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Understanding Architectural Styles

Why learn about architectural styles?

1. Helps to date a building
2. Helps to understand what influenced people’s artistic thinking and tastes
3. Helps to understand what you are looking at and adds dimension
4. Helps put the building in context
5. Helps to understand why people build the way they do
6. It’s fun!

Looking at styles can be confusing:

1. Some buildings are easy to read because they are exemplary examples of a style (high style)
2. Some have little or no ornament to distinguish them (often referred to as folk, or vernacular)
3. Some buildings represent a pure style or tradition

There are four major architectural traditions:
Click on a highlighted style to download more information (pdf).

Ancient Classical: Based on Greek and Roman forms
Greek Revival

Renaissance Classical: Based on Renaissance interpretations of ancient models
Italianate
Second Empire
Georgian
Federal
Colonial Revival

Medieval: Based on European architecture from the Middle Ages
Romanesque
Gothic
Queen Anne
Tudor
Shingle
Stick

Modern: Arts and Crafts movement & Machine Age movement
Prairie
Craftsman
Art Deco

How are traditions and styles developed and disseminated?
1. Traditions and styles usually start out as urban developments by designers, architects, furniture makers, and people working in the decorative arts.
2. They are then transferred by example, travel, and by moving with cultural traditions, and by books and magazines.