, administration, and the documentation which are usually drawings which show the plans and specifications of the technical side of the project, and also other systems that will be constructed together with the building.

According to Marcus Virtruvius Pollio, a Roman architect in his “De Architecture” (English: On Architecture), the oldest surviving written work on architecture from the 1st century AD, a good building satisfies three principles: firmitas, or the durability and robustness of a building; utilities, the suitability for the purpose it is built for; and venustas, or beauty, meaning the building should be pleasing to the eyes. It is the first book that tackled architectural theories and style such as those of the Greeks and the Romans.

A brief history of architecture

American architect Louis Henry Sullivan proposed a concept and coined a phrase for architectural design, “form follows function,” which means that the shape of a building should be based on its supposed function. While this concept not only applies to buildings, it has always been wrongly credited to American sculptor Horatio Greenough.

architecture rarely escapes the imprints of the era it is being built in, and whatever becomes out of it in the next few decades, it will be the echo of our generation. Another possible way of looking at it is adopting the idea that history reoccurs, which would mean that postmodernism was the contemporary version of the Baroque, and we are much likely to return to the new revivals.

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